New York Rangers Top 25 Under 25 – 2014 Edition

Tops this year.

Last year, I made a valiant first attempt at creating a New York Rangers version of the Top 25 Under 25. Basically, the NYR blogging community was called out by Oilers’ bloggers for not having one, and I said, “challenge accepted.” It’s something I had fun writing, so I’m going to write it again, updating it for 2014.

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. Derek Stepan (Last year: 2)

Since Ryan McDonagh no longer qualifies for this list, the next logical choice for #1 was Stepan. The top-line center for the Rangers, Stepan put up 57 points, a career high, last season. It was off his 75-point-pace last season, but it’s still top line production. He doesn’t put up the sexy numbers of other top centers, but few play the three-zone game that Stepan does. We’d like to see quicker decisions on the powerplay, especially since he’s one of two right-handed forwards this year, but that’ll come with a more efficient powerplay.

2. Chris Kreider (Last year: 5)

Kreider jumps to the second spot after finally putting it all together last season. The 23-year-old winger put up 17 goals in 66 games, becoming a mainstay in the top-six after his call up early in the year. His speed is unmatched by most in the league, but it’s his style of play that ignites the Rangers. We saw it in the playoffs, as Kreider’s hard-nosed, get to the front of the net style was a catalyst for the comeback against the Penguins. There’s a solid chance Kreider takes the #1 spot next year.

3. J.T. Miller (Last year: 7)

I put Miller third here because he’s the most NHL ready of the prospects, and is likely –hopefully– ready to contribute offensively. Miller put up a point-per-game in the AHL over 41 games last season –following his demotion from the NHL after six points in 30 games– and is being counted upon to earn a spot in The Show next season. I may be ranking Miller a bit too high here, but this is his make-or-break season.

4. Anthony Duclair (LY: 22)
5. Pavel Buchnevich (LY: 10)

Both Duclair and Buchnevich have top-end skill that could translate to top-six roles in the NHL. Both were first round talents in 2013 that fell to the third round due to different reasons, but the Rangers happily snagged both. Both are entering their age-19 seasons, and both are having a significant impact on their clubs. Duclair may even challenge for a role with the Rangers this season, while Buchnevich is getting big-time minutes as a teenager in the KHL.

6. Jesper Fast (LY: 9)
7. Oscar Lindberg (LY: 8)

Fast and Lindberg are probably the most NHL ready of the “big name” prospects outside of Miller. Both came over from Sweden last year, with Fast actually making the club out of camp. Both have shown promise in the AHL and have adjusted to the North American game nicely, and both will be given a fair chance to make the club out of camp to earn bottom-six roles. Lindberg is a defensive whiz who will excel at fourth line duties, while Fast has more of an offensive touch who can play in all three zones.

8. Brady Skjei (LY: 14)

Make no mistake: If the organization had their way, Brady Skjei would be competing for a spot on the third pairing this year. Skjei isn’t going to wow you with his offensive skills, but he is Minnesota’s best defenseman. He’s a kid that can realistically replace Marc Staal, should Staal decide to depart for greener pastures. Skjei is high on the organization’s radar, and he will be in blue next season. It’s worth noting that Ryan McDonagh didn’t put up sexy offensive numbers in college either.

9. Dylan McIlrath (LY: 13)

McIlrath is an interesting case, and some will disagree with ranking him in the top ten. The former first round pick –but golly we could have had Cam Fowler!– has had his fair share of injury issues, limiting him to just 109 professional games in two seasons. Perhaps we would be talking about McIlrath differently if Kyle Jean didn’t lose an edge in practice. McIlrath got a quick cuppa last season, and will probably spend a full year in Hartford this season unless injuries play a factor. In fact, there might be a bit of a roadblock for McIlrath, as Dan Girardi (six years), Dan Boyle (two years) and Kevin Klein (four years) are locked up beyond this season.

10. John Moore (LY: 4)

Moore is only in the top-ten because he’s in the NHL and has shown flashes of his offensive potential. His time is running out, and there’s now a legitimate chance that the Rangers look in a different direction in the near future. Moore doesn’t have sexy numbers, traditional or #fancystats, and he’s prone to defensive gaffes quite often. He’s still young at 24 years old, but this is a big year for the kid. He needs to show improvement on both ends of the ice.

11. Ryan Bourque (LY: Not Ranked)

Bourque is the biggest mover in this year’s rankings. He was an after-thought last season, seemingly meant to be trade-bait for a bigger deal. But Bourque broke out last season, putting up a 20-goal season while remaining strong in the defensive end on the penalty kill. Bourque may actually take a roster spot ahead of Lindberg and Fast. The Rangers recognized this significant improvement, signing him to a two-year deal this summer after his ELC expired. That wasn’t a show-me deal.

