FROM THE CREASE with BRUCE BERLET

BY: Bruce Berlet

It’s the dog days of August for Major League Baseball, and the NHL isn’t far behind after a bevy of activity following the start of free agent frenzy on July 1.

The New York Rangers won free agency’s biggest prize in former Dallas Stars center Brad Richards, who hopefully can revive right wing Marian Gaborik and the power play.

But the only headlines the past few weeks have been the signing of depth defenseman Brendan Burke on Tuesday and Sean Avery, an 18-to-1 longshot, winning the Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga on Sunday two days after Sean Avery, the hockey player, was arrested on charges of battery on a peace officer when he allegedly shoved a cop at a party at his house in Hollywood.

Before Avery’s arrest, left wing/center Andrew Yogan, who had two goals and one assist in the Connecticut Whale’s final two games last season, was traded from Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League to the Peterborough Petes for three picks in the OHL priority selection. The Otters received a sixth-round pick in 2012 and two conditional picks, the Windsor Spitfires’ second-rounder in 2012 and the Petes’ third-rounder in 2013. Those picks are conditional on Yogan, who also will try out for the Whale, playing for the Petes this season.

Ironically, the same day that Yogan was traded, a feature on the forward by Dan David was posted at www.newyorkrangers.com.

Yogan, the Rangers’ fourth-round pick in 2010, waived his no-trade clause following an up-and-down, injury-riddled career with the Otters after being acquired from Windsor in November 2008. He had 17 goals and 17 assists in 35 games after the trade but missed the final month of the 2008-09 season and the playoffs with a concussion.

Yogan, 19, then missed the 2009-10 playoffs with a fractured foot and missed all but the final 10 regular-season games last season because of shoulder surgery. He spent the final month of rehabilitation with the Whale before returning to the Otters and getting three goals and one assist in the 10 games. When Erie was eliminated from the playoffs, Yogan returned to the Whale and learned more about the pro lifestyle and what he would need to do to succeed at the next level.

After a solid showing with the Whale and being a dominant player at the Rangers’ prospects camp in late June, the 6-foot-3, 203-pound Yogan will participate in the prospects tournament Sept. 10-14 in Travers City, Minn. A good showing there and in Rangers camp could earn Yogan a contract and a spot on the Whale roster.

“Because he missed most of last year with a shoulder injury, we feel another year of juniors might be best for him,” Rangers assistant general manager/assistant coach/Whale GM Jim Schoenfeld said via email. “But we will monitor him closely in camp, and you may see him in Hartford.”

Since he was traded, Yogan won’t return to play for Erie coach and former Rangers center Robbie Ftorek, who signed a two-year contract extension on the same day assistant/goaltending coach Peter Sidorkiewicz, who played for the Hartford Whalers, inked a new two-year contract.

STRONG PROSPECTS TEAM FOR RANGERS

Yogan will be part of what could be the strongest Rangers team for the prospects tournament.

The top forwards include wings Carl Hagelin, Christian Thomas, Ryan Bourque, Tommy Grant, Jason Wilson and Yogan and new draftees J.T. Miller, Mike St Croix, Steve Fogarty and Shane McColgan. Barring any drastic changes to the Rangers roster, Hagelin has a good chance to make the parent club after a strong showing with the Whale in the playoffs after co-captaining the University of Michigan to the NCAA championship game.

The defense will be headed by 2010 first-round draft choice Dylan McIlrath, the Whale’s Blake Parlett and possibly Tim Erixon, the first-round pick (23rd overall) of the Calgary Flames in 2009 acquired for two second-rounders and Roman Horak on June 1. The goaltending will be shared by Jason Missiaen and Scott Stajcer, who will be vying for jobs with the Whale in training camp.

The entire roster will be announced Monday.

If Whale fans want to get an early look at some of their favorites this season and in the future, tune in to MSG Network, which is televising the Rangers prospects’ games. The Rangers will play in the Gretzky Division against St. Louis on Sept. 10 at 7 p.m., Dallas on Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. and Carolina on Sept. 13 at 3:30 p.m. There also will be a classification game on Sept. 14 based on records from the Gretzky and Howe Division, which includes teams from Detroit, Buffalo, Columbus and Minnesota. The final day will feature the top seeds in the championship game, as well as the other teams in the third, fifth and seventh place games.

