Fifth Annual New York Rangers Top 25 Under 25 (Part Two)

mika zibanejad

The other day, I went through the bottom half of the 2016 New York Rangers 2016 Top 25 Under 25. There wasn’t much turnover, with just three new faces. However there were some big movers up the list, as big years from a few kids led to some shakeup in the bottom half.

Now it’s time to go through the top half of the list. 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. Plus, the Rangers added some first round picks for the first time in ages.

12. Ty Ronning – RW, 2016 7th round pick (LY: 22)

It’s been rare that a 7th round pick makes this much of a jump in rankings, or even has a glimmer of hope for the NHL. But the 5’9″ Ronning looks like he could be a solid pest. Ronning is fast, goes to the dirty areas, and has some great hands for some quick offense. In a league that is moving towards speed, pressure, and quick strikes, Ronning fits in perfectly. I really like Ronning, and this may be a bit of an over ranking, but I’m fine with it.

Plus, he’s a righty. Finding one of those is apparently incredibly rare.

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

The first thing you’ll notice is that Graves slipped three spots. However that has nothing to do with Graves himself. He was stellar in Hartford last season, and I was one of many who was hoping to see him get a call up last year. His slip has to do with some high-end talent the Rangers got at the before and during the draft this year.

That said, Graves has an outside shot of making the club. He has an absolute cannon of a shot, and he finally started using it more often last year. You can’t go by his stat line (Hartford was awful), but he earned top pairing minutes by the end of the season. The concern is his skating. For a guy his size (6’4″, 220 lbs), he’s not the swiftest skater in the land. In the ever-increasing speed-based NHL, that will get exploited quickly.

If the Rangers did not make their offseason moves (Bereglazov, Pionk, DeAngelo), then Graves would have been in direct competition for a roster spot. Even when (it’s a when at this point) the Rangers part ways with Nick Holden/Marc Staal, he’s still on the outside looking in. It’s a numbers game for Graves. I think he’s trade bait. There are better players in the system, and that’s saying a lot.

10 1/2. Alexei Bereglazov – Defense, 2017 undrafted free agent (LY: NR)
10 1/2. Neal Pionk – Defense, 2017 undrafted free agent (LY NR)

I goofed a little bit. I completely forgot about Pionk and Bereglazov when I did the rankings. So I’m cheating a bit and ranking them in at 10.5. My reasoning is that I would have them higher than Graves, but before the others on the list. Putting them at 11 with Graves would be misleading, because i think these two guys are better.

Bereglazov is the prized UDFA for the Rangers. The 6’4″, 203 lb defenseman has all the makings of a new-age shutdown defenseman. He has great positioning, plays the body well, skates well, and moves the puck to transition to offense well. He’s no Ryan McDonagh, but he should transition to the NHL nicely. He will likely make the roster next season, if only because of his KHL-out clause. That said, he’s still better than the vaunted Staal/Holden combo.

As for Pionk, scouts say he’s NHL ready. I honestly haven’t seen much of him, and I’m not a big fan of cherry picking highlights to rank him. From what I’ve read at various sources, Pionk is a good puck mover who is an excellent skater. Since he’s such a good skater, his positioning and gap control are excellent. Pionk will fight for a roster spot this year.

10. Sean Day – Defense, 2016 3rd round pick (LY: 13)

Day is an elite talent who fell to the Rangers in the third round. His personal issues resolved, Day doubled his goal total from last year, putting up a line of 15-22-37. He’s an elite skater with phenomenal offensive instincts. His speed makes him dangerous every time he touches the puck, capable of skating through entire teams. He won’t be confused for Pionk or Bereglazov in the defensive end, though.

Day will likely be in the AHL next year with Pionk. That is mostly due to the crowded blue line. His future is bright, though. Day is the highest ranked defense prospects (no NHL time yet) on this list.

anthony deangelo

9. Anthony DeAngelo – Defense, acquired via 2017 trade from Arizona (LY: NR)

I did a whole write up on DeAngelo, so I won’t rehash the whole thing here. Just know this. DeAngelo is an exceptional offensive talent on the blue line. He is otherworldly with his skating, passing, offensive instincts, and shooting. However he struggles in the defensive end and with his attitude on/off the ice. Those have been well documented.

All in all, we have a purely offensive player who should hopefully improve in the defensive zone. It’s safe to assume DeAngelo will get heavy offensive zone starts with AV at even strength, and likely no penalty killing time. What I am intrigued by is how much powerplay time he will get. I’d venture a guess he gets PP2 time as well. Expect some growing pains as well. DeAngelo is more a work in progress than a stud in the making. But you can’t ignore that talent. If he puts it all together, watch out.

