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.
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.
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.
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.