Archive for Prospects
The Hartford Wolf Pack squeezed into the second round of the AHL playoffs Friday night with a come from behind 3-2 victory over Providence. Thanks to the overtime win, Hartford won the series 3-2 after being 2-1 down and having struggled to solve the Bruins’ goaltending almost all series.
Defenseman Tommy Hughes scored the series clinching goal just over four minutes into overtime after Chris Mueller’s second powerplay goal of the game tied it with under a minute to play in the third period. Oscar Lindberg, who had struggled to produce offense all series, came up huge in the series decider as he assisted on all three WolfPack goals. The assists were his first points in a series where each game was decided by one goal. Lindberg also had seven shots on net as he made a real impression on the game.
Apart from Lindberg, who continues to grow into a solid Rangers prospect, other prospects of note included Brady Skjei who put four shots on net and Chris Bourque (who can’t really be counted as a prospect but I digress) who grabbed two assists including on the game winner. McKenzie Skapski was back on the bench for Hartford. The ‘Pack will play Wilkes- Barre/Scranton, the Pens affiliate in the next round. The Baby Pens swept their opening round series against Syracuse.
How the Pack’s progress into the second round influences the Rangers’ decision to call up a forward is yet to be seen and may depend on the scheduling of the AHL’s second round. Here’s a GIF of the OT winner, courtesy of Adam Herman.
Per Larry Brooks, highly touted winger Pavel Buchnevich has signed a one-year contract extension to stay in the KHL for next season. Many fans were counting on Buchnevich not only coming over to North America, but competing for an NHL roster spot next year. With Anthony Duclair gone, Buchnevich is the highest rated prospect in the Rangers system.
Fans will need to wait one more year before they see Buchnevich, who just turned 20 years old last week.
For those of you not on Twitter, at today’s practice, the Rangers hosted college standout goalie (and free agent) Matt O’Connor as he concludes his tour of teams in the running to sign him. Boston University’s starting goalie in the Frozen Four, O’Connor has whittled down his final choice to one of the Rangers, Edmonton, Vancouver and Ottawa and is expected to make a decision as early as next week.
On the face of things the Rangers appear to be a strange option for O’Connor as the Rangers are stacked at his position most notably with an all world goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist not going anywhere anytime soon. This week however, O’Connor announced that the team he signs with doesn’t necessarily have to be offering an immediate NHL gig which gives the Rangers a better chance of signing the goalie. Back in March some media reports had suggested some teams had offered O’Connor an immediate NHL spot, something that the Rangers would probably not be offering even if Cam Talbot departs.
Remember when there was all round angst about the lack of talent behind Henrik Lundqvist? Well as has been discussed countless times this season, it couldn’t be any more different right now. It’s a fair assumption to suggest that the Rangers goaltending situation – from top to bottom in the organisation – has never been better, even for an organisation founded in 1926.
The Rangers come at you with a future Hall of fame, Vezina winning goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist, have a young NHL starting calibre goalie to back him up and have another young prospect already making serious waves in the pro ranks. With that said, let’s forget about the big boys in New York for a moment and have a quick look over the prospects below the NHL level.
We all know what Skapski did in his two NHL appearances. Yes, it was the Buffalo Sabres (ECHL edition) but Skapski came in and went 2-0-0, with a shutout and sported a .978 save percentage. He got better as he got more exposure and at 20, has a ton of time on his side. At the AHL level Skapski continues to play well. In 28 games played he is 15-8-3 with a .914 save percentage and three shutouts for a pretty young but solid WolfPack. What is perhaps most exciting however is how Skapski has taken the quick success at the pro level in his stride.
Re-evaluating drafts is always a difficult endeavor. Hindsight is always 20/20, and people tend to call out the failures in the draft rather than the successes. For the Rangers, the 2009 draft was an interesting one. This draft started to set the tone of the types of players on which the Rangers built their farm system. Chris Kreider, their first round pick, was skilled, big, smart, and fast. He had all the tools, but was a bit of a project pick since he was committed to Boston College and at least three or four years away from turning pro.
This is a bit subjective, but I’d say it takes about five years before you can fairly evaluate a draft. Again, this is all with the benefit of hindsight, but it’s fun nonetheless.
As the New York Rangers continue to struggle for offense and as Martin St Louis remains sidelined, prospect Oscar Lindberg has continued to play well for the Hartford WolfPack at both ends of the rink. Lindberg scored another two points Friday night, including his twentieth goal of the season as the ‘Pack won their Friday night game against Leigh Valley, 3-2.
Lindberg did all his damage on the powerplay last night (take note Rangers special teamers…) and has really developed his offense at the AHL level. He has reached the 20 goal plateau for the first time, scoring two more goals than last year but in 13 games less, while he should pass his career high of 44 points imminently. Like JT Miller, it appears Lindberg is outgrowing the AHL.
Lindberg has played consistently well all season for the Pack. His style and skill set should fit seamlessly in to New York and with the Rangers relying on depth for offense Lindberg should be getting a look given that cap space is available and they have enough transactions available to make a move.
The New York Rangers have signed 2013 third round pick Adam Tambellini to a three-year entry-level contract. Tambellini, currently with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, has a line of 45-34-79 in 65 games this season as an overager. With Anthony Duclair now in Arizona, Tambellini is one of the better forward prospects in the system, with a good blend of size and skill.
