The Rangers held their first intra-squad Development Camp scrimmage Sunday. Vince Mercogliano did a great job of summarizing who stood out in the scrimmage. No surprise, Nils Lundkvist, who will enter regular training the favorite to earn the sixth d-man spot, had a good first day, but others did as well. The second scrimmage will be at noon today.
Braden Schneider, Zac Jones (paired with Schneider) and Matthew Robertson have each had their moments — Jones, in particular, stands out when he has the puck in small-area drills — but you can see why Lundkvist (paired with Robertson) is considered the front-runner for the opening on the third D pair. His release is lightning quick, he's crafty with the puck and he's mobile. He's also bulked up a bit since the last time I saw him in person back in 2019. He looks like an exciting prospect.
The D depth is enviable. This is to the point where Tramo Reunanen, a solid prospect in his own right, has slid down the pecking order. Schneider has shown a willingness and propensity to hit, which has been evident so far in camp. Jones, who saw a handful of games with the Rangers after winning the NCAA title the benefit of NHL experience, while Robertson is the one of the big four that we sometimes have a tendency to forget. But, if he is dealt a part of a bigger deal, I could see him blossoming into a top-four blueliner.
I've been hearing about Cuylle's shot for a year now and it was certainly effective on Sunday. Bill Bowler, the GM of Cuylle's OHL team, the Windsor Spitfires, told me the 19-year-old has "a pro shot already," which is a sentiment I've heard from multiple sources. Both goals came on wrist shots you could argue the goalie had a decent enough look at, but you can't argue with the results. The first came from the top of the right circle after a drop pass from Alex Whelan and the second came on a rush down the left side in which he managed to get the shot through Schneider, who was defending him closely. Cuylle, our No. 9 prospect for the Rangers, showed no hesitation in getting pucks to the net. He's also a thick dude at 6-foot-3, 212 pounds who has been very willing to engage in the physical parts of the game. You can see why the Rangers like his style.
Cuylle, a second round pick in 2020, was selected partially for his size and willingness to be physical, but also for his shot. Signed to an ELC in April, Cuylle needs some AHL seasoning, but the player who models his game a little after Tom Wilson - you decide good or bad - is one of those with green arrows rising next to his name.
Morgan Barron is playing with confidence — as he should be. At 22 years old with a season in the AHL under his belt, he's one of the elder statesmen at this development camp. Former Rangers coach David Quinn said Barron "looked nervous" at last season's training camp, but Barron said the only day he's more comfortable this time around. Granted, this isn't NHL competition — but he's been getting inside consistency and stands tall in the offensive at 6-foot-4. He had two early chances in the scrimmage, which were both stopped by goalie Dylan Garand, but his ability to create high-danger chances was encouraging. Kevin Rooney is the favorite to begin the season as the fourth-line center, but this could turn into a competition if Barron plays well.
Like Jones, Barron has the benefit of NHL experience. In addition, after having gone through training camp last season, as Mercogliano noted, he no longer has the deer in the headlights look. Granted, he, like all, is learning a new system, but he is a veteran to a certain extent and should be standing out. Barron likely will open 2021 as the 1C for the Wolf Pack, but he could change the equation with a strong training camp.
Another forward I've been impressed with in the small sample is Karl Henriksson. The 2019 second-round pick hasn't been very productive in the SHL, but everyone raves about his hockey IQ and vision. You can see his calmness with the puck and his ability to make nifty passes, but he's also been engaged physically. I've witnessed the 5-foot-9, 176-pounder go hard into one-on-one battles along the wall a few times and he was a pest on the forecheck during the scrimmage. At one point from the F1 position (meaning the lead forechecker), our No. 8-ranked prospect disrupted a breakout from the blue team by throwing a check, intercepting a pass and getting off a quick shot on goal.
Henriksson is slated to start the year again in the SHL. Part of that driver is that he is ineligible to play in the AHL, meaning that it's the NHL or Swedish Hockey League. Henriksson's prospect status had dimmed a little, but a strong development camp, followed by a good training camp and season in Sweden will raise the view on him, Henriksson was thought of a possible future 2C, which could be his ceiling, though he has work to get there.