12. Mat Bodie (LY: Not Ranked)

The undrafted UFA has flown under the radar, as Ryan Haggerty got most of the attention. But don’t be fooled, Bodie captained Union to an NCAA title, and did so putting up a point-per-game from the blue line. Bodie is in the mold of Conor Allen, but comes with a mental makeup that has the scouting reports raving. The Rangers appear to have done well with Bodie here, and he could challenge Moore for a spot on the blue line.

13. Boo Nieves (LY: 12)

Nieves had a down year at Michigan, but he’s still young enough that there’s no real rush with him. He remains in the same spot as last year not because he was stagnant, but because others moved ahead of him in development (most notably: Bourque). Nieves is entering his junior year with the Wolverines, and the organization is looking for him to take that next step.

14. Conor Allen (LY: 15)

The 24-year-old Allen is also –along with Bodie– the one most likely to challenge Moore for a spot this season. He showed significant promise in camp last year, and had a great year in Hartford. The reason why Bodie is ranked higher than Allen is because Allen will be 25 in January and hasn’t proven he can bring his game to the NHL level.

15. Calle Andersson (LY: 17)
16. Adam Tambellini (LY: 23)

17. Steven Fogarty (LY: 19)

Don’t look too much into the rankings for these three. All three need some work, but all three appear to be the forgotten prospects with other big names in the headlines. Only Andersson is signed to an NHL deal, but that’s not too surprising since both Tambellini and Fogarty were in the NCAAs last year (Tambellini left mid-year). Fogarty is a bit of a defensive specialist with Notre Dame, which is interesting because he was all offense before arriving. It appears he has rounded out his game quite nicely. All three here are at least 2-3 years away from making an impact.

18. Chris McCarthy (LY: Not Ranked)

McCarthy is another signing that flew under the radar, but he’s probably the safest in terms of undrafted UFAs on the list. He’s not flashy, he’s not a big-time scorer, but he’s solid in all three zones. He’s a kid that could surprise in camp. And hey, he’s a righty.

19. Igor Shesterkin (LY: NR)
20. Brandon Halverson (LY: NR)
21. MacKenzie Skapski (LY: 25)

Goalies are so difficult to rank, especially when they are prospects, so I’m lumping all three together. Skapski’s numbers aren’t sexy, but Kootenay (WHL) was atrocious defensively. We should get a better idea of where he sits this year in Hartford. Halverson will be the started for the Soo Greyhounds (OHL) this year, and Shesterkin will play in the KHL. All three are kids we can get excited about in net, after a long drought of having zero goalie prospects.

22. Ryan Graves (LY: NR)
23. Keegan Iverson (LY: NR)
24. Ryan Haggerty (LY: NR)
25. Richard Nejezchleb (LY: NR)

Haggerty is the one that is going to make people raise an eyebrow, but the Rangers only put him on the NHL roster last year because that was the condition to get him signed. In this regard, the organization flexed their financial muscle and paid him an NHL salary. All four guys here are intriguing for their own reasons, but they have work to do. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.

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  • Nicely done….Would have Fogarty higher, as I believe he is one of the most underevalued proepects (due to age) and how team has used him. This will be huge year for him. Wel;l lets at least hope so…lol Great work I enjoyed the read. ! B|

    • Fogarty was tough to rank. I like what they’ve done with him at ND, it rounded out his game and now he’s a solid three zone guy.

  • I can see the Iverson kid make the team in a few years, as a 3-4th liner, with a load of muscle to help in that area!!!!!

    Hope to see JT Miller, and maybe Oscar make the show this year, would be nice!!!!!

    • I think Fast has the inside track over Lindberg, since he’s a righty, a winger, and made the team last year out of camp (and in the playoffs). Will be interesting to watch though.

      Lindberg/Miller/Fast/Bourque can all realistically make the team.

  • My only comment is that any good NHL club needs a few <25 on the roster and 5 -10 more knocking on the door, ready to break in at any time. While we seem to have that (or close to it), I do not see anyone I would call "special", not on the NHL roster. To me, this year, a few of these young players need to put up some big numbers, providing the NYR with some CAP relief next year.

    • I think they have that.

      On roster: Stepan, Kreider, Moore.
      Knocking on door: Miller, Fast, Bourque, Lindberg
      Next year: Skjei, McIlrath
      Skill guys: Duclair, Buchnevich

      • Duclair could be considered knocking also as he has nothing left to prove in Junior and because of age is prohibited to play with Pack….believe he will wow in camp (Av’s type of player) and will get that oh so famous 10 game try out……Will be fun to watch as Duclair and Pavel push each other for stud status as Rangers top new “puppies”….

        • Duclair will get a long look in camp, but I don’t think there’s a spot for him in the top-six, which is where he needs to play. Nothing wrong with him spending one more year in juniors.

      • I like this grouping concept. Allows you to frame both their likely time of progression and likely spot within the line-up

        The current mix between veteran stars, young core guys, role players and high potential youth is pretty close to optimal

        • There is a very nice balance, but they need more skill guys. Neither Duclair nor Buchnevich are sure-things, and they are the only kids that can hold their own in the top-six.

