Fourth annual New York Rangers Top 25 Under 25 (Part two)


Last week, I went through the bottom half of the New York Rangers 2016 Top 25 Under 25. The bottom half had a lot of turnover, as the 2016 draft was an early success for the Rangers that warranted some shifting in the rankings. Couple that with four players who were ranked last year that are no longer with the organization, and you have a refreshed system that is something to get excited about.

Let’s remember that there are a good number of players on the NHL roster that are under 25 years old, so the top half of this list is mostly populated with them. There was a shift in the rankings for some of these kids though, as we’ve learned what each one is capable of in the lineup.

12. Adam Tambellini – Forward, 2013 3rd round pick (LY: 12)
12. Ryan Gropp – Forward, 2015 2nd round pick (LY: 13)

Ok I can’t count. I didn’t realize that I had two players on the list at 12 until I had already published the first part of the post. Honestly, why do you guys read my stats stuff when I can’t even count to 25?

Gropp is a rare combination of size, speed, IQ, and skill. He will likely wind up in the AHL this season, as he doesn’t have much more to show in the WHL. The next step in his development is crucial, as he has shown to have all the tools to be a top-six forward in the NHL. But the major question will be whether or not he can put it all together against pros. The Rangers reached for him in the second round, and there was a reason for it. Gropp is easily the most intriguing prospect. Imagine him and Chris Kreider on the same line?

As for Tambellini, he has an NHL shot. That’s the one thing that we saw consistently in his first pro season in the AHL. Tambo put up 17-15-32 with a pretty terrible Wolf Pack team last season, which was actually fifth on the team in scoring. This is the major transition year for Tambo, as he will have a much better support system with numerous talented kids coming to Hartford. He has the shot and the talent, he just needs to show he can improve his defensive and all around game.

11. Dylan McIlrath – Defense, 2010 1st round pick (LY: 10)

McIlrath slides one spot again this year, which seems harsh, but is really of no fault of his own. McIlrath was all around solid in his first full NHL season. He’s a very smart defenseman, knowing that he needs to compensate for his skating with great positioning and stick work. He did just that in limited time with Alain Vigneault last year. McIlrath also impressed with a skill that we didn’t know he had: Making a simple, smart first pass out of the zone to transition the rush. That is what really caught my eye last year. He’s calm and collected with the puck. He doesn’t panic, and he knows where his teammates will be.

That said, he is still limited by his skating. He is likely going to peak as a solid bottom pairing defenseman, one that can play second pairing in short stints. He doesn’t take himself out of position to make big hits anymore, and has shown vast improvements in his game. The big question will be if his future is in New York or elsewhere. Personally, I think he’s the second-best right handed defenseman on the roster at the moment.

robin kovacs
Kovacs (Photo: Getty)

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

Kovacs makes the biggest jump of the year. Kovacs had a phenomenal year in the SHL, putting up 21-13-34 in 44 games, clicking with teammate and newly signed prospect Malte Stromwall. Kovacs improved on his line of 17-11-28 the year prior in eight fewer games. At just 19 years old (20 in November), he will be making the jump to the AHL this season. Last year, Alex Nunn (@aj_ranger) noted that Kovacs plays a quick, skilled, and scrappy game.

Kovacs’ unexpected leap in the rankings is why McIlrath, who is already in the NHL, dropped a spot. Kovacs appears to be on the fast track to a spot on the big club in the top-nine. Kovacs’ potential appears to be growing by the minute.

9. Igor Shesterkin (Shestyorkin) – Goalie, 2014 4th round pick (LY: 11)

Shesterkin makes another jump this year, up two spots as he continues to show why I believe he is the goalie of the future once the Henrik Lundqvist era comes to a close. The kid has all the tools to be a solid NHL goaltender, but needs consistent playing time in the KHL to show he can be a full time starter. He may get that chance this Fall, with the World Cup taking away his team’s starting goalie Mikko Koskinen.

Of all the goalies in the Rangers system, I think Shesterkin has the highest ceiling. That says a lot, considering the talent in the group. He’s also just 20 years old, so there’s plenty of time for him to develop in the KHL before coming over to North America. The goalie position is a tremendous strength for this club.

8. Ryan Graves – Defense, 2013 4th round pick (LY: 9)

Graves is easily the best defense prospect outside of Brady Skjei at the moment. The 21-year-old continues to impress at all levels, putting up 9-12-21 in Hartford last year in his first pro season after earning a surprising extended preseason look last season. It took time, but Graves eventually earned big minutes in Hartford, playing in all situations including legit powerplay time. At 6’4 and 220 lbs, Graves uses his strength to continue to be a solid defender. The offense is just a bonus at this point, and a much welcomed bonus at that.

Graves has an absolute rocket of a shot, which partially explains the powerplay time in Hartford. He may not be the best puck distributor with the man advantage, but teams need to respect that cannon. There doesn’t appear to be a spot for him this season in the NHL, but boy is he close. But with McDonagh, Staal, and Skjei down the left side, something needs to give before he can get that real shot. Makes me wonder if the Rangers are waiting to see what he does in camp before making a huge move on the blue line. Personally I think he needs another year, but that’s just my two cents.

