‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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The annual Traverse City Prospect Tournament serves as a springboard for talented prospects hoping to make the jump into the NHL.

Back in 2010, Derek Stepan took center stage at the tournament held in Traverse City, Michigan. His eye-catching play during the tournament, combined with an impressive camp and strong preseason play allowed Stepan to crack the Rangers’ 2010-11 opening night roster at the tender age of 20.

Stepan scored a memorable hat-trick when he made his NHL debut in Buffalo, while family and friends celebrated every moment at First Niagara Center. There wasn’t any looking back for Stepan from that point forward. He has gone on to establish himself as the Rangers’ true No. 1 center.

All eyes will be closely focused on fellow Minnesotan Danny Kristo in the coming days at Traverse City. The 23-year-old winger was acquired by the New York Rangers in exchange for winger Christian Thomas in a July 2 trade with the Montreal Canadiens.

Rangers director of player personnel Gordie Clark has high hopes for Kristo. He pinpointed Kristo as a prospect who has a significant chance of making the Rangers’ 2013-14 regular-season roster when he spoke to the Rangers’ official website following the trade.

“Danny’s a little older. He’s a little more experienced playing a lot in college,” Clark said. “We have a situation where Hagelin and Callahan are going to be out, at least in the beginning. We feel he has a good chance to fill in one of those roles.”

Both captain Ryan Callahan and winger Carl Hagelin are doubtful to be ready in time to make the Rangers’ October 3 opener in Phoenix. This will give youngsters like Kristo an opportunity to force themselves into new head coach Alain Vigneault’s plans.

Kristo will get the chance to show his stuff in Traverse City against top prospects from the Carolina Hurricanes, Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets before finishing up against either the Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild or St. Louis Blues — depending on where the Rangers place after the round robin games conclude.

It’s possible that Kristo can follow the path of Stepan by shining at the tournament after a highly successful NCAA career. The 5-foot-11 winger enjoyed four fruitful years at the University of North Dakota. He was elected to the 2012-13 WCHA First Team following a 52-point season in 40 games.

Kristo is regarded as an extremely fast skater with a quick release, though he lacks ideal NHL size. He’s a real “dangler” and has shown tremendous ability in World Junior tournaments over the years.

Further questions have been raised about his work ethic, though he was praised for his leadership in his final at North Dakota.

Opening games will get underway on September 5, before the tournament reaches its conclusion on September 9. These games are not being carried on MSG Networks and will instead be shown in highlight packages on the Rangers’ official website.

Here is the Rangers’ full roster for the Traverse City Prospect Tournament:

Forwards: Danny Kristo, Jesper Fast, Oscar Lindberg, Michael St. Croix, Thomas Spelling, Kyle Jean, Anthony Duclair, Josh Graves,JT Barnett, Michael Kantor, Paxton Leroux, Klarc Wilson, Josh Nicholls, and Andrew Yogan.

Defensemen: Troy Donnay, Ryan Graves, Conor Allen, Samuel Noreau, Charlie Dodero, Ben Fanelli, Tommy Hughes and Jimmy Oligny.

Goaltenders: Jeff Malcolm and Mackenzie Skapski.

Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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