          • Can always use skill guys but it won’t become a true NEED for a while. I think there is more need for skill on the back end than up front

            Would be a high class problem for either Duclair or Buchnevich to push Nash / Kreider / St Louis or Zuc out of a spot in the next few years. Plus Hagelin is pretty darn good as 2/3 LW

            If Miller realizes his potential than Stepan / Brassard / Miller is a solid center grouping, though lacking in “star” quality. Recognizing that is a big “IF”

            The D will be set if Staal is resigned. Only upgrades being a cheaper Klein and a replacement for D. Boyle in 2016-2017

          • They will need a skill guy next season when MSL’s contract is up. Plus, AV runs three skill lines, and the third line right now is missing a center.

          • I think MSL will stick around after this year. He obviously wants to be in NY and he should remain at an elite level

            Miller’s that 3C skill guy for now. If that doesn’t work out then need to look outside the current system

          • Wouldn’t shock me if they parted ways with him even if he wants to stay. Depends on the growth of the kids.

  • Great read, Dave. Thanks.
    One question for anyone: how does this list stack up against the other Conference teams?

    • Good Question Chuck…..we are ranked 28th prospect wise…..but thats because our system has been raided thru trades and promotions…..I would love for there to be an under 25 ranking for teams….And then SEE WHERE WE STAND THEN….Bet we are in beter shape then most…..I guess you could take avg age of team and then slot it against overall record…….Anybody willing to do this???
      I dont have the software or skills…LOL JUst the idea…….Good job Chuck!!

      • I really can’t remember a prospect this club traded over the past five years that turned out to be an impact NHL player. Dale Weise?

        • Weise was waived, I think he was a waiver casualty thanks to Boogaard already being on the roster on the roster.

          I think Korpikoski is the only one that really got away from the Rangers via trade over the past 5 years and he really faded last year.

          • Ah yes, Weise was waived. Forgot about that.

            Korpo for Lisin was, in hindsight, a bad trade. He’s a solid fourth liner (on this team).

    • There isn’t much in terms of top-end talent, and most of the guys on this list pan out to be bottom of the lineup guys. Only Duclair/Buchnevich are high-end skill guys. The next level of guys who are middle-end are Skjei, Miller, Fast, Lindberg, McIlrath. The bottom of the lineup guys are Bourque and ilk.

      They’ve drafted at the end of rounds for a while, which makes sure-fire talent tough to come by.

      • My point on the “special player”. We do not have anyone who projects to be a first liner. Would be nice to have a scoring beast among the group, but I don’t see one. I do admit there are probably only a handful throughout the league, but as previously stated, that is what happens when you draft 20th or higher year after year.

        • I think Duclair/Buchnevich, at the best case, can be first line guys. In actuality they will probably be middle-six, but they have some great talent.

  • Good list, think Graves should be a bit higher as he seems to have improved his stock over the past year in juniors.

    Top 10 should all see meaningful NHL time over the next few seasons but beyond that I don’t see many impact players

      • True. But at 19 he may have more upside / chance of becoming a quality NHL-er than Allen / Bodie at 24. From what I read on him he’s a big guy who can skate too. He was the #1 D-man on the Memorial Cup champs, seems pretty impressive to me

        • I want to see more than one good year from him. He’s got plenty of time to move up the list. I give the nod to those closer to the show.

  • Not an impressive list of prospects….really.

    Maybe the top 10 are NHL prospects.

    Our #2 picke Halverson was ranked as a 7th rder by Colorado before the draft

    Any chance of Rangers moving out of the cellar with respect to their poor prospect quality compared to the rest of the NHL BEGINS & ENDS WITH SATHER & CLARK GETTING OUT OF TOWN

  • I hope the Rangers keep picking at the bottom of the draft. That means they are winning consistently and going deep in the playoffs. They just need to keep finding depth. They can always augment their lineup with a Nash. You aren’t going to find that type of talent very often picking in the 20’s. One theme I read consistently is how bad the Rangers draft. I think people need to make a distinction to the pre Gordie Clark era and since he started running the draft. He didn’t pick Jessiman. That was Renney. Clark hasn’t misfired much IMO.

  • Kudos on a generally good job.

    IMO Fogarty overrated, unless at the 18th hour he is showing signs of serious emergence, which I do not see. That’s minor, however.

    What I take serious exception with is Stepan rated one over Kreider.

    Kreider has special, game breaking talent.
    His ceiling is giganormous.

    Stepan does not. How much more to his plateau.

    And while Step is a welcome contributor at current number, he will get 6-6.5 or more on the market.

    Let’s be honest and get in the mindset of trading him now, while his value is highest.

    Plus we just acquired Hayes, who might cut it at pivot.

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