8. Jimmy Vesey – LW, 2016 undrafted free agent (LY: NR)

Vesey would have been on this list last season, but he signed after I wrote the 2016 version of the Top 25 Under 25. A lot of people like Vesey’s game. After all, he got off to a great start and had a solid statistical rookie year, with 16 goals. That said, Vesey did have a sneaky-bad year when it comes to puck possession.

Seriously, that’s sneaky bad. I think Vesey is better than that overall, but with that will come a drop in his scoring, as he shot 13.8% last year. I don’t think he’s going to be able to keep that up, but I do think we see a big improvement in his possession game with an improved blue line.

That said, If Vesey continues with this play, he will be a black hole on the middle-six. He needs to improve. That is what keeps him from being higher on this list.

7. Filip Chytil – Forward, 2017 1st round pick (LY: NR)

Chytil is easily the highest ceiling of all the prospects for the Rangers. As Josh pointed out, if he were born 10 days later, he likely would’ve been a top pick in the 2018 draft. But since he was just 17 and still raw, he was available at the 21st pick. He’s really good. He played a full season in the top Czech league, skating side by side with grown men, and notching 8 points to boot.

He’s a solid puck possession player with some amazing offensive potential. He already uses his body well to protect the puck, which potentially makes him an offensive force to come. Chytil has an outside shot of making the roster this year, but don’t expect him to. He will likely get another year in the Czech league before coming to the US.

6. Lias Andersson – Forward, 2017 1st round pick (LY: NR)

Andersson beats out Chytil because it would be a bigger surprise if he busted out of the NHL than if he made the NHL. He’s not an elite talent, but he’s a solid middle-six potential skater who should challenge for an NHL shot this year. Andersson has elite level hockey IQ and an upper level skill set to go with it. He was a top-six forward in the SHL, playing against former NHLers and putting up points.

If anything, Andersson’s biggest weakness is that he’s necessarily not an elite talent in any particular area. I don’t know if that’s a weakness or not, since it just means his overall game is very well rounded and it makes him a sure-fire bet to transition to the NHL, likely before he can legally drink in this country. I mean, he’s Swedish. I can’t remember the last bad Swedish player.

jt miller

5. JT Miller – Forward, 2011 1st round pick (LY: 4)
5. Kevin Hayes – Forward, signed as free agent (LY: 3) (Sorry – Hayes aged out)

Miller and Hayes are again paired together and slide to #5 on this list. Their slide is not due to their performances on the ice, though. Two players who were behind them last year made significant headway and blew past them this year.

Starting with Hayes, he’s such a good offensive player. He protects the puck well, he has phenomenal vision, and he is an even better passer. When it comes to primary assists, he’s one of the best there is on this team. However leave it to Alain Vigneault to try to shoehorn Hayes into a defensive role, saddling him with a ton of defensive zone starts. 

As for Miller, he had a breakout campaign last year and is the darling of most fans. He did it all last year, from goal scoring to physical play to providing a spark, he was always noticeable on the ice.

I wonder how AV deploys him this year. He is no slouch in the defensive zone, but is better suited getting offensive zone starts. Pairing him with Hayes, who is in a similar situation, might do wonders.

4. Igor Shesyorkin – Goalie, 2014 4th round pick (LY: 9)

Shestyorkin is the goaltender of the future. I’m not even going to beat around the bush on this one. He finally got consistent minutes in the KHL, and boy what a year he had. In 39 appearance, mostly starts, he put up a record of 27-4-6 with a 1.64 GAA and a .937 SV%. That’s just absurd. From the scouting reports I’ve read, he’s calm, composed, and technically sound in net.

The 21-year-old re-signed with SKA for another two years, so he won’t be coming to the US until the 2019-2020 season. That’s when Henrik Lundqvist will have two years left on his deal and will be 37 years old. One year backing up The King before The Czar takes over sounds about right to me.

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

Buch made his long awaited US debut last season, and while many expected the moon, he met the realistic expectations across the board. A line of 8-12-20 in 41 games doesn’t sound great, but that’s 16-24-40 over 82 games. Buch is an elite talent that will only get better if given the opportunity.

For comparisons sake, let’s look at how other Russians have done in their first year in the NHL:

  • Evgeny Kuznetsov – 11-26-37 in 80 GP
  • Vladimir Tarasenko – 8-11-19 in 38 GP

Yea, I think the kid will be fine.

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

Boy what a year for Skjei. He went from smooth skating bottom pairing defenseman to offensive weapon and top-four defenseman in about 20 games. He put up 5-34-39 in his rookie year, and is poised for another big year as he gets more minutes and a steadier partner in Brendan Smith.

I went back and forth with putting Skjei at #1, but I just couldn’t put him at the top spot yet. But if he has another year like he did last year, he will be one of the best 2LD in the league. With him and Ryan McDonagh on the left side, the Rangers have no worries there.