The previous 13 tournaments have included futures Rangers Derek Stepan and former Wolf Pack players Marc Staal, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Michael Sauer, Artem Anisimov, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh. The NHL Network also might show some games. … Miller, the Rangers’ first-round pick on June 24, was among the 29 players to survive the first round of cuts at the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp. Jack Campbell and Jason Zucker, who won gold medals at the 2010 World Junior Championship and bronze medals last year in Buffalo, also make the cut and likely will have a chance to compete for a third straight medal at the 2012 WJC on Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Calgary and Edmonton. Prior to last year, no U.S. team ever had won medals in consecutive WJC. McColgan was among the players cut, with final selections being made after three games this week. Miller, who passed on a scholarship to the University of North Dakota to sign with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL, had an empty-net goal in a 4-1 victory over Finland. “The draft had a lot to do with it,” Miller told NHL.com on his decision to forego the college route. “I talked to the Rangers and my family and my advisor, and we all came to the conclusion that I’d probably get to the NHL faster (going to the OHL) … it all came together and it was the best choice for me.”

PASHNIN NOT COMING TO NORTH AMERICA NOW

Mikhail Pashnin is not coming to North America this season after signing a two-year contract extension with CSKA Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia.

It wasn’t originally known if the deal for the Rangers’ seventh-round pick in 2009 would include an NHL out clause or would allow the 22-year-old defenseman to attend the Rangers training camp with the option of returning to Russia if he fails to make the NHL roster.

But Pashnin’s agent, Alexei Dementiev, told Sovietsky Sport reporter Vladislav Domrachev that his client couldn’t reach a quick agreement with the Rangers, and a two-way contract didn’t suit the two.

“Mikhail would hardly progress on the farm club,” Dementiev said. “The negotiations dragged on, and as time passed, it became necessary to start preparing for the season. So we decided to stay with CSKA for two years. Especially since (CSKA) has a new head coach, Julius Shupler, who loves tough, aggressive hockey. And the team that’s been put together is very interesting, capable of doing great things. On such a team, Pashnin could make his way on to the national team and play at the Olympics in Sochi. In fact, the new head coach of the national team, Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, himself once a notable defenseman, knows the value of guys like Mikhail.”

As for Pashnin, Dementiev said, “Mikhail possesses excellent skating, which he is improving with a special trainer, and his ability to throw hits can be envied not only in Russia but overseas. Pashnin went to the Rangers development camp a year ago and this summer. Everyone there was delighted with him. The team’s general manager Glen Sather, who in the 1980s coached the legendary Edmonton Oilers, couldn’t hide his admiration: ‘Your defenseman has forced our guys to play with their heads up because when they lowered them for a moment, they immediately found themselves on the ice after the hit.’ ”

Pashnin’s signing came a week after CSKA president and Russian hockey legend Viacheslav Fetisov criticized Pashnin’s thoughts of continuing his career in North America. Ironically, Fetisov was a trailblazer in his time, helping pave the way for Russians to leave their homeland. The former NHL defenseman and two-time Stanley Cup champion with the New Jersey Devils was blunt in an interview on the KHL’s website.

“Sometimes hockey players listen to the entirely wrong people,” Fetisov said. “Pashnin had a very good season, but nobody would argue that he doesn’t still have to far to grow. I’m sure that one or two more years in Russia would bring him much greater benefit. The chance of him making the Rangers’ main roster is extremely small. And I don’t think that a season in the AHL will bring him more benefit than a season in the KHL. We tried to explain to Mikhail that he was making a mistake, but we couldn’t change his mind.”

Guess Viacheslav isn’t a big fan of Hartford. Maybe he ate some bad fish while in town for a Whalers-Devils game.

Pashnin has spent the last two season playing for CSKA and its junior team after becoming the first overall pick in the KHL’s first entry draft. Though that’s not like being the top pick in the NHL draft as only those who didn’t grow up in the KHL team’s feeder system are eligible, CSKA gave up four picks to land Pashnin, who was a favorite of CSKA general manger and former Rangers forward Sergei Nemchinov.

Pashnin was a longshot for the Rangers roster but could have benefitted from adjusting to the smaller ice surface and different style of play. But he also likely would be hard-pressed to be among the Whale’s top four with leading candidates including veteran Wade Redden, Tomas Kundratek, Tomas Valentenko, Jared Nightingale and possibly Michael Del Zotto and Bell. Meanwhile, Pashnin will be asked to play a significant role with CSKA and will gain another year of experience, maturity and strength.

