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.
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.
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.