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Where to Go From Here?

We're just about at that time of year again. Snow crunches under your feet, annoying Christmas music is played in every grocery store, and Bob McKenzie is causing controversy on twitter. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's junior hockey's second most glorious annual tradition, the World Junior Championship (some would argue the first most glorious, but I'm a big Memorial Cup fan)

So where does this leave the Rangers? Already short due to injury woes, the team now loses leading scorers Radek Faksa and Tobias Rieder, as well as defensemen Ryan Murphy and goalie John Gibson. Brent Pedersen will also play for Team Ontario at the World U17's in Windsor.

This becomes a true test of the team's depth. This is the perfect opportunity for Matia Marcantuoni (him more than anyone really) to step up and show that he really is worth all the pre-season hype after his rookie season last year. Brandon Francisco, Eric Ming, Zach Lorentz, and pretty much everyone else who plays forward for the Rangers has a huge opportunity ahead of them. Time to prove that they're worth it.

Of course it's also a great chance for Franky Palazzese. When I spoke with him at the beginning of the season, he told me he'd love to be the number 1 goalie in Kitchener. Then of course, John Gibson came around. No knock at Franky at all as he is a stellar net minder, but Gibson is just a little bit better. I'm sure Franky would love to prove me and everyone else wrong and show that he can be a starting net minder in this league. He's already proven that he's a strong goaltender. In 11 games played he has a save percentage of .932, and is 7-3-1. Not bad for a guy who was essentially hung and dried by fans in Kingston just a few months ago. So far Franky has proven to be very strong between the pipes in Kitchener, and I don't think anyone else would doubt that.

The final missing piece will be Ryan Murphy on defence and quite frankly, there isn't much to worry about there. Murph has been having his share of struggles this season. He was expected to lead the OHL in defensive points, yet only has 9 points as we get very close to the halfway point. Of course he has only played 14 games due to Carolina's camp and injury, and will now miss more due to WJHC, but there's been a few other defensive mistakes that, for a first round NHL draft pick, shouldn't be happening.

This is no big secret of course. On Tuesday night at the Aud it was obvious that Ryan was getting fed up with himself (and maybe the officials too.. i think everyone saw that slash except the zebras). He certainly puts more pressure on himself than anyone else puts on him. I fully expect Murph to make the world junior team, and return to Kitchener in January ready to take the league by storm.

The Rangers also made a trade with the Generals this week, sending a 4th round pick in the 2012 OHL Draft, a 4th round pick in 2015 and a conditional 3rd round 2017 pick, in return for Mitch Eden, a 17 year old blue liner currently playing Junior A in Hunstville. Could this be a sign of more trades to come?

I believe Spott has to decide over the WJHC whether or not this team is going to make a serious run in the spring. If the team performs well without it's top guys, why not? If they don't well then just stay the course and wait until next year. If the team were to make a run this year though, they can't trade away rookies or unsigned draft picks that will be next years core. My opinion is that the best option would be for a couple more guys who can score. Not necessarily a big name forward, but someone who can put the puck in the net more often than not to give this team a little more secondary scoring. With that in mind I do not think, that at this point, it's entirely impossible for the Rangers to make a long post season run in March. But again that all depends on the how things go over then next few weeks.

Congratulations to all Ranger fans for raising 7662 bears on teddy bear night this past Tuesday! I'm already looking forward to next year where an extra 1000 seats will mean an extra 1500 bears!

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