As the offseason turns to August, and the rosters begin to take shape, the attention turns away from those with guaranteed roster spots and towards the many prospects within the system that are all competing to be that sleeper in camp. Last year Stu Bickel was that sleeper, and Carl Hagelin was the mid-season call up that many expected he would be. This year there aren’t as many spots open for kids, but there is still a spot or two available for a kid who impresses.
With Tim Erixon traded to Columbus, the prospects on defense with a real chance to make the club are few in numbers. In fact, you can really say that only Dylan McIlrath has a legitimate shot at making the club, although he likely needs a full season at the AHL level.
As for forwards, the list is significantly longer. That said, it is a certainty that the Rangers will not rush their prospects just for the sake of saying they have a rookie on the club (outside of Chris Kreider of course). There are a few kids that will need to turn in fantastic camps in order to even have a longer look come the preseason.
Michael St. Croix is one of the first names that comes to mind as a forward that will get a long look at camp. After a spectacular season in the WHL which saw him finish in the top ten in scoring, St. Croix burst onto the scene amongst Ranger fans. Although the numbers are flashy, St. Croix still has some overall aspects of his game that he will need to work out –likely in the WHL– before he turns pro. Hockey is more than numbers.
J.T. Miller, the Rangers first round pick in 2011, is another name that jumps off the page for most fans. Miller is my personal dark horse to make the team out of camp, but it wouldn’t shock me to see him spend one more year in the OHL (or the AHL) before he contends for a roster spot. Unlike St. Croix, Miller can play in the AHL next season, which may accelerate his growth process.
Steven Fogarty, Jespser Fast (formerly Fasth) and Oscar Lindberg are three guys that may not have the fancy stats that Miller or St. Croix possess, but have all managed to have fairly solid seasons in their respective leagues. Lindberg and Fast may have the inside track, as they have played professionally in Sweden prior to signing their entry-level deals, but Fogarty is not a name that fans should forget.
The others that will likely come up in the conversation (i.e.: Christian Thomas, Marek Hrivik, Ryan Bourque) all need more seasoning, and even a strong camp may not convince the coaching staff to give them a shot right out of the gate. That said, all three will be with the AHL (Thomas can play in the OHL if necessary), and if they impress, would be mid-season call ups.
The Rangers are in a great situation where they don’t need to rush their kids to fill out their roster. They have scoring and depth, but they also have the option to sit a veteran in favor of a kid that impresses. My money is on Miller, but there are plenty others who have the ability to turn heads in September.