FROM THE CREASE with BRUCE BERLET

BY: Bruce Berlet

And on the third day, they rested – deservedly so.

Yes, Monday was an off day for the New York Rangers’ prospects team that moved to 2-0 in a tournament in Traverse City, Mich., with a 6-2 romp over the Dallas Stars on Sunday night. Left wing Ryan Bourque, son of NHL Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, had two goals to increase his total to a team-high three in two games and a team record eight in three tournament appearances. The Rangers broke open the game with third-period goals by Jason Wilson, Andrew Yogan and Bourque.

J.T. Miller, the Rangers’ first-round pick (15th overall) in June, Shane McColgan and Bourque scored in the first period, when Scott Stajcer enabled the Blueshirts to enjoy a 3-1 lead by making 14 of his 26 saves. The Rangers allowed a power-play goal with only 17 seconds left in the second period that got the Stars to 3-2 and gave them a 25-20 shot advantage. But after a plea from coach Ken Gernander for better skating and pressure on Stars goalie Jack Campbell, the Rangers got the first 14 shots of the third period in amassing a 19-3 advantage in the final 20 minutes.

“When we came in the room (Sunday night), we were real proud of each other,” Bourque, who also scored in a 5-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues in their opener Saturday night, told MSG Network’s Dave Maloney. “One of our goals coming in was to get as many wins under our belt as possible because in this tournament that helps you a lot in going forward. I liked the way we finished things off in the third period, getting that many shots and allowing that few. It really helped us out, and we’re looking good going forward in the tournament.”

The Rangers next play the 0-2 Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday at 3 p.m. on the MSG Network and NHL Network. A victory would give the Rangers the Wayne Gretzky Division title and put them in the championship game Wednesday at a time to be announced, when they would try to duplicate the 2007 team that won the tournament. Former Wolf Pack players Marc Staal, Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov were members of that team.

The Rangers hierarchy is delighted with what this year’s team has accomplished so far. They’ve used their speed, skills and adherence to details to lead the tournament in goals against (four), save percentage (.917) and penalty killing (1.000, 11-for-11) and are second in scoring to the Buffalo Sabres (12-11), the favorite to be the finalist from the Gordie Howe Division. And they young Rangers have moved the puck well on the power play, where they’re 4-for-16, cleared the crease and have shown strong team character and chemistry when players have been challenged.

“We’ve won both games, but it’s more the way we’ve played,” Rangers director of player personnel Gordie Clark told Maloney. “We’ve picked it up a notch with the speed and skill, and in both games we were really impressive in the third period. The Blues came back and tied it 2-2, and we took it up in the third period. And then we took it up another notch in the third period in the second game.”

Defenseman Tim Erixon, the Calgary Flames’ first-round pick (23rd overall) in 2009 and son of former Rangers wing Jan Erixon acquired in a trade June 1, and wing Carl Hagelin, who played well in five playoff games with the Connecticut Whale in April, have demonstrated why they are considered the best bets to make the Rangers this season. Erixon has had numerous strong plays, including while quarterbacking the power play, and Hagelin has shown loads of the speed and skill he displayed in his brief time in Hartford.

Bourque has shown why he’s one of the best all-around prospects in the organization with his quickness, grit, guile and savvy that helped produce a shorthanded goal and led to knocking a 6-foot-5 Stars defenseman on his butt. Christian Thomas, the high-scoring son of former NHL wing Steve Thomas, has also shown his speed and considerable skills, and the Rangers have got major contributions from two free-agent signees, defenseman Blake Parlett and diminutive but crafty center Jonathan Audy-Marchessault. Parlett, who excelled for the Whale late last season after being called up from Greenville of the ECHL, is tied for the tournament lead in scoring with five assists, including a team record-tying three against the Blues. Audy-Marchessault has one goal and three assists while showing some deft playmaking skills skating alongside Bourque, a former linemate with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Defenseman Dylan McIlrath, the Rangers’ first-round pick (10th overall) in 2010, has shown he could be an NHL enforcer with several solid scraps while serving as captain and playing with Erixon as the team’s top defensive pairing. McIlrath has been helped in the pugilistic department by feisty 5-foot-8 Shane McColgan, a fifth-round pick in June who came to the defense of linemate Thomas after he took a cheap shot in the Stars game.

