20 – Ty Ronning (RW) – Ronning is admittedly one of my favorite prospects in the system. I am drawn to the small pests who can also chip in on offense, it is why players like Brad Marchand and Brendan Gallagher are among my favorite players. Ronning has been cursed with two things that have diminished his value as a prospect, his size at 5’8″ and the absolutely horrible Vancouver Giants team that he plays on.
The story with Ronning is simple, he is a buzz saw. Great on the forecheck, knows how to get to the front of the net and also has the quick hands that actually make him effective there too. Unfortunately for him, being part of a poor Vancouver Giants team hasn’t exactly allowed him to display his skills at that level consistently.
Here is the kicker. Just like his dad who was absolutely fearless on the ice, during Ronning’s brief stint with the Hartford Wolfpack, we not only saw his game transfer against bigger pros, but also saw it being used successfully. Ronning was still forechecking like a mad dog forcing turnovers from players who may be five inches taller than him simply because of his speed and smarts. He was a big component of his line actually being able to cycle the puck for an extended period of time which Hartford hasn’t been able to do much that season.
He still will need a few years of development, he may spend another year in thee WHL but given how bad that team will be once again, he may benefit from splitting time in the ECHL/AHL in my opinion. I would assume should he continue to work hard we may see him get a cup of coffee in 2 years.
19 – Dominik Lakatos (C) – We are definitely getting into the range where I find at least one thing I love about every prospect. I don’t know about you folks, but when I was younger, I absolutely loved watching Sean Avery. I have had a lot of family friends growing up still waiting for the Rangers to find a replacement for him and I would just like to say that if Lakatos works out, he is the perfect answer. Lakatos is a great grinder. He is constantly the first person in the corner, battling for the pucks and creating havoc in front of the net. That is his bread and butter, as almost all of his goals are scored from around the crease. It is even more impressive when you realize that he was such a force at only 19 years old playing against grown men.
Lakatos also walks the line when he plays, but sometimes he oversteps boundaries and starts making a mess. He is a hot head but there is a bit more to it. The head coach of his team is Filip Pesan, one of the youngest and brightest minds among coaches in the entire world. He has garnered praise from almost every hockey playing country for his strategies and player usage. It almost seems as though Lakatos is a personal project of Pesan, he has brought him along slowly giving him much more responsibility as the season goes along. This is seen with his production not only getting better as the year went by but also him turning into his teams secret weapon during the playoffs.
A great example of how Pesan has helped Lakatos out and gives him chances to succeed happened only a week ago in the CHL. Lakatos made some questionable decisions which resulted in 15 minutes of penalty time. Most coaches would bench someone for that, especially when they are young. Pesan briefly changed the usage of Lakatos during the game and put him back on the ice resulting in the goal that tied the game.
Even though he was drafted this year, he is a bit older than many players in the 2017 draft. I hypothesized that the Rangers drafted a bunch of overage players because they are farther along in the development, looking closer to NHL ready and would rather get players who can be NHL bottom-six guys than take a risk on a player in a perceived bad draft. There may be more to Lakatos than just being a bottom-six pest, he was one of the highest ranked players in SEAL adjusted scoring thanks to his incredible late season play. It is possible that he can be a valuable asset to come but he must be developed properly.
18- Aleksander Georgiev (G) – When the Rangers invited Georgiev to the prospect development camp my ears perked up. It’s rare that an invite would have a chance to walk out with a contract but I felt that Georgiev is certainly one of the few who are talented enough to do that. Low and behold, Georgiev was soon signed to a contract to continue to make the goalie pool as strong as ever. Georgiev is an athletic goaltender who as a teenager has been playing pro hockey in Liiga, slowly getting more and more responsibility.
After the Rangers lost three goalies this offseason, they needed another goalie who can split time with Chris Nell and Brandon Halverson. May as well get a kid who has a shot at the NHL and has already been lights out in pro hockey. I am not a goalie scout or expert, but using stats I have broken Georgiev down when we signed him here. Overall, Georgiev provides a possible 3rd string goaltender this season in case Ondrej Pavelec falters. He has the history of being successful against pro hockey players so bringing him up with split duty in Hartford would give the Rangers some options in case of injury.
