Third annual New York Rangers top 25 under 25 (Part One)

ryan bourque

Over the past two seasons, I’ve gone through the Rangers organization and ranked the top 25 players under the age of 25 years old (2013, 2014). The ground rules for this list 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.

First, let’s go through the players from last year’s list that no longer qualify and honorable mentions who missed the cut:

Aged out: Derek Stepan, Mat Bodie
No longer with the organization: Anthony Duclair, John Moore, Conor Allen, Ryan Haggerty
Honorable mentions: Adam Huska, Sergey Zborovskiy, Tyler Nanne, Ryan Mantha, Keegan Iverson, Marek Hrivik

Now let’s go through the top-25 players under the age of 25, starting with #25. I will group some of these players together, as some are so close in skill set that it was tough to rank one higher than the other.

25. Ryan Bourque – Forward, 2009 3rd round (LY: 11)

Bourque was the biggest faller this year. This has nothing to do with his play, and everything to do with the progress of other players and the skill that has been drafted. Bourque is probably the 14/15F this year, and will see some NHL time. If the Rangers do away with Tanner Glass, Bourque may actually make the roster as the 13F this year. He was solid, if unspectacular, in his first NHL game last season. Personally I think Bourque is a fine 12/13F, but between Glass and Jarret Stoll, his playing time will be limited. He will need to unseat at least one, if not both, with an impressive camp.

24. Steven Fogarty – Forward, 2011 3rd round (LY: 17)
23. Cristoval “Boo” Nieves – Forward, 2012 2nd round (LY: 13)

It makes sense to lump these two together. Both are entering their senior seasons at Notre Dame and Michigan, respectively. Both have improved in every season they’ve played in the NCAA. Both have more growing to do. Both are seen as leaders of their clubs (Fogarty is captain of the ND team). That said, neither has particular shined consistently, although that could be more due to their unspectacularly solid play than anything else. Neither are flashy scorers. They are just solid hockey players. Both will get contracts at the end of their senior seasons. It’s difficult to rank these two honestly. I like the overall package both bring, but there are significantly more skilled players in the system now.

22. Aleksi Saarela – Forward, 2015 3rd round (LY: NR)
21. Brad Morrison – Forward, 2015 4th round (LY: NR)
20. Daniel Bernhardt – Forward, 2015 4th round (LY: NR)

It seems weird to put the third round pick behind the pair of fourth rounders from this year, but let’s consider all three lumped together. All three are incredibly talented, so much so that they are probably the three most offensively gifted players in the system –that aren’t on the NHL roster– outside of Pavel Buchnevich. These are three kids whose names you should remember. Assuming they stay healthy, I expect them to shoot through the prospect rankings fairly quickly.

mackenzie skapski

19. Mackenzie Skapski – Goalie, 2013 6th round (LY: 21)
18. Brandon Halverson – Goalie, 2014 2nd round (LY: 20)
17. Magnus Hellberg – Goalie, trade with Nashville (LY: NR)

This is probably where I’m going to meet the most blowback. Skapski was very impressive in his two starts with the Rangers this season, both against the Sabres. He posted a shutout and a .978 SV%, and looked steady in the process. Halverson is still very raw, but impressing in the OHL. Hellberg is a former 2nd round pick with size and talent. I’m lumping these three together, as Halverson may appear to be more skilled, but Skapski  and Hellberg are more polished and can fill in at the NHL level in a pinch. Goalies are voodoo though, so it’s really difficult to rank these guys, but the Rangers have one of the deepest pools of goaltending prospects in the league.

16. Robin Kovacs – Forward, 2015 3rd round (LY: NR)

Outside of the guys that get paid to watch prospects (and Josh), there are very few people whose opinions on prospects matter to me as much as Alex Nunn (@aj_ranger). Nunn is a big fan of Kovacs, citing his “infectious” game with a combination of skill and scrappiness. Scroll through Alex’s Twitter feed about Kovacs, there are very few, if any, negative things. Kovacs is a few years away from coming to North America, but his skill set should translate well to the smaller rink.