Yogan, who had two goals and an assist in the Whale’s final two regular-season games, has shown he has completely recovered from shoulder surgery that sidelined him until the final weeks of last season. He has gone strong to the net, leading to his goal and a plus-3 Sunday after failing to convert three excellent scoring chances against the Blues.

But the biggest beneficiary in the first two games is Stajcer, who allowed a few bad rebounds but couldn’t be faulted on either Stars goals and was the reason the Rangers never trailed Sunday. He was named player of the game in his next attempt to earn a spot in Hartford or Greenville. Clark and Rangers assistant general manager/assistant coach/Whale GM Jim Schoenfeld have said the team is planning to have Stajcer be an over-aged junior this season after he missed most of 2010-11 because of hip surgery in November. But more performances like Sunday night will go a long way toward changing those plans.

Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron are ticketed for the Rangers, while Stajcer, fellow prospect Jason Missiaen and veterans Chad Johnson and Cam Talbot will supposedly vying for two spots with the Whale and one with Greenville, barring a trade. Stajcer, who is playing in his third prospects tournament, looked better than Missiaen did while he was making 18 saves in the opener and is in line to play in a possible title game in the Rangers’ goalie rotation.

In responding to a Maloney question on who might have stood out so far among lower-profile players, Clark cited Stajcer, Missiaen, McColgan, center Michael St. Croix and 6-foot-5, 215-pound defenseman Sam Noreau, another fifth-round pick in June.

“I have to mention the big goalie Missiaen who played his first game ever at this level,” Clark said. “Scottie Stajcer had the hip injury when he probably was probably going to be the Canadian goalie in the World Junior Championships last year, but then he’s gone after 13 games. But he’s back now and was pretty solid, especially in the first period, so that’s good for him and Missiaen.

“The big defenseman Sam Noreau is a guy who’s going to be an aggressive player and a guy who can scrap really well. He’s probably the guy who needs the most work on his feet (skating) and playing the game. He stepped in two games and did fine. We took a chance on the fact he can read the play, which is something we saw that he could do. His feet will get better and he’s tough, but what we had to find out interviewing him was if we were willing to supply the place to work, will you do the work? He’ll do that.”

Noreau fits into the character mold that Clark said he has stressed to his scouts the past few years.

“The team has a lot of character, and that’s something that we’ve done a great job with,” Clark said. “We’re not just building the Rangers on skill. Skill and things like a defenseman’s puck movement is part of it, but character is very important.”

Bourque concurred.

“One of the biggest strengths you can have in hockey is team camaraderie,” Bourque said. “We’ve got to know each other well, and it shows on the ice. … This tournament is great for your development. Coming in as a young guy my first year (2009), I was just trying to take everything in and learn from the older guys. It was great in that way, and then coming back and kind of stepping into a leadership role.

“It’s just great in all aspects in that it gets you into game shape before you actually start your training camp. And you’re playing actual games against great competition. There have been many great players to come through here, and I think the tournament has done a great job in doing that.”

After the day off to relax and perhaps play golf at one of the three quality courses at the Traverse City resort, the Rangers will shoot for a berth in the championship game against a Hurricanes team that includes right wing Jared Staal, the youngest of the four Staal brothers playing pro hockey. They include Marc Staal, who was renamed an alternate captain Monday with center Brad Richards, the top free agent this offseason who signed a nine-year, $60 million contract with the Rangers on July 2. Staal and Richards will assist former Wolf Pack All-Star right wing Ryan Callahan, who was named the 26th captain in Rangers’ history, succeeding Chris Drury. The Trumbull native retired Aug. 19 after the final year of his five-year, $35.25 million contract was bought out by the Rangers on June 30.

Perhaps McIlrath or Bourque or Hagelin or Miller will be a successor to Callahan some day.

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