Over the past three years, I’ve gone through the Rangers organization and ranked the top 25 players under the age of 25 years old (2013, 2014, 2015 part one, 2015 part two 2016 part one, 2016 part two). 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:
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. Gabriel Fontaine – Forward, 2016 6th round pick (LY: Honorable Mention)
24. Dominik Lakatos – Forward, 2017 6th round pick (LY: Not Ranked)
The Rangers’ sixth round pick in 2016, Fontaine has improved upon his stat line from last year. He put up a line of 23-29-52 in his age-19 season in the QMJHL, which was good for 4th on his team. He will look to improve upon that next year as a potential top-line center.
I put him together with Dominik Lakatos because both are entering their age-20 seasons in their respective leagues. Lakatos impressed as rookie of the year in the Czech Extraliga with 22 points in 41 games. He also put up 13 points in 16 playoff games.
Both kids seem to have a decent amount of skill and potential, but at 20 years old
and without contracts, time is running out. They will need to improve in a big way this season. (Update: Fontaine has a contract, Lakatos does not).
23. Tarmo Reunanen – Defense, 2016 4th round pick (LY: 23)
Last year the Rangers had four players from the 2016 draft on this list. Now they have five (Fontaine makes five). Reunanen stays put on this list as he enters his age-19 season in SM-liiga in Finland. He put up nine assists in 42 games in Mestis (Finland’s AHL) last season, and also had a very strong showing at the World Juniors (1-3-4 in 7 games). Despite promise, he stays at #23 because he really needs to stick in SM-liiga. His size works against him, but he’s still a steady defenseman.
22. Calle Sjalin – Defense, 2017 5th round pick (LY: NR)
Sjalin is a project pick at just 17 years old. He appeared to be one of the more reliable defensemen on the U-18 team for Sweden. He’s typical Swede: Smooth skater, good puck mover, and just overall smart on the ice. He has some work to do, but at just 17 years old, that’s expected. As he matures physically, he should tighten up his game.
21. Boo Nieves – Forward, 2012 2nd round pick (LY: 20)
Nieves moved up three spots last year, only to stay where he is this year. That is more a product of some major progress by the guys behind him last year, but we can’t ignore that Nieves did not have a strong year in Hartford (6-12-18 in 40 games) and is already 23 years old. Many have him penciled in as the 4C this year, and I think that’s premature. He has size, but he’s still missing other aspects of his game to be a legitimate 4C on a team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
20. Malte Stromwall – Forward, undrafted free agent (LY: 18)
I have a lot of difficulty judging Hartford players this year because the team was awful. Stromwall put up just six points last season and had trouble staying in the lineup. With a new coaching staff and hopefully some more emphasis on skill, Stromwall may see his scoring line increase. That said, at 22 years old (23 in a few weeks), it looks like Stromwall is a career AHLer. That said, he’s better than his six points.
19. Brandon Halverson – Goalie, 2014 2nd round pick (LY: 14)
Halverson went from #18 two years ago to #14 last year and now back to #19 this year. This may not be entirely fair to the 21 year old, since he was on a piss-poor Hartford squad last year. But with Mackenzie Skapski gone, this appears to be his Hartford team. He has some competition, but he will be given every opportunity to find his form and show the Rangers why he was a second round pick.
18. Robin Kovacs – Forward, 2015 3rd round pick (LY: 10)
Kovacs had a rough year. He jumped to #10 last season because of his great year in the SHL in 2015-2016, and then immediately had the worst season of his short career last year. Kovacs just couldn’t stick in the top-six in the lineup, and put up 2-10-12 playing fourth line minutes. Hopefully a new coaching staff will utilize him properly. I didn’t want to drop him too far because of the terrible Hartford team (sensing a theme yet?) but his poor year needed to be accounted for.
17. Tyler Wall – Goalie, 2016 6th round pick (LY: NR)
Wall jumps from not ranked to #17 on this list, and is the second of four goalies on this list. Wall had an impressive year with UMass-Lowell this year, putting up a .918 SV% as a freshman, going 26-10-1. He earned the starting role over older players and led his team to the top of the standings in the Hockey East. He’s a kid you’ll want to keep your eyes on.
16. Ryan Gropp – Forward, 2015 2nd round pick (LY: 12)
Gropp is an interesting case. he hasn’t progressed much, and hasn’t shown that he can use his unique skill set of speed/size in an effective manner. But he put up 84 points. That was more than likely a product of being on a line with Matt Barzal. Most scouts seem to think Gropp’s numbers won’t translate to the NHL. I personally think he’s trade bait. Hope I’m wrong.
15. Adam Huska – Goalie, 2015 7th round pick (LY: 21)
Over the past two years, Huska has made major moves on this list. His late draft positioning just shows how much goalies are voodoo in the draft. This kid practically carries the Slovakian World Junior team on his back, putting up stellar performances. He also earned the starting role in UConn with a .916 SV% as a freshman. I put him ahead of Wall because of his strong World Junior play.
14. Tim Gettinger – Forward, 2016 5th round pick (LY: 24)
Gettinger is one of the biggest movers this year, moving all the way from #24 to #13 this year. The 6’6″ forward double his goal total and added 20 points to his numbers this year in his age-18 season in the OHL. Playing top-six minutes suits him well, and he has apparently drawn the attention of Team USA. Gettinger appears to have made the final cut for Team USA for the World Juniors this winter. That is one of the primary reasons why he jumped so high this year.
13. Adam Tambellini – Forward, 2013 3rd round pick (LY: 12)
By most accounts, Tambellini had a good year in Hartford. His 35 points don’t seem like much, but that was third on the club (!!). Have I mentioned how bad that Hartford team was yet? With both Jensen and Hrivik gone, Tambellini is the incumbent leading scorer on the team. This is a huge potential year for him. By most accounts, he still needs to fill out physically, but he certainly has talent. I’m intrigued what he does, probably more than I am with Hartford’s overall play. That said, he needs a good team around him.