Could new youthful Rangers be getting some extra veteran help?

By Mark Pare

It might seem like we're creating some false hope here.

But how would it feel to have guys like Logan Stanley, Adam Mascherin and Connor Bunnaman mentoring some of the young faces on this new Kitchener Rangers team?

Yes, dumb question.

These three had excellent campaigns in 2018, leading the team to a Midwest Division title and all the way to Game 7 of the Western Conference Final against a tough Soo Greyhounds team.

Rangers General Manager Mike McKenzie says the team isn't looking back, and are focused on 2018-19.

But hockey's a funny game sometimes, and it's fun to speculate.

McKenzie sat down with Mike Farwell during his season preview show on 570 NEWS Sunday and the topic came up.

“I think they've all shown now that they're ready for pro hockey.  They're all big, strong guys,” he said, “Usually when a guys being sent back, they may be a little smaller or not where they need to be…but strange things happen.”

“Obviously a guy like Kole Sherwood last year, I don't think Flint was expecting him to come back and he got injured in preseason and didn't get to skate much and he was a step behind so (the Columbus Blue Jackets) felt that was best for his development.  I suppose you never say never, but I'd be shocked if any of those guys are back.”

Stanley was a first-round pick with the Winnipeg Jets in 2016, Mascherin was scooped up in the fourth round by Dallas in June and Bunnaman was also a fourth-rounder, taken by Philadelphia in 2016.

All three have signed entry-level deals, and would be overagers in junior hockey.

Currently, the Rangers have two born in 1998 that dressed over the weekend: Kyle Gentles and Connor Hall.

CHL teams can only have three on their roster, so obviously some moves would have to be made.

Only time will tell but of course, there are two others that weren't mentioned.

Logan Brown was a first round pick with Ottawa in 2016, and already has four NHL games under his belt.

With the Sens struggles last season, Brown likely will be counted upon at least with their AHL affiliate in Belleville.

The other would be Givani Smith, Detroit's second rounder a couple years ago.

He's also poised to make the jump up to Grand Rapids (AHL).  But even if there was a chance he comes back to the OHL, he would miss the first game because of a suspension he incurred in the playoffs last spring.

There is another NHL prospect that's eligible to play in the OHL and property of the blueshirts.

That would be Swedish defenseman Axel Andersson, who was taken in the first round of the 2018 Import Draft.

He's also property of the Boston Bruins — taken in the second round in June — and much like the three players mentioned above, Andersson has already signed his entry-level deal.

“I wouldn't rule it out completely,” McKenzie says on the prospect of having the Swede make the move over to junior, “We're still in contact with Axel's agent and Boston…and we'll see what happens.”

McKenzie goes on to say that Andersson's primary goal for this year is to play pro in his native Sweden with Djurgardens, which he commends.

“That should be every 18 and 19-year old's goal, to play against men and prove themselves against the best competition possible,” he said, “But on the flip side of that, it's a very good league and there aren't many 18-year olds, unless you're talking about the top end, elite guys that are ready for that when they're 18.”

“We'll continue to talk with him and see what's best, and see what Boston has to say and go from there.”

The plan is to see Andersson in Buffalo, as he is part of the Bruins' roster for the NHL Prospects Challenge from September 7-10.

But even if any of that doesn't pan out, McKenzie still has confidence in what they have on the ice.

“We're going to be a little bit younger, obviously, but still a lot of good players in that room and guys that are looking to prove themselves and fill those gaps that were maybe left and take on bigger roles with us this year,” he said.

Of note, McKenzie adds he's excited about the character and compete level throughout the dressing room.

“It's definitely an exciting year,” he said, “It was fun last year but you have to turn the page at some point.  Last year's over and it's 2018-19 now and we're looking forward to the start of a fresh season with some new guys here.”

The last sentence may put a damper on the speculation altogether.

But when there's even a sliver of a chance, that's still something.

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