Where the forward prospects stand
Before Friday’s draft it’s a good idea to take stock of what the Rangers already have in the system. If New York follows suit, then the Blueshirts will pick the best player available regardless of position. However, it’s worth evaluating where the team’s strengths lie, starting with a status update for the organization’s forwards.
J.A.M. burst onto the scene in 2011-2012 with a surprisingly strong showing at the Traverse City Tournament in September and he was only just getting started. Ryan Bourque’s old teammate with the QMJHL’s Quebec Ramparts earned a one-year contract with the Whale and made the most of the opportunity. He battled for the team points lead all season and finished with 64 (24 goals, 40 assists), tied for the team lead and good for third among AHL rookies. Audy-Marchessault still faces an uphill climb to the NHL thanks to his (listed) 5-foot-9, 175-pound frame, but he is much closer to achieving his dream than he was a year ago. The bad news is that J.A.M. may not even be Rangers’ property come July; the 21-year-old is an unrestricted free agent and may prefer to sign with a club that could better use his services. It’s hard to see exactly where Audy-Marchessault fits in the prospect depth chart and he’d likely garner several other offers following his banner year. GM Glen Sather will surely offer J.A.M. a contract, but the rest is up to him.
Bourque was one of the last cuts at training camp but disappeared for the first chunk of the season with Connecticut after suffering a concussion in his third game. He drew little attention the rest of the way because of his irrelevant offensive production (six goals and eight assists in 69 games), but suddenly Bourque was in the spotlight again as the Whale began its playoff run. Bourque was one player that noticeably raised his game in the postseason and even contributed a bit more offensively with two goals and an assist in nine postseason games. It’s tough to imagine Bourque being much of a scorer at the NHL level, but he has a very well-rounded game, is a terrific skater and is a major pest on the forecheck, qualities that could endear him to the Rangers’ coaching staff sooner than some of the organization’s more touted prospects. Bourque’s confidence is surely higher after a strong late season push and since he was one of the last cuts last year, it stands to reason that he could push very hard for a bottom-six role in New York next year.
The Rangers’ 2010 sixth-round pick quickly emerged as a player to watch in the 2011-2012 campaign. However, after a rousing start, Fast fractured his foot in November, knocking him for most of the season. Fast was unable to get back on track before the season closed, but he still finished with 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 21 games. This is a player that has remained mostly off the radar playing overseas, however there are whispers that he could be quite the steal. Fast is known for his wheels (irony!) and for being a solid two-way energy guy, but he also has some offensive ability. Fast will spend one more year in Sweden, but he inked a deal with New York earlier this spring and his priority is clearly to play for the Blueshirts. He is definitely someone to watch next year and could become a pleasant surprise.
Fogarty was selected in the third round last year with the pick acquired for Evgeny Grachev. It wasn’t shocking that the Rangers decided to move on from Grachev, but Fogarty was a complete unknown at the time. No longer. Fogarty joined the BCHL’s Penticton Vees and enjoyed a monster rookie season with 33 goals and 49 assists in 60 games, including 10-game winning goals. Fogarty has a lot of size listed at 6-foot-2, 195 lbs and is only beginning to learn how to use his considerable frame. He’ll join the University of Notre Dame next season and should garner more attention among prospect experts after playing for a team more in the spotlight. When he was first selected, Fogarty was expected to be a long-term project. That hasn’t really changed, but he clearly possesses solid playmaking ability, a nice finishing touch and impressive intangibles. Don’t expect Fogarty to contend for a roster spot in the next couple of years, but early signs indicate that he could be a huge upgrade over Grachev.
Two months ago this name would have been meaningless to all but diehard Moncton fans, where Hrivik played as a junior. But suddenly during the playoffs everyone was wondering who Connecticut’s new leading goal-scorer was and whether he could be recalled to give the Rangers an offensive injection. Hrivik earned himself a contract with his surprising postseason outburst (five goals and four assists in nine games), but beyond that is unclear. He was quiet in his eight regular season games with the Whale and although he was productive with Moncton, no one expected much of him as a professional. Perhaps he’s finally found his stride, but the upcoming campaign will give a much better indication of whether Hrivik is the latest undrafted gem unearthed by New York, or a one-hit wonder.
The second European prospect to ink a deal with the Blueshirts this spring; Lindberg is known for one redeeming quality that is lacking throughout the Rangers’ system – faceoff prowess. That’s Lindberg’s meal ticket right now and its all that most know about him. However, he’s also a strong skater, willing physical player and plays a solid two-way game. He’s failed to put up offensive numbers of note in the challenging Swedish Elite League against grown men, but that league is not always the best offensive gauge for young players. Lindberg could end up with the Whale this year, but it’s probably more likely that he stays one more season in Europe. It’s hard to say exactly what the Rangers have on their hands with Lindberg, but he seems to have decent bottom-six potential and could fill the role of faceoff specialist.
