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.