1. Mika Zibanejad – Center, 2016 trade with Ottawa (LY: 1)

Many folks weren’t overly pleased with Zibanejad’s seasons last year. And to that, I say wtf? Despite missing a good chunk of the season with a broken leg, ZBad still put up a line of 14-23-37. Over a full 82 game year, that averages out to 21-34-55. And that includes a slump when he came back.

We all still have questions about whether he can handle the 1C role, but the organization seems to think he’s capable. As a righty with a wicked shot on the powerplay, ZBad projects to improve on his scoring line from last year.

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  • What is it about Graves that he doesn’t get a real chance with the big club? Staal should have been bought out and Holden traded to give this guy a real shot at 3rd pair.

    I suspect that he will end up being a trade chip at this point. Bereglazov appears to be getting a roster spot as he has the option to go back to Russia if he doesn’t make the team. I can’t see the Rangers allowing that to happen.

    All of a sudden there’s a D glut, so a trade has to be coming at some point.

  • The glut of young defensemen is a nice problem to have. That said, Holden and Staal need to move, but if the others can get you that center or scoring wing, then we have to move someone to help the big club.

    Rankings seem fair, except for Hayes and JT. I would give JT a higher ceiling.

  • i see Kevin and J.T excelling this year after being invisible in the playoffs and I see Mika having a bounce back year

  • Make or break money years for both Hayes and Miller.

    Both are dismal playoff performers and both had awful second halfs after getting off to really strong starts.

    Stop with the Staal buyouts, please? The cap hit for two long term buyouts is unmanageable, and you can play fantasy GM some place else. If Girardi got 3 million for 2, there is going to be a market for Staal at some point with retained money.

    And, just because Buch is Russian his only comps are also Russian? I hope Buch comes good. Really do. But, it would be nice if a player with a good shot actually shot!

    I am predicting a great year for Vesey.

    • Vesey will be playing on the 3rd line with no PP time this year. I don’t know what makes you think that he’ll have a good year but I think he’ll be lucky to have a little over 30 points and just north of 15 goals. I’m pretty sure this was why they got DD as the 3c because it would give a realistic shot for Vesey to have a productive season.

      Hayes second half was dried up due to Grabner hands. That west coast trip was hard to watch, Grabner would be getting these high quality passes from Hayes fior easy tap in goals. Just remember when Hayes got back from his injury they lit up Nashville and Hayes was making Josi and Ellis along with Rinne look silly.

  • Not only are we expecting 18 y/o Lias Andersson to make the team, but now, without playing one NHL game, he’s better than Vesey?

    • There is a lot more into this ranking than just who is better now. Andersson has a higher potential than Vesey, who has a sneaky bad year, as mentioned.

      • How could it have been a sneaky bad year? I’m judging him from Hayes rookie season who made the jump from wing to center on the fly with basically no PP time and he didn’t get to play with real top 6 talent for majority of the season until MSL got traded and sent on his line. Goal scoring wasn’t even as good let alone the quality of plays that he made compared to Hayes. I think Vesey will be a depth forward first on this team, I don’t even see how he gets any special team play unless AV wants to try him out on the PK which he should still be last on the pecking order.

  • Nice list Dave! Vesey is a little low for my taste, but I’ll take it as a sign of how healthy the organization is. When Jimmy Vesey is the 8th best under 25 Rangers property that is a very good thing! Maybe we can finally bury that rotten chestnut about the Rangers being an old team. That story ended about a decade ago, and yet, lazy hockey writers refuse to let it go.

    One editorial note, you opened Part I saying Hayes aged out along with Fast, and then I look at #5 (the second #5) and there’s Kevin Hayes.

    • Ugh, I’ve been slacking. Hayes shouldn’t be on this list.

      As for Vesey, I had him higher, but those possession numbers combined with a 13.5% shooting rate have me worried.

      • I get that criticism of Vesey, but the eye test leads me to believe he’s a hard worker and a willing player. I don’t see him as an all-offense type and his two-way game should start to become more consistent this season.

        • This doesn’t take away from his work ethic and willingness to do the dirty work. That said, Tanner Glass was a hard worker and willing players as well.

          I’m not saying Vesey is Glass, I’m just saying there’s more to it before I can say Vesey isn’t a drain on the ice. Right now, I think his numbers are a bit of a mirage, and I’d like to see his overall game improve.

          • Vesey plays a smart game and I think (hope?) as he has more time to acclimate, his reads will get better leading to more shots and help to offset some dip in his sh%

  • Same as part 1, I just think Shesyorkin is too high and Huska is too low. Just my opinion and I am being probably being picky (admittedly), but KHL goalies are commonly overrated and there is a chance he might not even come to the NHL. In an ideal world, both these guys end up as studs, which is a good problem for the NYR.