What a difference two years makes. Heading into the 2010-2011 season, McColgan was commonly projected to be a top-15 2011 draft pick. Instead, he tumbled down to the Rangers at pick #134. McColgan’s progression ground to a halt this year and his point total dipped marginally for the second consecutive season. In a system with a number of undersized prospects, McColgan certainly failed to ascend the depth chart in his first season with the organization. McColgan may be in a better position to succeed next year, as the Saskatoon Blades traded for his rights in an effort to stockpile talent during the team’s host year for the Memorial Cup (the host team earns an automatic qualifying bid for the junior circuit’s Final Four). McColgan must be more consistent next season to earn a contract, because right now his progression seems to be going in the wrong direction.
As usual, many questioned the Rangers’ first-round selection in 2011, but the team’s scouting staff knew exactly what it was doing with Miller. The Ohio native plays a hardnosed game with offensive ability that seems tailor-made for the Blueshirt blueprint. Miller enjoyed a strong rookie season with the Plymouth Whalers, posting 25 goals and 37 assists in 61 games. He seemed to tire out down the stretch, but Miller has lived up to his billing thus far. Last summer the 19-year-old repeatedly said his goal was to turn professional after one OHL season, a lofty goal, but there exists a chance that Miller’s development could be accelerated in the fall. Another season in Plymouth wouldn’t hurt, but Miller doesn’t lack for confidence or drive and he’ll be dead set on winning a spot with the Rangers or the CT Whale in September. New York was thrilled with his progress this season and even included Miller on the “black aces” taxi squad to reinforce the team during the postseason, so don’t be shocked if Miller sticks around until the very end at training camp. It’s probably unreasonable to think he’s ready for the jump just yet, but Miller could force the Rangers to make a tough decision.
Michael St. Croix
Along with McColgan, St. Croix was thought to be a solid value pick when New York snapped him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft. St. Croix had already proven the ability to put up numbers at the junior level, but the big concern was that if he didn’t make it as a top-six scorer, he had little chance of carving out a career in the NHL. St. Croix was relatively invisible at the Traverse City Tournament, leading many to wonder if this was a classic case of a premier junior scorer with no real future. Well, the 2011-2012 campaign saw St. Croix’s stock skyrocket, as the 19-year-old racked up 105 points (40 goals, 65 assists) to finish eighth amongst WHL players in scoring. Perhaps better yet, St. Croix’s defensive play improved steadily as he’s made it a priority to round out his game. St. Croix still has plenty of work to do, but he has a ton of potential and the chance to be a good producer in the NHL. St. Croix will spend another season with the defending champion Edmonton Oil Kings before he could potentially join the CT Whale in 2013.
Thomas got off to a rocky start in 2011-2012, first failing to wow at the Traverse City Tournament and training camp where he faced high expectations, then suffering an upper-body injury that may have been a concussion, and finally earning a questionable 10-game suspension for a high-stick. Partially due to these speed bumps, Thomas had a devil of a time getting on the scoresheet in the early going after a monster 99-point campaign in 2010-2011. He came on in the second half and finished with a respectable 34 goals and 33 assists in 55 games, but Thomas’s season is still considered something of a disappointment. The chief knock on Thomas continues to be his diminutive size (listed at 5-foot-9, 170 lbs), however he does have a high compete level and a fairly polished game. He’ll turn professional next season and will likely play the full campaign with the Connecticut Whale. 2012-2013 could be a pivotal period for the 20-year-old. His pure goal-scoring ability is not in question, but he needs to bulk up and prove that he can compete against men to propel his progression. Thomas could earn a long look in training camp, but a player his size likely needs to pack on more muscle and develop slowly to have a realistic shot at cracking the Rangers’ lineup.
Which prospect led the Rangers’ organization in goals this year? You might be surprised to learn that the answer is Andrew Yogan. The Florida native struggled out of the gate, but piled up goals by the bushel in the second half and wound up with an impressive 41-37-78 line in 66 games. Yogan holds tantalizing appeal because he may be the sole pure power forward prospect in the pipeline, but he’s been pockmarked with demerits already in his young career. There are many questions about Yogan’s commitment and discipline that have existed since the day he was drafted in 2010 and little has changed. Yogan has the talent and size to be an impact NHL player, but it’s impossible to say whether he’ll ever fulfill that potential. The Rangers have been mum on his progress and it wouldn’t be shocking to see them ship him out of town at the draft.