17- Tarmo Reunanen (D) – I really liked the Reunanen pick and it is comparable to the Calle Sjallin pick in this draft as well. The concept with Reunanen is in line with a theme of the Rangers taking talented players sliding down draft boards either due to injuries or attitude. Reunanen’s game is sometimes considered that of an offense first defenseman, but I think he is just pigeonholed into that due to his wonderful passing ability. Reunanen is great at setting his teammates up in the offensive zone because he is simply so calm on the ice. He never seems to force or rush a pass, he also doesn’t panic as he is about to get pressured from the winger covering the point. That steady play is why I think he is better than his stat line last year in Finland’s second tier league.
This season, he will be a player that can lead to discussion among prospect watchers among Rangers fans. Reunanen is poised to be playing for TPS, the same team as Georgiev –before he signed– and Patrik Virta. Thanks to the Champions Hockey League, in which TPS is a part, we have been given an early glimpse of how Reunanen plays against better competition and how the coaching staff will use him. At first it seemed a bit bleak, Reunanen was playing pretty well and was showing he is not one dimensional by making some pretty good breakups at the neutral zone, but he only got less than four minutes of ice time.
However, as the tournament has continued we have seen Reunanen not only get more ice time but also contributing to the teams in a way that is not just offensively. Reunanen has been one of the best skaters on TPS in generating shot attempts while also blocking shots in the defensive zone as well. One negative that that has become clear was his difficulty in adjusting to defending on the rush against faster players. We will see how that gets worked on as his season with TPS progresses. As much as becoming a point producer would be a great indicator for Reunanen’s improvement as a prospect, I want to see him continue to be one of TPS’ best shot generators. Luckily, Liiga is one of the few leagues that records advanced stats so we will be able to get more data behind Reunanen outside of just a simple stat line.
16- Gabriel Fontaine (C) – Do you like smart players? If you do, I have a Gabriel Fontaine that would make you absolutely giddy. Fontaine reminds me a lot of Dominic Moore. He is put into serious defensive deployments by his coaches due to his aptitude in the area. Thing is, he succeeds in these situations every game both at even strength and the penalty kill. After he steals the puck a couple of times and prevents an opposing team from cycling the puck, he goes all Dominic Moore on them and somehow dangles around the opposition when least expected to generate a scoring chance.
I get really excited about players like this. It would be preferred for the Rangers to have big boom bust players in the system, but at the moment it looks like their last two years of over age draft picks are developing nicely towards pro hockey. It is extremely likely that Fontaine may never make the NHL, but his skating and ability to always be in the right place at both ends of the ice definitely makes him seem like someone who will get a chance at some point in the NHL.
15 – Brandon Halverson (G) – Halverson is an intriguing situation. He was on a pretty good team during his junior career and put up respectable stats. He then played in the ECHL before getting called up to play for the Hartford Wolf Pack earlier in the year. If we look at the stats he has in the AHL and combine it with being our first pick in his draft it does seem like a disappointing season. But he has the size, he has the coach, and at only 21 he still has the time to become an NHL goaltender.
Halverson will be splitting time with Georgiev this season, but this Hartford team should theoretically be much better defensively. We have better AAAA players on offense and the improved defense should help Halverson after dealing with a defense from hell. Goaltenders take a while to develop but Halverson has all the physical tools to make it work. Time is running out though, and if he falters Georgiev can overtake him. With Adam Huska and Tyler Wall nipping at the heels of pro hockey, Halverson has to make a name for himself right out of the gate.
14- Calle Sjalin (D) – Sjallin was one of the few choices the Rangers made after the first round who were actually first-time eligibles for the draft. Similar to Filip Chytil, Sjalin was one of the youngest players eligible for the draft, and while maybe not being as dynamic as many of the Swedish D-men drafted this season, he was probably one of the best defensively sound defensemen from Sweden. Sjalin is an interesting prospect because someone who can skate like he does can truly develop into a complete two-way guy.
