Where the defense 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. Kevin evaluated the forwards, so let’s look at the defense.

Tim Erixon

Erixon has been met with a lot of hype since the Rangers stole him (along with what turned out to be Shane McColgan) from Calgary for two second round picks and Roman Horak last year. After two successful seasons with Skelleftea HC in the SEL, Erixon came over to the NHL and was expected to make the club without any time in the AHL, which is exactly what happened. That said, Erixon struggled during his first NHL stint in October, finishing with no points and a -3 rating in nine games before being sent to the Connecticut Whale. Those nine games would be Erixon’s longest stint with the big club, but all was not lost. Erixon dominated the AHL, finishing with 33 points (3-30-33) in 42 games). The Swede is as NHL ready as you can get. Barring a major setback, he should be a Ranger next fall.

Dylan McIlrath

The other big name among the defensive prospects, McIlrath is the topic of much debate among Ranger fans. The Undertaker is a beast at 6’5″ and 215 lbs and surprised many with a strong showing in training camp before returning to Moose Jaw for what appears to be one final season. McIlrath is one of the most improved prospects in the entire organization. Blessed with size and stength, skating was naturally a concern for McIlrath. Part of his strong showing in training camp was due to his strong development in skating. McIlrath likley needs a season in the AHL before he’s ready for the big show, but another strong showing in camp can prove us otherwise.

Stu Bickel

Oh the curious case of Stu Bickel. One of the major turning points of the season was his ability to step right in and make Mike Sauer’s absence from the lineup tolerable. He bring a physical jam to the lineup that was going to be sorely missed with Sauer out, and the kid did a tremendous job filling in those shoes. Unfortunately for Bickel, he was exploited in the playoffs for being less than stellar with his skating ability. His ice time showed that he lost the trust of his coaching staff. Bickel did a great job, but in the end he is a depth defenseman for this club. Expect him to rotate between bottom pairing duties and the press box.

Pavel Valentenko

Gone to the KHL. So long.

Mikhail Pashnin

Pashnin is another interesting case, as not many know what to make of this defensive defenseman. He is still under contract in the KHL through next season, and it’s unclear whether he will ever come to the NHL. Slava Fetisov publicly called him out last summer for planning on playing in the U.S., and it worked for time being. Reports are that Pashnin won’t come over from the KHL unless he’s guaranteed a roster spot. That’s unlikely to happen, so expecting him to make the club is expecting a lot.

Samuel Noreau

Another player with tremendous size (6’5″, 205 lbs), Noreau has established himself as a premier defender in the high scoring QMJHL on a bottom-feeding Baie-Comeau club. Noreau isn’t going to light up the scoreboard, but the fact that he was able to maintain a positive +/- rating despite playing for a sub-par Baie-Comeau team speaks volumes. His ATO with the Connecticut Whale didn’t yield any playing time. Like most big players, he needs to work on his skating to have any future in the NHL. At just 19 years old, expect Noreau to play one more year in the QMJHL before the Rangers make a decision on him. He projects out to be a depth defenseman.

Jyri Niemi

Niemi is easy to sum up: He spent the majority of this year in the ECHL. Depth at the NHL and AHL level have pushed him off the depth chart. Barring a huge turnaround, he won’t sniff action at the big club.

Blake Parlett

Parlett is a guy that a lot of fans fell in love with at the Traverse City Tournament last summer. He had a strong tournament, but faltered as his second pro season progressed. Despite starting the season in the AHL, Parlett found himself spending time in the ECHL as well. Depth chart issues forced the Whale’s hand with Parlett, who will need a strong preseason to remain at the AHL level. He’s taking the Dan Girardi route to success, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he will have success. Counting on him as anything more than an AHL player seems risky.

Peter Ceresnak

Ceresnak is a lot like Noreau in the sense that he is a big body (6’3″, 209 lbs) with a need to work on his skating ability. Also like Noreau, Ceresnak’s ATO with Connecticut yielded no playing time. Considering Ceresnak has played just one season in the OHL, it’s premature to really give him a projection. He needs at least one or two more years in the OHL, and will likely need time at the AHL level as well. He also projects out to be a depth defenseman.