7. Oscar Lindberg – Forward, acquired via trade in 2011 for Ethan Werek (LY: 6)
6. Jesper Fast – Forward, 2010 6th round pick (LY: 7)

It was very difficult to determine who ranks ahead of who among the young Swedes, so I grouped them together. Both are skilled, quick, smart, and calm with the puck. Both are tremendous in all three zones. Both figure to have prominent roles in the bottom-six when the team is fully healthy. AV clearly loves Fast, putting him in the top-six sometimes, a role in which I believe doesn’t fit Fast that well.

One of these two will be exposed for the expansion draft next summer. This season is huge for them. Whoever has the better season will be protected, the other will be exposed. There’s a good chance one of them is not with the club as soon as the trade deadline. But for what it’s worth, both are solid NHLers who can play in all three zones and chip in offensively.

NHL: SEP 24 Preseason - Rangers at Bruins
Skjei (Photo: Getty)

5. Brady Skjei – Defense, 2012 1st round pick (LY: 5)

Skjei remains the top ranked defenseman in the system, and will be in the NHL next season. Skjei is a smooth skater who is smart with the puck. He’s calm in his own zone, electing to make smart passes to transition to offense. He’s not Keith Yandle, he will not put up points like Yandle, and he will not be a force on the PP like Yandle. Skjei is more than likely someone who will chip in about 20-30 points on offense as a top-four defenseman. He’s just overall solid and smooth. Nothing flashy. That’s a good thing, as the Rangers need overall solid and smooth on a blue line that needs help.

4. J.T. Miller – Forward, 2011 1st round pick (LY: 3)
3. Kevin Hayes – Forward, signed as free agent (LY: 1)

Miller broke out last year, putting together his first 20-goal season (22-21-43) while solidifying a role in the top-six. So why did he drop a spot? The concern I have is that Miller shot 16% last season, which is an unsustainable number. Don’t get me wrong, Miller is another solid winger who belongs in the top-six, but he will need to put more pucks on net if he’s going to score 20 goals again. Perhaps more steady time on the powerplay and in the top-six at even strength is just what the doctor ordered. Miller is more than skilled enough to handle it.

Hayes is the single most under appreciated kid the Rangers have ever had. The cries to trade Hayes are much louder than the cries to trade Kreider all those years ago. The major reason is that Hayes sounds doofy on the microphone, and when you couple that with his long stride, people think he’s lazy. It’s a bad narrative spewed by bad reporting. Hayes produces points at a 1C pace, as does Miller.

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This speaks for itself, and why I had a hard time deciding who should be ahead of the other. For all intents and purposes, let’s call this a tie for third, with the slight edge to Hayes because he has better offensive vision and distribution abilities. Both should be getting huge offensive minutes this season.

Regarding Hayes: Let’s remember that everyone seemed to want to trade Kreider, Miller, Lindberg, etc. Let’s pump the brakes on that, ok?

2. Pavel Buchnevich – Forward, 2013 3rd round pick (LY: 4)

The hype around Buchnevich is astounding. The kid is the real deal. He’s set to be a mainstay in the top-nine for the Rangers this year, after putting up age-20 stats in the KHL comparable to Evgeny Kuznetsov and Vladimir Tarasenko, albeit less productive than those two stars. Buch won’t be Kuznetsov or Tarasenko, but he still projects out to be a top-six forward with the potential to be a top line stud wing.

That said, even Tarasenko and Kuznetsov needed a year to adjust. Buch isn’t going to light everything on fire right away. Let the kid adjust, he’s the real deal.

1. Mika Zibanejad – Forward, acquired via trade for Derick Brassard (LY: NR)

Zibanejad joins the team and instantly takes the top spot in this year’s ranking. The right-handed center is already an established name, with a pair of 20-goal seasons under his belt at just 23 years old. Zibanejad is a tremendous offensive talent, and seems to thrive with the man advantage, something the Rangers sorely need. As the off-wing trigger man on the left side, expect him to park it and fire away.

At the best case scenario, Zibanejad becomes a consistent 20-goal, 60-point player. He has a ton of talent around him in New York, so there is a real possibility he hits those numbers. Realistically, he’s a 20-goal, 50-point player for several years to come. He’s already at that level at 23 years old. There’s a reason why I loved this trade.

Quick note: If the Rangers land Jimmy Vesey, I’d likely have him as #5 on this list. He doesn’t have the ceiling of Buchnevich, and isn’t already established like Zibanejad, Miller, and Hayes.

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  • The last couple of years have shown a tremendous improvement in drafting, which I give credit to Jeff Gorton who was a long time scout in the NHL and recognizes talent.

    Kovacs could be a star if his upward progression continues. The Zib trade looks better and better as time goes on. More younger players will be playing bigger roles this year and going forward. I see Graves getting a shot at some point this year with Brady a mainstay in the top 4.