15. Petr Zamorsky – Defense, Undrafted Free Agent (LY: NR)
14. Calle Andersson – Defense, 2012 4th round (LY: 15)

I’m really high on Andersson, and think he could be the steal of the 2012 draft for the Rangers. He’s solidly unspectacular, and is your typical Swedish puck moving defenseman. He’s not flashy, he doesn’t put up big numbers, but boy does he move the puck well. The same can be said for Zamorsky, although I admittedly don’t know as much about him. From what I’ve read, Zamorsky and Andersson are very similar players. I have a personal bias for Andersson, hence the slightly higher ranking. That doesn’t mean Zamorsky is a slouch though.

ryan gropp
Gropp (Photo: Seattle Thunderbids)

13. Ryan Gropp – Forward, 2015 2nd round (LY: NR)

Gropp was one of those “off the board” picks that the Rangers made at this year’s draft that left a few people puzzled. But the more I watch Gropp highlights and read about him, the more I like the pick. At 18 years old, the big (6’2, 187-lb) forward put up a 30-goal season in the WHL, and has all the makings of a potential elite power forward. He has the rare combination of size, skill, hands, and hockey IQ. Think Chris Kreider, just better hands.


Stay tuned next week for the top-12, which will have some surprises in ranking, and the biggest mover of the list.

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  • Thanks Dave. When I saw Boo Nieves as #23 I got a little giddy. That kind of puts into perspective how our prospect pool filled out some over the past couple of years.

    • This is a pretty significant transition year for the system. There aren’t that many skill guys in Hartford, aside from Tambo. There should be an influx of significant talent there in the next two years with Buchnevich and the 2015 draftees.

      • Which should work out well with our youth guys developing and pricing themselves out. This could make for a nice new group of players whose production outpaces the price of their ELCs.

        • Yup, and there are a bunch of guys coming off their ELCs, like McCarthy, St. Croix, Noreau, Hughes, etc that probably won’t get 2nd deals.

  • The day of the draft, when we got Gropp, I was excited about getting him. Today you reconfirmed what I had read about the kid, and I look forward to seeing him develop into a power forward. He has size, and should be able to add at least 20-25 pounds of muscle mass on his frame. If all I read is true, he has soft hands, and could be a nice addition long term !!!!!!!!!!

    I’m also pulling for the Nieves kid at Michigan. He also has nice size, and plenty of speed, which never hurts, now does it??????? He would be the icing on the cake should he make the team down the road…………

    • Nieves will get a contract at the end of his senior season, same with Fogarty. It’ll be interesting to see how they both develop. Both fly under the radar.

    • Excited to see Gropp develop as well. The comment that he was a top forward on the Rangers board is particularly appealing (think it was top ten but could be wrong).

      It’s nice to have some more picks in the system and a series of high upside guys in the forward department

      • I was reading something interesting about draft strategy the other day from a GM, forgot who it was. He said that if you think your guy will be available at 30, you trade to 22 to get him. If you think he’s available at 40, you trade to 30 to get him. My guess is they thought he would be available at 50, and then traded up.

  • Off topic – Did you see where Hags signed for 4 years at a total of $16M? Still wondering if we could have figured out a way to keep him and Stepan and all the RFAs.

    • Definitely possible. Trading Klein this offseason would’ve cleared $2.9 million, Glass another $1.45 million. That’s $4.35 million right there. Assume Etem’s contract offsets the cost to bring in a replacement D, be it Skjei, McIlrath, or Diaz, and they could’ve kept Hags.

      • But Dave, how would that have impacted the signings of Miller, Hayes and Kreider down the road? Kredier may get quite the payday next summer, no? I know that money comes off the books, but you need some of that dough to fill the roster with quality players too.

        • Very true. Kreider is due a payday, and if he hits 30 goals it may hit the $5.5 million mark. It’s a difficult balance, but the Hags trade, as you said, was more about next year than this year.

      • Definitely the type of reasonable, pointed, pre-planning and understanding of the Cap that you would have expected our MGMT team to display. But alas……….we wind up with Emerson Etem. All water under a damaged bridge, now.

