Taking stock of what’s coming down the prospect pipeline
On the cusp
After bursting onto the scene during the 2012 playoffs, Kreider struggled out of the gate with the CT Whale to start the 2013 season. He joined the Rangers following the lockout, but never earned major minutes under coach John Tortorella and was frequently sent back and forth from New York to Connecticut. Still the crown jewel of the Rangers’ system, Kreider should be handed a much bigger offensive role next season under Alain Vigneault.
Miller’s quick climb up the ladder to New York was extremely impressive and though his 2012-2013 season was cut short by a wrist injury, he should also have a job to lose in September under Vigneault. Miller’s game is very much a work in progress – he was guilty of some horrible defensive mistakes and didn’t contribute much offensively, but Miller looked like he belonged in the NHL. He’s proven to be a very quick study all along and will be expected to continue his growth as a Ranger next season.
The Swedish center dominated the Swedish Elite League as a 21-year-old, to the tune of 42 points (17 goals, 25 assists) in 55 games. Lindberg followed that up by winning playoff MVP honors with 12 points in 13 games to lead Skelleftea to a championship. Billed as a strong two-way forward that can dominate at the faceoff dots, Lindberg seemed like a strong bet to make the Rangers out of training camp. The team’s decision not to buy out Brad Richards has complicated things, as New York seems set down the middle with Richards, Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard and Brian Boyle. Perhaps the Rangers want to give Lindberg a few months to acclimate to North America before bringing him to Broadway.
Like Lindberg, Fast was tremendously successful in the SEL last season playing against grown men. Injuries derailed a breakout season for Fast in 2011-2012, but the 21-year-old picked up right where he left off last season and nearly kept up with Lindberg’s scoring pace. Fast notched 18 goals and 17 assists of his own, then scored in his lone game with the CT Whale this spring. Fast has drawn comparisons to Carl Hagelin, with perhaps a bit less footspeed and a bit more offensive potential. He also will have a good opportunity to win a spot in training camp, especially with injuries to Hagelin and Ryan Callahan.
Injuries have slowed McIlrath’s development and it’s fair to look at this season as a bit of a make or break campaign for the 21-year-old. That’s not to say that McIlrath must win a job with the Rangers – a tall task given New York’s defensive depth chart – but McIlrath must emerge as a leader in Hartford and put together a full season of substantial development. There are still too many questions about McIlrath’s skating and consistency in his own end. McIlrath’s size and toughness mean he’ll get a shot in the NHL eventually, but 2013-2014 will go a long way toward determining whether his path leads to a top-four role, or that of a a depth defenseman.
To the surprise of most Rangers fans, New York sent Christian Thomas to Montreal yesterday for Danny Kristo. Thomas was pegged to be a goal-scorer, but his diminutive stature was a major obstacle in his development. Still, it seemed likely that Thomas would compete for a roster spot in September, especially with Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin on the shelf. In Thomas’s stead comes Kristo, a speedy right wing that was a Hobey Baker finalist last season at North Dakota, where he potted 26 goals and 26 assists. By all accounts, Kristo is nearly NHL ready. He’s not the pure goal-scorer that Thomas is, but Kristo has considerable offensive upside himself. Montreal was apparently bothered by Kristo’s maturity issues, but the general consensus is that he has more NHL tools than Thomas. With Thomas now out of the picture, it seems likely that Kristo will compete for a roster spot this fall.
After lighting up the BCHL in 2011-2012, Fogarty produced just five goals and five assists as a freshman at Notre Dame. He was originally projected as a defensive centerman, but expectations changed for many after the eye-popping numbers he posted with the Penticton Vees. The 20-year-old still has a long ways to go and will probably stay at college for the remaining three years of his eligibility. Fogarty will be given more responsiblity as Irish veterans move on, but it will be up to him to continue earning more trust from his coaches.
Many were alarmed when the 2012 first-round pick was a healthy scratch on occasion last season, but that just goes to show that Skjei has a long, long way to go. There’s no shame in fighting for playing time at Minnesota as a freshman, but Skjei will be expected to carve out a spot for himself this year. Skjei’s skating is still an undeniable strength, but he needs to show growth on both ends of the rink.
Cristoval “Boo” Nieves
Already, the 2012 second-round pick has the look of a steal. Nieves opened eyes as a freshman with eight goals and 21 assists and became one of the most important Wolverines as the season continued. Nieves is well ahead of many of his collegiate peers as a 19-year-old and will face added pressure in his sophomore campaign. He’ll go from being a pleasant surprise to one of the players Michigan counts on, but what we’ve seen from Nieves thus far indicates he’ll be up for the task. There are few better places for Nieves to learn than at Michigan, where he’ll likely spend the next two seasons at least.
The speedster’s stock fell steadily during his second season with the Quebec Remparts; now it’s time for the 17-year-old to get serious about his development. Duclair showed that he could put up big offensive numbers as a 16-year-old; in 2013-2014 he’ll be expected to get back to producing at a high rate while also making major strides in his play away from the puck. Like Michael St. Croix, Duclair’s defense needs a ton of work before he has any hope of taking his game to the next level. He’ll have to work hard on that before even being considered as a pro.
Gordie Clark made no bones about it; Tambellini will probably need all four years at North Dakota. Just look at pictures from draft day and you can see that Tambellini is a string bean that needs to pack on a ton of muscle over the next few seasons. This is as raw a forward prospect as New York has selected in years and while there are high hopes for Tambellini’s future, he’s not a player that should be planned around at this point.