ON THE MOVE

Former Hartford Wolf Pack defenseman Drew Bannister has signed to be player/head coach of Braehand Clan in Renfrewshire, Scotland, that plays in the 10-team United Kingdom Elite Ice Hockey League that has four teams in England, four in Scotland, one in Northern Ireland and one in Wales. Former Danbury Trasher Bruce Richardson was the head coach last season. … Former Wolf Pack center Oren Eizenman signed with High 1 in Chuncheon, South Korea, in the Asia League Ice Hockey, a seven-team circuit that plays a 36-game schedule with four teams in Japan, two in South Korea and one in China. Former Wolf Pack wing Alex Bourret played part of last season with the team. … Former Wolf Pack defenseman Terry Virtue was passed over for head coach of with the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack but will remain as an associate coach. Virtue lost out to former Grand Rapids Griffins coach Greg Ireland, who replaced Mark Reeds after the former Whalers forward was named an assistant with the Ottawa Senators under new head coach Paul MacLean. … Former Wolf Pack goalie Jean-Francois Labbe was named general manager of the yet to be named Windsor, Ontario, franchise that will play in the League de North America (LNAH) this season. The Sherbrooke St. Francois team, the defending LNAH champions, was recently relocated to Windsor because a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League franchise is going to Sherbrooke in 2012-2013. Windsor is 20 miles from Sherbrooke and had a previous LNAH franchise. Labbe played three regular-season games there last season after being retired for nearly two years after six seasons in Russia, Germany and Austria. His last season in North America was 2002-03 with Columbus and the Syracuse Crunch. … Former Wolf Pack defenseman Geoff Smith was named coach of the Kamloops Storm of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL), a Junior B Canadian franchise. Last season Smith was an assistant coach for the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League. … Pat Conacher was named coach of the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats after former Wolf Pack coach Ryan McGill was among the finalists after not being retained as an assistant with the Calgary Flames. … Former Whalers assistant coach Ted Nolan was named head coach of the Latvian national program.

AROUND THE AHL

Ron Wilson was named assistant coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs under Clement Jodoin, who was named head coach on July 22. Wilson began his 15-year run as an AHL assistant coach with the Springfield Falcons (1996-2000), helped the Saint John Flames win the Calder Cup in 2001 and was with the Chicago Wolves last season. He also was head coach of the Flames in 2002-03, notching a 22-22-4 record. Wilson’s 427 AHL games as a player included winning the Calder Cup with Nova Scotia in 1978 and 1979. Drafted by the Bulldogs’ parent Montreal Canadiens in 1976, Wilson played 832 NHL games over part of 14 seasons with the Canadiens, original Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues. … The Columbus Blue Jackets signed former Rangers draft pick Ryan Russell to a one-year, two-way contract and left wing Dalton Smith to a standard three-year entry level contract. Russell, 24, was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens for right wing Mike Blunden on July 7. The Rangers’ ninth-round pick in 2005 who never played in the organization had 10 goals and 11 assists and was plus-17 in 65 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs last season. He also had seven goals and two assists in 20 playoff games, helping the Bulldogs to the Western Conference finals. In 243 AHL games, Russell has 51 goals and 49 assists and is plus-54. Smith, 19, was the Blue Jackets’ second pick in 2010 and had 12 goals, 17 assists and 124 penalty minutes in 64 games with Ottawa of the OHL last season. In 143 career OHL games with Ottawa, Smith has 35 goals, 45 assists and 261 penalty minutes and is plus-27.

CHARA INVESTIGATION COMPLETED

A Montreal police investigation into Boston Bruins defenseman/captain Zdeno Chara has been completed and the file transferred to criminal prosecutors.

With the probe over, Crown lawyers have to decide whether to lay charges against Chara’s devastating hit on Canadiens forward, New Canaan native and Taft School-Watertown grad Max Pacioretty on March 8.

Police had held off interviewing Chara in the spring while the Bruins were on the way to winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in 39 years. He was finally questioned last month and described as a cooperative witness by investigators.

Authorities became involved amid a public outcry after the NHL announced it would not suspend Chara, who slammed Pacioretty into a stanchion. Pacioretty sustained a cracked vertebrae and concussion and is expected to return this season after working out much of the summer in Connecticut.