        • You still don’t get it Joe. Management did exactly that. Now they will have cap space to lock up what we hope are future stars in Kreider, Miller and Hayes. Managing a cap means making very tough choices, every team does it, and it’s hard to find fault with their approach on this.

          • Keep trying to convince yourself—-they could have kept him 1.) if they prepared the year before, 2) if they really wanted him–which might say more to their evaluation of their talent than anything else. Then maybe they would not have to have gone out and risk more money on a Jarret Stoll.—-basically admitting that Lindberg is nowhere the sure thing we all hope he is.

          • Explain to us how they would have done it. And who’d you’d have sacrificed? Step? Zuc? Staal? Or maybe we jut punt on Kreider? (You won’t of course, because you can’t, but I can keep hoping!).

            4/4 for Hags? Good luck to Anaheim on that. The only reason they could do it was because they had massive cap space. If Hags was a UFA, no other contender (since most contenders have cap issued by definition) would have wanted Hags at that cap hit. Agree with Chris. 2.5? Sign him. 4 mil for a 35 point a year player who’s only major skill set is speed, which will likely diminish by the end of the deal? No thanks.

            I don’t think there has ever been this many tears shed over a 35 point a year player in cap history! Hags was good player, but let’s get real here!

            I’m just curious, are you similarly bent out of shape over the departure of MSL and his 21 goals and 53 points? How in the world will the Rangers replace that???? (I’m being facetious of course!)

            But the point is, in a cap world, you do. Your younger players assume grater responsibility and step up when given a chance.

            When Lundqvist went down last yer, the Rangers season was supposed to be over. Until it wasn’t. Organizational depth and great coaching was the reason and will be the reason the Rangers will somehow find a way to replace Carl Hagelin, the greatest 35 point player in NHL history!

    • I wondered the same thing, Sal.

      If you sign Hags at 4/4, then obviously you don’t have the Etem cap hit of $850k. But what do you do to shed the other $3.2 mil? Stalberg not signed at $1.2mil, Stoll not signed at $800k, Diaz not signed at $700k. You could choose to have not signed Magna $600k and let McIrath walk ($600k).

      Maybe you could have made the case that you could trade Klein and his $2.9 cap hit. That would have done it too. But then, wouldn’t that have compromised the defense? Are we really sure that McIlrath, Skjei or Diaz are ready to not just play, but play at a high level on a team competing for a Cup?

      So yes, the math is possible, but boy, any injuries? We’d be screwed big time it seems to me.

      And that doesn’t even take into account how to make the math work down the road, when young rising stars like Kreider, Miller and Hayes get their big pay days. I think that was the biggest factor in letting Hags go. We do get cap relief next year with Boyle and other deals expiring, but without Hags on top of that, we have a lot more maneuverability.

      And at the end of the day, I have to believe that if the Rangers felt there was any way at all to keep him long term, they would have done so.

      Dave and others know far more about the cap then I do, but at least on the surface, keeping Hags seems like an accounting nightmare at best which would have caused other issues, if not an outright impossibility long term if we want to keep the talented young trio mentioned earlier.

    • I truly believe Hagelin was never in the Rangers plans for a number of reasons. The first and foremost being obviously the money. Kreider, Hayes and Miller’s pending Free Agency will have to be addressed. Hagelin is what he is, a speedy winger who can kill penalties. The hope of him turning into a perennial 20 plus goal scorer are no longer realistic. I wanna be clear, I am a big big Hagelin fan………. at 2.5 million per year. Not at 4mil/per on this roster with our lack of cap flexibility. The second reason, Oscar Lindberg will be killing penalties just as effectively within a a season or two for 1/4 the cost. The third reason and maybe the most important, the Rangers need roster maneuverability. Buchnevich will most certainly be playing valuable minutes within the next 2 seasons. Fast has shown he belongs here. Hayes is a potential star who is most comfortable on the wing, where he belongs. 4 million is a lot to pay for a third line winger when so much of your cap space is tied up in your defenseman and goaltender. I think the Rangers have known this for some time. It truly is the nature of the beast. The beast of course being the salary cap

        • Because he can. Lindberg’s strengths are in the circle and his defensive awareness, a prototypical centerman. I believe Lindberg makes the roster out of camp and is the Rangers future #3 centerman. For the sake of this year alone, If I’m correct and Lindberg makes the team, where are you playing Lindberg and Moore? We know Stepan and Brassard aren’t going anywhere. Of Lindberg, Moore and Hayes, who is more likely to play the wing? Which two are strongest in the circle? Which two are the most defensively responsible?

