Over the past few weeks, the guys over at Copper n Blue (Oilers blog) have put together a voting contest where their fans vote on the best young core in the league. The guys at CNB have annually put together their list of top 25 guys under the age of 25, and many others have taken that idea and ran with it for their own teams. It is a great idea, and CNB took those posts and put together their tournament. The problem was that no Rangers blogger put together a list, leading them to call us a lazy blogging community. Well Mr. Zona and Mr. Reynolds, challenge accepted.
The ground rules for this are simple: To qualify for this list, a player must be under 25 years old. It doesn’t matter if this player is in the NHL, AHL, or in any of the leagues around the world. If they are Ranger property and under 25, they were considered. This is my own personal opinion of these players, so if you disagree, feel free to let me know in the comments.
1. Ryan McDonagh
This one is a no-brainer. At 23 years old, McDonagh has already solidified himself as a #1 cornerstone defenseman. Used against top competition on a regular basis, McDonagh is never outmatched, and is the single most trusted defenseman on this team. He is a great skater, great positionally, and has untapped offensive potential. Recently signed to a six-year deal, McDonagh will be in New York for a long, long time.
2. Derek Stepan
Another no-brainer, Stepan emerged as the Rangers top center in the lockout shortened season last year. A career line of 56-84-140 in 212 games, Stepan has moved from third line center to top center over the course of three seasons. A teammate of McDonagh’s at Wisconsin, the Rangers struck gold with the 23-year-old center in the 2008 draft.
3, Michael Del Zotto
This is where a lot of people will disagree, but you can’t argue with four professional seasons before hitting 25 years of age. Del Zotto has been up and down, but his ups have been much better than his downs. Even that abysmal sophomore year was canceled out by his outstanding third campaign. Overall, Del Zotto has put up a line of 24-84-110 in 250 games. Defensemen don’t hit their peaks until around age 27, so expect Del Zotto to keep on getting better.
4. John Moore
When the Rangers traded Marian Gaborik, we raved over the fact that this kid was included in the deal. A former first round pick, the 22-year-old had trouble cracking the crowded Columbus Blue Jackets blueline. The Rangers gave him the opportunity to be a consistent player, and Moore added much-needed stability to the blue line. With 99 NHL games under his belt, Moore will only continue to get better.
These four represent the amazing depth the Rangers have in their system. Only Miller –who I project to be a second line center– has some NHL experience. It is all about potential with these guys. Kristo could be a top line winger. Fast could be a second line winger. Lindberg a fantastic third line center. These guys are the next wave of youth to hit the Rangers.
10. Pavel Buchnevich
Buchnevich had first round talent, but fell to the third round in this year’s draft. The kid is already getting top-six minutes and powerplay time in the KHL, a league notorious for giving all the minutes to veterans. He still has two years on his deal with Severstal, but he’s someone to keep an eye on.
These four are the next tier of youth that the Rangers will be looking at, with Hrivik likely getting a shot this year. Nieves, McIlrath, and Skjei all have great potential, but need some more development time.
15. Connor Allen
The undrafted UFA has already turned heads with his poise and puck movement. That said, he went undrafted for a reason. If he can continue to improve and show he’s a late bloomer, the Rangers could have found their next diamond in the rough.
16. Justin Falk
With 108 NHL games under his belt, Falk is the lowest ranked NHL player on this list. He projects out to be a 6/7 guy on the blue line.
Great offensive talent. Need more development. St. Croix’s clock is ticking.
Both earned ELCs from the Rangers. Jean struggled after a hot start last year, while Noreau improved mightily in the QMJHL last season.
The 2013 draftees will need to show that they deserve ELCs before the Rangers go ahead and offer them one after their age-19 seasons.
24. Jason Missiaen
25. Mackenzie Skapski
The only two goalies on the list, Missiaen got the spot ahead of Skapski because he has played relatively well in the AHL. Missiaen won’t pan out to more than a capable AHL starter, and Skapski is off to a tough start with Kootenay in the WHL.