Before the hit, Pacioretty had been involved in several skirmishes with Chara and said he was disgusted the NHL didn’s suspend the 6-foot-9, 255-pound defenseman. But Pacioretty added he disagreed with law enforcement getting involved after police were asked to investigate by Quebec’s director of criminal and penal prosecutions.

DUCKS COACH GETS THREE-YEAR EXTENSION

The Anaheim Ducks signed coach Randy Carlyle to a three-year contract extension through the 2013-14 season. The 55-year-old Carlyle has been the Ducks coach since August 2005 and led them to their first Stanley Cup in 2007 among five playoff appearances in six seasons (2005-09, 2011). Carlyle’s 266-169-57 regular-season record gives him the most victories and highest winning percentage (.599) in franchise history. The Ducks were 47-30-5 last season, finishing fourth in the Western Conference.

“I’m fortunate to be involved in the same organization since 2005 and I feel very comfortable,” Carlyle said during a conference call. “I’ve been very fortunate to have the quality of players and the management team behind me. I can work with people that view the game the way I see it. We implement a program and we never lose sight that we’re here to provide an environment for the players to have success and to win hockey games.”

Carlyle, Mike Babcock (Detroit Red Wings), Lindy Ruff (Buffalo Sabres) and Barry Trotz (Nashville Predators) are the only coaches who have been behind the same NHL bench since the 2005-06 season. Only Babcock has won more postseason games than Carlyle (55-36) during the past six seasons.

“We are always competitive,” Ducks general manager Bob Murray said. “No matter what kind of team we throw at him, he finds a way to make the team try to win. He does very well at it, as his record indicates. He’s a good coach. His record speaks for itself. We are very pleased to be able to reward him with this well-deserved contract.” … Marc-Andre Gragnani, winner of the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s Most Outstanding Defenseman Award last season, signed a one-year contract with the Sabres. Gragnani, 24, had career highs in assists (48) and points (60) in only 63 games for the Portland Pirates because of two recalls to Buffalo, where he had one goal and two assists in nine games. … With wing Alexei Kovalev signing a two-year deal with Atlant Mytishchi in the KHL, the last active Ranger on the 1994 Stanley Cup championship team has left the NHL. Kovalev was the first Russian drafted in the first round of the NHL draft, by the Rangers in 1991. Kovalev, Alexander Karpovtsev, Sergei Nemchinov and Sergei Zubov were the first to have their name engraved on the Stanley Cup. … Former Springfield Falcons and New York Islanders wing Rob Schremp has signed with MODO in the KHL. He’s one of those talented players who never really reached his potential in the NHL: 20 goals and 34 assists in 114 games with Edmonton, Islanders and former Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets). He was the Oilers’ first-round pick (25th overall) in 2004. … The Danbury Whalers of the Federal Hockey League signed forwards Kevin McCready and Greg Holt, who had 24 goals and 44 assists in 144 games at Quinnipiac University. As a rookie pro last season, he had three goals and six assists in 15 games with the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees in the Central Hockey League and Augusta RiverHawks of the Southern Professional Hockey League. McCready completed his career at Division III Fitchburg State in March.

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3 responses to “FROM THE CREASE with BRUCE BERLET

  1. Bruce&Mitch –
    these columns are always a cool refresher on a hot summer day.
    Some additional comments to your post Re Traverse City.
    (btw – there’s a typo above in Brendan Bell’s last name.)
    I believe Fogarty will not play at TC as it would threaten his eligibility at Notre Dame to play against pro’s.
    The Rangers 20-in-20 pages indicated wing Randy McNaught will join the TC team, health permitting.
    The D will likely include the 2 D 2011 picks, Noreau, and Yogan’s new teammate Ceresnak.
    It would be consistent with past years if CW signees such as Campbell, Audy-Marchessault, Kerbashian attended, [Tessier and Mckelvie were there in ’10, Trevor Glass in ’09.]
    Can’t wait!!! Thanks!

  2. my bad, McNaught evidently won’t be healthy in time “he won’t make it back to the camp this year since he is completing his an ankle injury that ended his 2010-11 season.” http://rangers.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=565554

  3. Elsie: Thanx for the kind words. I only included TC guys that were almost certain of being on the Rangers team. Several that you mentioned are likely to be on team, and we’ll find out all of them Monday. Thanx again for interest. Bruce