          • As we saw in 2014, the Rangers are best when they have a 4th line that can take the DZ starts, and leave the top nine to take the OZ starts. Wouldn’t you want Hayes in the OZ starts, as a high hockey IQ C with great vision to set up the offense?

            Optimally, I think the best setup is Stalberg-Hayes-Etem getting OZ starts as the 3rd line. Lindberg-Moore-Fast as the 4th line getting DZ shutdown minutes.

          • I see where you are coming from, but I think we have to respectfully agree to disagree.

            I think that 3rd line has the potential to be a combined -50. Wouldn’t you want your strongest face-off centerman taking the draw in the OZ? I wouldn’t put potentially my three best defensive forwards on one line. Maybe in a special teams or final minute scenario, but not as a consistent unit. If I get to pick a high IQ C-man with great vision to set up the offense, I’d start with the 2 C’s that play ahead of him.

            I’m not a big believer in creating lines based on accommodating OZ and DZ starts for a couple of reasons; even though the puck is being dropped in that zone, it doesn’t dictate what zone the majority of that shift is gonna be played in. I also believe strongly in all 4 lines being able to play effectively and responsibly in both zones. We’ve all seen the Rangers spend 8 minutes at a time in their own zone (as do all teams). All 16 forwards should be able to play DZ shutdown minutes when called upon to do so.

          • I don’t remember that or know why anyone would assume that. Zucc and Brassard are very good in their own zone.

  • Nice article Dave. I look forward to your top 12. I see you grouped the three goaltenders together. Taking Hank’s contract into consideration, do you think one of the three eventually become our starter? If so, which one would you choose? Halverson (my personal favorite) will be pushing 28 when Lundqvist’s contract is done. We could possibly revisit the Talbot scenario with all three of these guys, which wouldn’t be the worst thing.

    • It’s so hard to predict. As Dave said, goalies are voodoo so assessing their future is obviously hard to do.

      In analyzing it though, I wouldn’t assume the “right of passage” takes place at the end of Hank’s deal. It could well be, depending on Hank of course, that we see one of the kid goalies assume a significant role maybe as soon as three years from now. Hank would be 36 at the time. Probably still very good but no longer elite. If one of them proves ready and worthy, and you have Hank as a very reliable (and expensive) backup at that point, that works. Of course, with Hank’s work ethic, he may still be elite beyond his deal, so who knows!

      Either way, it’s good that we have a great stable of goaltending talent (and let’s not forget Shesterkin (sp?) in this conversation because I hear his star is rising and he may eventually be the best of all of them!). Hopefully one becomes Hank’s successor and the rest become valuable trade bait to haul in other pieces.

      • My guess is that one of these kids is ready to take the reigns in 4-5 years. We will see a gradual shift. Hank currently gets 65 starts. It may shift to 60, then 55, then 50, then full backup. Too soon to tell, but I can see them phasing him out and the next one in.

        • This is a tough one. If the Rangers window appears to be even slightly closing for whatever reason in the next couple of years, I believe it is Gorton’s responsibility to trade Hank to a contender while his stock is still relatively high. At 8.5 mil per year until 2021, the thought of Hank as a full time backup, even for a year or two, is the definition of financial irresponsibility IMO. I’m sure we all remember the situation we landed in with Vanbiesbrouk and Richter. We wound up receiving future considerations for Beezer, which turned into Doug Lidster. The rest of the NHL knew the Rangers had to part with one of them and basically robbed us at gunpoint. If one of these kids turns out to be a stud (Halverson if anyone IMO), then we must think of value opposed to potentially tying up 12 plus million dollars in two goaltenders.

          • Chris, it’s obviously so hard to project that far down the road. We don’t know what the cap ceiling will be. We don’t know exactly when and how expansion affects things. Most importantly, no one knows when the expiration comes on the proverbial milk carton with Hank. Three years? Six years? Maybe even past his contract expiration?