    • I’m very high on Shesyorkin, so he’d be 3 no matter what. I may be a little low on Huska, but the highest he’d go is 11, given the guys ahead of him.

      • Great read Dave…..Thanks for the exceptional analysis of our ‘ next generation ‘ players…….the future and present appear bright……
        Liked your comment on JT Miller– ‘from goal scoring to physical play to providing a spark, he was always noticeable on the ice.’
        To me ‘noticeable’ trumps all those fancy stats!!!!
        IMHO if JT Miller can simply duplicate what he did this year-[ 22 goals, 6 game winners, +17 ] during regular season and carry that into playoffs for next 10 years rangers fans should be ecstatic…
        Assuming hayes, zib stay healthy…vesey and Buch continue to grow and improve……and Day, pionk, berezegov, andersson, chitly and deangelo pan out…WOW very bright furure……

  • Day doesn’t really have phenomenal offensive instincts as in creating gilt edged scoring chances; his skating & size creates time and space when he jumps in and said skating can get him out of trouble as quickly as he can get in it.

    I think he should play in Hartford for to up the level of competition(at least initially,) but with Logan Stanley dealt, I’m assuming he’s going back to Windsor to get 1st pair minutes.

    • I’m expecting a Tyler Myers type of D man but hey it took Hedman a little bit to get his game together so Day will have the time to develop.

  • I’m certainly no expert on guys playing in the AHL or elsewhere, but it seems to me that if the organization really felt Graves was the real deal, they would not be stockpiling this many young defense options. My hunch, and it’s a hunch based on very little information other than just gut feeling, is that Graves might be like McIlrath–a borderline at best NHL/AHL player who may just be a journeyman. Hard to imagine any scenario where he is a Ranger this year or ever.

    I’m high on Vesey and Buch….I think both will have real good years. I’m still highly skeptical about Miller (and Hayes and Kreider who are both no longer “young”). All three are very good players, but as I’ve said before, are any of them truly GREAT players?

    To contend for the Cup, greatness is required. “Good” is seldom enough to win it all.

    • We always tend to praise our “good” and give them potential to become great. This is true of Kreider as you mentioned. Our 25 y/o’s need to become great by 25, or they never will.

      I feel this way of Kreider, Hayes and JT. They are all very nice, 50 point players, but none are great. Maybe Buch, Mika, Andersson, Chytil and Shesyorkin can become great, but in my eyes, the rest will just be good second line players.

      • If that’s true then Hayes and JT are needed no matter what. I see both being 60-65 point players but either of them could achieve career highs past 70 imo. Hayes can attack the zone and net in so many ways and JT next to him could really take off for the both of them.

    • “My hunch, and it’s a hunch based on very little information other than just gut feeling, is that Graves might be like McIlrath–a borderline at best NHL/AHL player who may just be a journeyman. Hard to imagine any scenario where he is a Ranger this year or ever.

      I’m high on Vesey and Buch….I think both will have real good years. I’m still highly skeptical about Miller (and Hayes and Kreider who are both no longer “young”). All three are very good players, but as I’ve said before, are any of them truly GREAT players? ”

      Kreider might actually qualify as ‘being great’ among those you mentioned. He’s surprisingly good, and is one of the better wingers in the league.

      Hell… he even appeared on that ‘star power’ chart as a bottom tier talent. And he would have been a lot higher on it if Z or B weren’t hurt; that KZB line was one of the best in the NHL while it was firing on all cylinders.

      As for Graves, I think his skating is what holds him back from having any serious NHL potential.

    • Hello 3E,
      Tend to agree with your take on Graves/Mcilrath comparison…..The league may be changing but as soon as a team with a bunch of bangers wins the cup/ like Kings beating us…….teams will be looking for the larger more physical players again.
      As far as vesey and buch, I too believe they will be terrific players…..their speed, skill level and drive to the net ala kreider, miller and grabner impresses me….
      We dont have any ‘great ‘players but a lot of very very good ones up front and on the back end……I can see a big year ahead!!!!

      • Just for clarification Rich, I never said, nor do I agree, that Buch or Vesey will be “terrific”. I think you have a tendency to overblow a player’s upside. Vesey I think will be a good to very good player. Buch is the one who intrigues me the most. Maybe a very good or, dare I say, MAYBE one day a great player. Maybe.

    • Graves is a 2nd pair at best, but having depth like that is a bonus as long as you coach them up, then give them a 10-20 game stretch so as to shop them. Better than McIlrath, but without the mean steak.

      Vesey is what he was at Traverse City. Just a fungible bottom 6 guy.

  • Now, if AV doesn’t screw them all up, the Rangers will be OK. Hope he can’t find more Tanner Glasses to keep them in the minors.

  • Beg to differ! Andersson will becoma an elite talent and better version on beloved Stepan! Mark my words!

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