    I know a lot of people are very high on Shesterkin (hope he’s ok) but for some reason I see Halverson as our goalie of the future (and don’t count out Huska, a potential steal in 2015’s draft).

    Good stuff.

    • if you’re a hockey fan, and a NYR fan (put your fav team here if not a NYR fan) you’ve got to love this time of year. Its almost training camp,the excitement of a new beginning, new hopeful nervous faces, the smell of a clean sheet of good ice, the sound of skates throwing snow or stopping for a quick transition, pucks banging on boards and posts, being coached by a guy who has won it all……the rumble of talk on the ice and in the locker room ……things missing since April…….Its a great time of the year!

      • 100% my friend. the anticipation is starting to build. even with the warts this team has, and there are big ones, you still say that everyone has a chance.

        The Pens looked like “dead men walking” in December and ended up winning the Cup. Hey, you never know.

        But our D has to stop giving up so many quality chances, as the Rangers were near the bottom in that category last year. It has to stop or the King will crack, and then it’s “game over.”

  • Boy I really hope AV plays Buchnevich enough and lets him make his mistakes without sitting him on the bench. Ive been hearing about this kid for a long time now and he’s finally gonna be in a Rangers jersey this season. Between him and Zibanejad I’m excited and anxious to see how they’re gonna do. As much as I’m sorry to see Brassard go cause he was maybe my favorite Ranger, I really think the trade is gonna be a plus for us for years to come. Plus we have a new look on our bottom 6 with some speed and guys they can kill penalties. Now just imagine if we were able to get Vessey today. That would be real nice. I do t think we’re gonna though. I’m getting the feeling he’s gonna be going to Chicago, if not there then Boston. Hope I’m wrong. It definitely wouldn’t be the first time.

  • hopefully with us getting younger and quicker and grittier maybe this season will be good looking forward to seeing Mika here but it will be tough without brass here we will miss you and hopefully we will get Vesey here he could be a good fit

  • Looking at the list, I’m starting to feel much better with time being on our side, and kids in the system that look like they could be hits………It’s about time isn’t it????????? The two that excite the most are Graves, and Gropp !!!!!!!!!!!

    It appears that the scouting system under both Gordy, and Jeff’s direction, is in good hands…..

    • the 2015 and 2016 drafts will be “winners” after all is said and done, you watch. even without 1st round picks, lol. 🙂

  • With the departure of Dom, Boyle, Yandle and Brassard the Rangers are definately a younger team. I am sure there will be growing pains this year, but potentially they can become a better team. Time will tell.

  • Some great young players, no doubt. The potential is there for a good season, but the elephant in the room is AV & my main concern. I’m really hoping Beuke will have major input into D-zone play, and if that happens, then I’m optomistic about the outcome.

  • Not bad when 8 of those guys are Rangers already.

    I still can’t believe the Rangers stole Mika and a second round pick from Ottawa like that. I mean, Brassard is a fine player, but Mika has such a high ceiling it’s ridiculous.

  • Excellent post Dave, Mcllrath 2nd best right hand D-Man on the roster, yet AV prefers to sit him in the press box?????. I hope he has a monster camp and pre season ( BUEKABOOM’S presence should help) , so our coach see’s what we all do, This guy can play the position, and will keep the opponents in line if they go after our more finesse players.

      • That’s exactly what I’m wondering about. I really hope Beukeboom is gonna make a difference cause while Girardi n Staal may have had bad seasons the system they play on D has something to do with the problems on D too. We had stretches of time where we looked lost out there and left Hank all alone. That’s not just last year either. I’m hoping for Mcilrath n Skjei to develop into solid D men with Beukeboom there.

  • Buchnevich ahead of Miller is ridiculous at this stage. Almost as ridiculous as having Hayes with Miller at 3. Hayes is lazy, and until he proves he gives a shit about improving his game, I do not see him in the Rangers future.

    • I know what you’re saying about Hayes, his focus was not always there, but he was still 148th in the league in pts per 60 minutes at 2 pts per 60. And that’s with an awful last part of the season. The kid is talented and may have been the most talented center before Brass was traded. Now Zib is, IMO.

      Prediction: 50 pts (or close) for Hayes this year.

  • Going to be an exciting year. With or without Vessey I think Gorton will make a move or moves to strengthen the D before the end of the year. Hayes needs to be put in situations to succeed like his first year, and not how he was used last year. If AV can find 3 lines he likes and leave them alone, the boys will,get it done. All this Hayes trade talk and not letting him succeed, how many Vessey’s and other young free agents are gonna want to sign with us? Hayes moves like Mario Lemieux used to move, looked slow and lazy, give Hayes players that know how to get to the open spot and Hayes will protect and hold it until they get there!

    I am personally excited for this season…Hayes, Miller, Buchnevich, Zibanejad, Kreider, hopefully,a full year of Stepan, Skjei with a big step, and McIlrath…loving the future in the big apple!

  • HaHa Dave, I read everything you post, but pay no attention to your stats stuff…LOL…just not my bag!

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