            And we also have no idea how quickly the kid goalies develop. (Not to be a Star Trek nerd, but since I am, Spock would say, “Each according to their gifts” :)).

            It could well be that by the time Hank starts to fade, the kid goalies will still be young enough to be very affordable and fit nicely under the cap. If so, we wouldn’t have to carry two huge goalie salaries necessarily. It could all work out perfectly.

            I also don’t think it is realistic to think that Hank could be traded. I believe he has a full no trade clause, he won’t likely agree to waive it for any reason, and if he starts to fade, frankly, why would any team want to take on that salary?

            For the sake of argument, and just because I’m on vacation and have lots of time on my hands this week, let’s look down the road at a plausible scenario–

            Let’s say Lundqvist goes from great to good in three years. Well, good goalies with experience can still win Cups, so I wouldn’t be so quick to trade him. If we assume three years, the start of the ’18-’19 season (after the Rangers have captured the ’16 and ’18 Cup!), I’m guessing by then, the following happens–

            Hellberg 27yo at that point, is long gone, as is Raanta, who will be 29 by then.

            Skapski, 24 yo at that point will be firmly entrenched as Hank’s backup and will be getting more and more games. I’m figuring at that point, Skapski’s probably a year away from FA, similar to Talbot this year. Borderline starter quality goalie, but probably not an elite future star.

            As Hank ages and Skapski prepares to leave via free agency or trade during the summer of ’19, we start realizing that Hank, great as he has been, is starting to decline and it’s time to begin the transition. In the meantime, in the ’18-’19 season, Hartford fans have been treated to quite the goaltending battle. Halverson and Shestyorkin (I’m rooting for Halverson until I actually can figure out how to spell the Russian kid’s name!) are both equally impressive. Together, they led Hartford to the ’18 Calder Cup Championship. Both have had cups of coffee with the big club due to minor injuries to Skapski (recurring hip injury issues) and Hank (starting to get some groin pulls). Both kids are 22. The Rangers have a glaring need as their aging defense needs a boost via trade. So they ship out the Russian kid for a big body defenseman at the deadline. Meanwhile, Hank gets hurt. Halverson is promoted. He outplays Skapski, and has a run similar to Talbot way back in the ’14-’15 season (iPads are passé, at that point– I just think this onto the blog and it appears!).

            Lundqvist comes back before the ’19 playoffs. AV has a dilemma. Who does he play? The old star or the new one? Being intensely loyal, realizing that Hank has delivered two Cups and some of the clutchest playoff goaltending we’ve ever seen, he goes with Hank. The Rangers struggle and are ousted in the second round.

            It’s the ’19-’20 season now. Skapski is traded or leaves via FA. Halverson and Hank battle for the number one spot. Clearly, it’s a battle in name only. Halverson is 23. He is ready. AV says he will platoon the two. Hank, seeing the finish line on a great career, mentors the kid, who gets more and more playing time. It’s a year of transition for the Rangers. They’re out after the first round.

            Jeff Gorton makes some big moves as the ’20-’21 season approaches. The Rangers are legit Cup contenders again. Halverson 24 yo, is a beast in goal and starts getting mentioned as a legit Vezina candidate. He has a spectacular season, but and up and down post season as he still is learning how to handle playoff pressure. The kid takes a puck off an unprotected part of his body. He’s out for the remainder of the Conference Final. Henrik Lundqvist, the greatest goalie in Rangers history, at age 39, gets the nod. He drinks from the fountain of youth and has a spectacular run. The team rallies around him. And the ’21 Cup goes to the Rangers, with Hank skating off into the sunset as a champion!

            And as we then approach the ’21-’22 season, Halverson is now the number one, and his back up is—that seasoned vet–34 yo Cam Talbot, who comes back to NY to finish what was a solid journeyman career!

            Fun to think about. So many variables and unknowns. But certainly such a scenario would allow the Rangers to keep Hank’s successor’s salary at a reasonable level during the transition.

          • That’s why you are the very best Eddie!! I think I just read a movie script. Love it pal!!!

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