Despite it being the dog days of the summer for the pros there has still been some important hockey played by some of the Rangers most prized prospects. Steve Fogarty, Brady Skjei and JT Miller have been attending the initial US world juniors’ evaluation camp over the last week and all three have performed well. Chris Peters of the excellent United States of Hockey website (a blog dedicated to US hockey) has been following the camp and has been kind enough to give us some updates on all three Rangers representatives.
Chris has been monitoring the US evaluation camp closely and what follows is some insight on each of the Rangers prospects, how they performed to date and offered some opinion as to their NHL futures.
This is what Chris had to say about college bound Steve Fogarty:
Coming into the U.S. WJC camp, I was as excited as anyone to see Fogarty play. After looking at his numbers from Penticton, I was eager to see if the offense would translate to the much tougher competition in Lake Placid and I don’t know that it did fully. Either way, Fogarty is showing flashes of strong skill for a guy his size and a developing offensive game. He hasn’t been able to make the quick decisions in camp that come with playing at a higher pace, but that’s less alarming due to the fact that it’s August yet. It will be important to see if it’s still an issue when he gets to Notre Dame.
The real value with Fogarty however is his defensive capabilities. He is showing signs of good two-way ability and once he learns to use his body a little better, he should do quite well for himself in the future. Fogarty still has quite a ways to go to get to his ceiling, but I think he ends up topping out as a potential third-line center at the NHL level. It’s all a matter of him raising his game as the competition raises around him with each step.
As for right now, I think Fogarty has a shot for the World Junior team in December in that No. 3 or 4 center role. We’ll see how he fares the rest of camp and then it will be more important to see how he adjusts to college hockey. If he can handle playing against the bigger, faster guys, I think he’ll be able to put up some points and be in the hunt for a roster spot on the U.S. National Junior Team, despite very stiff competition this year.
It’s interesting to see Chris’ opinion on how Fogarty projects at the pro level. His production at the BCHL level suggests he’s an offensive prospect but it appears that while his skill level has flashed through on occasion during the US camp it’s his two-way ability that is perhaps the key aspect of his game. Sather, Gordie Clark and the Rangers brass have drafted several players with well rounded skill sets over the past few seasons and Fogarty appears to be another of this ilk.
Perhaps the biggest performer to early at the camp from a Rangers perspective has been JT Miller. Here’s Chris’ take on the OHL prospect.
For me, Miller has been one of the most noticeable forwards for Team USA. He’s shown his good speed and strength, but most importantly he’s showing a maturity in his game that wasn’t there a year ago. Consistency issues have always been a knock on Miller, but based on what I’ve seen in the games he’s played in Lake Placid, he’s showing poise and patience.
Miller’s always had really good vision and the ability to make quick decisions with the puck. It’s even better now. Miller lets plays develop in front of him and typically makes the right decision to put himself and his linemates in the best position to create something. Having that poise with the puck, good speed and good strength, he’s showing he might not be terribly far from having an NHL-ready game.
I think another year in Plymouth will help him, even though I think going to the AHL would probably help him more. If Miller can hit his stride and remain consistent, I think he could top out as a top-six winger in the NHL, but more conservatively top-nine. As a returning player, Miller should be on the U.S. Junior team barring something completely unforeseen and would likely play a top-six role. As long as he’s available, he’ll be counted on for defense.
It’s hard not to like what Chris sees in Miller. There’s been an obvious maturity and progression in his game and given that he appears close to NHL ready another season out of the NHL limelight will do wonders for his game.
Whether it be in the OHL with Plymouth or in the AHL, Miller will need to show some of the patience alluded to by Chris Peters given that the Rangers are pretty stacked with their top nine. Gordie Clark always discusses how he likes a prospect to dominate at the next level and hopefully we see that from Miller this year. Derek Stepan, in his last year of college, looked more than ready for the pros and emphasised that with his play in the world juniors. Hopefully we see that same kind of statement from Miller.
Finally, and perhaps the prospect Rangers fans know least about is Brady Skjei. Here’s Chris Peter’s take on what he saw from Skjei earlier this week.
Skjei doesn’t always stand out in games, but if you’re paying attention, you’ll see it’s a good thing. I don’t know that he’ll ever be a point producing defenseman, but Skjei is really developing into a strong defenseman. He skates incredibly well, which is certainly his best asset. It allows him to recover if he makes a mistake, but also makes it tough for opposing forwards to get by him and get a clear shot. The speed also allows Skjei to take advantage of open ice, which he does so well. Finding the seams and knowing when to turn it up is great for leading the transition.
He’ll be playing on an Olympic-sized sheet at Minnesota, which should allow him to flourish with those great wheels. He’ll also step into a pretty sizable role right away. Skjei is also showing a better physical game, where he’s stepping up on opponents, using his big frame on the walls and in puck protection. I think his NHL ceiling is probably in the No. 4 or 5 range, if you want to put a depth chart spin on it.
I would be pretty surprised if Skjei is left off the World Junior team, but there’s a lot of time between now and December and he’s going to be an 18-year-old Dman looking for a spot in a tournament that favors 19-year-olds. Still think he has the track record and the skills to be in the mix and have an inside track on a final spot on the team.
Reading Peter’s take on Skjei, he sounds the classic Rangers pick in recent years. The club have clearly prioritised great skating ability in their picks and that is Skjei’s calling card. If he can develop his game and be able to lead the transition at the NHL level Skjei may give the Rangers another well rounded defenseman. Mike Sauer and Mike Del Zotto aside, the Rangers hall mark on defense is the unit’s all round ability. Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi can all play both ends effectively and it sounds like Skjei could be a similar type. Heading to Minnesota is perfect for the Rangers where he’ll be a key part of a powerhouse college program. It’s been a great production line for the Rangers in recent years.
In all, it’s great to see the Rangers prospects doing so well in a camp full of talent, making the first cuts. With Miller getting playing time with the likes of Alex Galchenyuk and Skjei mixing it with the Dumba’s and Seth Jones’ of the prospect world it can only bode well for their long term futures.
A big thanks once again to Chris Peters for his take on the Rangers’ trio. If you don’t already (shame on you) then make sure you head to Chris’ website, the United States of hockey, where over the course of the season you’ll likely hear more about the Rangers US prospects and all facets of US hockey outside of the pro ranks. You can also follow Chris on twitter.