Buchnevich fell in the draft not just because of his country of origin. Yes, NHL teams often shy away from Russian players, but it also doesn’t help when they’re under contract overseas for three more seasons. Buchnevich will have the opportunity to hone his game in one of the premier pro leagues in the world, but he’ll receive next to no help from the Rangers during that time. There are certainly no guarantees with Buchnevich’s future, but he appears to have the talent to become a goal-scorer one day. A lot of that will fall on Buchnevich though – he must be responsible for his conditioning and development as an all-around player while the Rangers patiently wait on another continent.
There are a lot of Rangers fans that are really stressed out that the Blueshirts don’t have an heir to Henrik Lundqvist’s throne waiting in the wings, but with New York set to ink The King to an eight-year contract, what’s the rush? Skapski was not highly rated going into the 2013 draft, but the Rangers can afford to take chances on late-round projects because they should have plenty of years and plenty of chances before a successor will be needed.
There’s not a lot of information out there on the 6-4, 220 pounder, but Gordie Clark was drawn to Graves after a strong second half. The kid’s size is what jumps out at this point, but that’s about all we know about the PEI Rocket D-man.
The jury’s out
Michael St. Croix
St. Croix put up elite numbers in the WHL, but the Rangers watched another player do that in recent years, Evgeny Grachev, only to flop once he reached the American League. St. Croix has been an offensive dynamo and a power play wizard, but there’s no telling how that will translate against better competition. He has worked hard on his defensive play, but St. Croix still needs a lot of coaching. We should learn a lot about him fairly quickly in 2013-2014.
One of the pleasant surprises of the 2012-2013 campaign, Noreau became a rare fifth-round pick to earn a contract. Noreau is still very raw, but his 6-5, 223 lb. frame is tantalizing. Noreau showed dramatic improvement offensively – jumping from 17 points to 32 last season and is on the kind of progression path the Rangers love to see. He’ll get a lot of one-on-one attention from Jeff Beukeboom in Hartford as the Rangers try to figure out whether he’s the next defensive prospect in line after Dylan McIlrath.
Jean’s first pro season didn’t go quite as well as many hoped after he drew lots of attention last summer. Still an intriguing power forward prospect at 6-4, 203, Jean has a long way to go to prove that he’s a legitimate NHL prospect. Nine goals and 14 assists as a rookie was a start, but Jean will need to really boost those numbers this year to continue his upward trajectory.
A concussion ruined much of the 2012-2013 season for Hrivik, but it wasn’t long ago that Rangers fans were desperately begging for him to be an emergency playoff recall after his hot playoff scoring streak with the Whale. Hrivik lost much of a precious development season, but he’ll be counted on to be one of Hartford’s offensive leaders this year. He could find himself as an spot fill-in in New York if things go very well, but Hrivik should be looking at this season first as his time to dominate the AHL.
Unlike his Swedish counterparts, Andersson did not dominate the men’s league last season. In fact, he was often scratched and was eventually demoted to a second tier club. We haven’t heard much about Andersson to this point, but he’s years away from making waves in North America. The dream scenario of him being a power play quarterback in New York is off in the distance at this point.
If little is known about Andersson, next to nothing is known about Spelling. No one even seems to know where Spelling will play next season after the 20-year-old split time between the SEL and the second tier last season. New York spent a flyer on Spelling as they often do Europeans in the later rounds, but his future is as cloudy as anyone in the system at this juncture.
Talbot has gotten better and better in the minor leagues, but it’s hard to say whether the NHL is in his future. This will be a big year for Talbot with Martin Biron’s contract expiring next summer. Talbot’s play should determine whether he becomes Henrik Lundqvist’s backup in 2014 or perhaps moves on to another franchise. But he was one of the real bright spots for the Whale in 2012-2013 and will be counted on again in the fall.
Bourque’s shot at becoming a legitimate prospect appears to have come and gone. It’s hard to make it at his size and Bourque just doesn’t stand out in any area to the point that he can be considered a future NHLer.
One of the undrafted free agents New York inked this spring, Kantor has a reputation for being a pain to play against and doing all the little things. Can he stand out from the pack at the next level in the AHL?
Shane McColgan may not have panned out, but watching him in Saskatoon led the Rangers to this high-scoring right wing. Is Nicholls a classic late-bloomer? He’ll have a chance to prove it in Hartford.
The winger split last season between the Whale and Greenville Road Warriors. He put up decent numbers with both, but is rarely mentioned as a future building block. Yogan came out of the 2010 draft with a lot of baggage and to this point his play hasn’t warranted much future consideration.
The first of two undrafted defensemen inked by New York this spring, Allen will report to the Wolf Pack after a successful college career at UMass Amherst. New York is short on defensive prospects, but anything the Rangers get from Allen or Tommy Hughes will be gravy.
Hughes can’t escape the comparisons to Dan Girardi, but he has a long, long way to go to have a Girardi-like impact. The solid stay-at-home blueliner will join a revamped Hartford blueline this season.
Stajcer hasn’t progressed as New York hoped when he was drafted in 2009. Goalies take a long time to develop, but it’s clearly Cam Talbot’s show in Hartford and Mackenzie Skapski’s arrival indicates that Stajcer’s future isn’t in blue.