Tambellini left the University of North Dakota halfway through last season to join the Hitmen. In the NCAA, Tambellini had a line of 2-2-4 in 16 games. In the 31 games with Calgary that season, he had a line of 17-22-39.
Tambellini will join the Hartford Wolf Pack next season, where he will likely need at least a year (probably more) before hopefully pushing for a spot on the NHL roster.
For those of you that have been around for a while, you know that in the beginning, Mike Axisa of River Ave Blues was a bit helper in getting us off the ground here. Naturally, I’m a Yankee fan, and I read RAB daily. Recently, Mike penned a post about prospect fatigue, and how fans and experts alike sometimes get tired of mentioning the same prospect for multiple years in a row. This is not a concept that is unique to baseball.
This same concept, I believe, applies to Dylan McIlrath. Drafted in the first round in 2010, McIlrath was a project pick who would take several years to develop. A huge, punishing defenseman meant to be that big time crease clearer that the Rangers haven’t had since Jeff Beukeboom. Five years later, McIlrath is still developing along his slow timetable.
For the first few years, McIlrath was always ranked somewhat highly in the prospect rankings coming from Hockeys Future, Corey Pronman, or more recently, Adam Herman. But the longer he was in the system, even when he was still in the AHL, he dropped in the rankings. On Hockey Future, McIlrath is ranked as the 5th best defenseman. Pronman had him 9th overall. Herman 8th. McIlrath, up until this year, usually was in the top-five.
So what changed?
ESPN runs their top prospects lists a few times per year, and this time around they rectified something that was perceived as a slap in the face to Ranger fans. The rankings –written by Corey Pronman, who is one of the best prospect evaluators around, so no lazy ESPN comments please– ranked Pavel Buchnevich at #25 and left Anthony Duclair off the list (honorable mention).
This time around (Insider only), following Duclair’s fantasatic preseason and promising first stint in the NHL bumped him all the way to #12 on the list. Buchnevich, who is having an outstanding year in the KHL, moved to #15 in the list. Duclair is expected to compete for a roster spot next year. Buchnevich’s contract with his KHL club is up this year, and he’s expected to join the Rangers organization and push for a roster spot out of camp.
That’s why these lists are always worth a read, it can show you progress relative to other prospects around the world. With one preseason and a handful of regular season games, Duclair jumped 88 spots to #12 on the top prospects list. Buchnevich jumped 10 spots. It’s also fun to read the “experts” dissection of Pronman’s rankings (Insider only).
In their latest team prospect rankings, Corey Pronman and Hockey’s Future each had the Rangers 28th, while The Hockey News put the Blueshirts dead last. Granted, each of those outlets has its own set of criteria, but the general consensus among the so-called experts was that the Rangers didn’t have much talent on the way.
Many that followed the baby Blueshirts more closely knew the future was actually very bright, and a few months later the rest of the hockey world has taken notice as well.
2013 third-round picks Pavel Buchnevich and Anthony Duclair just finished lighting up the World Junior Championships, while the pair of goalies selected in the 2014 draft, Brandon Halverson and Igor Shesterkin also impressed in the top prospect tournament. That duo, along with 2013 sixth-round pick Mackenzie Skapski have turned what was considered a major organizational weakness into one of the best young groups in the league.
Buchnevich and Duclair continue to look like stars in the making, as does 2010 first-round pick Kevin Hayes, whom the club poached from Chicago in August.
Meanwhile it appears the light bulb may have finally clicked on for J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast has become an NHL regular, 2013 third-rounder Adam Tambellini ranks seventh in the WHL in goal scoring, 2011 third-rounder Steven Fogarty is captaining Notre Dame, 2012 first-rounder Brady Skjei has established himself as one of the best college players in the country, and 2013 fourth-rounder Ryan Graves was just named one of the QMJHL’s three stars of the month.
Indeed, things are looking quite rosy for the Rangers’ prospect pipeline.
Tampa Bay has been generally considered to have the best future core of any team in the league after the Lightning integrated a slew of impact rookies into it’s lineup last year, but are the Rangers really that far behind? Here are each team’s players of note 25 years old or younger:
Rangers: Ryan McDonagh (25), Derek Stepan (24), Chris Kreider (23), Kevin Hayes (22), J.T. Miller (21), Jesper Fast (23), Brady Skjei (20), Anthony Duclair (19), Pavel Buchnevich (19), Ryan Graves (19), Igor Shesterkin (19), Brandon Halverson (18)
Lightning: Alex Killorn (25), Tyler Johnson (24), Victor Hedman (24), Radko Gudas (24), Ondrej Palat (23), Brett Connolly (22), Vladislav Namestnikov (22), Kristers Gudļevskis (22), Nikita Kucherov (21), Cedric Paquette (21), Andrei Vasilevskiy (20), Slater Koekkoek (20), Jonathan Drouin (19), Adam Erne (19), Anthony DeAngelo (19)
Of course, 24-year-old Steve Stamkos is Tampa’s trump card, but considering the Rangers have been choosing near the end of the first round for years as opposed to the top of it, that’s not too shabby.
Of course, player development is a tricky business and even the guys that appear to be well on their way can and will hit stumbling blocks, but for now it’s safe to say there is much more in the cupboard than many prospect gurus believed.