The thing is, development and usage is so important in evaluating a prospect.His usage was primarily babysitting the defensive tire fire in Westerlund, so Sjalin may develop as a quiet defensive defenseman who can skate similar to Anton Stralman. He was given top pair minutes this summer in the U20s 4 Nation tournament, which suggests him being one of the top choices to play in the World Juniors. Now a year removed from an injury, it would be great to see him add even more offense to his already strong defensive game this year.
13- Cristoval Nieves (C) – Hartford really wasn’t a good environment for prospects last year. Nieves’ season was another one of those that would’ve benefited from a talented veteran on his line during his first full year as a pro, but in regards to production, he wasn’t horrible. Nieves has the physical traits that suggest that he can become a good pro as well. He has the size, the blazing speed, and would theoretically fit well with the way the Rangers are developing their team.
Nieves also faced a couple of injuries that completely derailed his season. When he came back Hartford had absolutely no help on offense either. Pretty hard for a guy to jump right back into it as a first-year pro. Nieves will not be the top-six forward that we were hoping for when he first got drafted, as after a promising first year in college he didn’t improve so much, and at 23 years old the clock is ticking for him to make himself an NHL pro.
Good news? The Rangers lack of center depth, Jesper Fast will start the season injured, and Boo Nieves’ game built on speed. He might be given a long look at training camp. Should he make it, having another speed guy with Michael Grabner could be a fun thing to see on the fourth line. It’s never fun for a secnd round pick to miss the NHL, they still have high hopes as prospects for fans. we need Nieves to become a quality depth guy because it certainly doesn’t seem like he will be the speedy winger/center we were hoping for.
12- Tim Gettinger (LW) – Gettinger is rising up the rankings as a favorite among Rangers fans. The big 6’6″ winger for the Greyhounds oddly fell to the Rangers last year in the 5th round. Big guys like him who can’t skate somehow ended up getting drafted in rounds 2 and 3 but somehow the Rangers ended up with a big guy who actually can skate decently well in the 5th round? My hypothesis is that during his draft year he didn’t exactly man-handle players, creating the perception that he is just a friendly giant.
Honestly, I feel that Gettinger has a big chance to make the NHL as a player simply because of all the things that he can do. He is great at protecting the puck and winning board battles, he gets respect around the OHL and his team for being a leader on the ice, and after last season he showed he can start scoring goals at great levels. He put up 54 points in 62 games, which isn’t sexy but if we look at his season trends, Gettinger was consistently a great goal scorer all year, and among the elite in the OHL at 5v5.
He has been consistent in generating shots even with increased ice time and responsibility while also being reliable to produce goals for his team. Gettinger used to only make his point totals rise by being in front of the net banging home rebounds, but this year with more offensive responsibility we also saw him taking more shots from the circles.
My only problem with Gettinger’s shot is that his release is a bit slow. But as we saw with Ryan Graves, a good coach can really help a player out in his last year in Juniors. Gettinger has all the things that make fans fall in love with a prospect, and ideally we can see him become a valuable bottom-six player who can be huge in keeping puck possession due to strong cycle play. Improve the skating a bit more and the release of his shot and we can get pretty excited about a guy, who was also asked to play for Team USA in the U20s.
11- Robin Kovacs (RW) – Some may be upset that I am giving the player essentially a redo after the extremely poor season he had but honestly, the 19 year old shouldn’t have been rushed into the AHL. Let’s be real here, how many 19 year olds are actually good players in the AHL? How many of these players came from being top producers in better leagues than the Swedish 2nd League? How many of the players were likely top picks? Kovacs should have been brought up slowly and the AHL should have been saved for later, especially when the team was as bad as it was. It’s simply not the correct environment to develop a young player who is playing in North America for the first time.
We know how Kovacs plays, he is a slick skilled forward who also likes to agitate the opposition. He needs to be put in the scenario to make the best of his skill set, he can’t be plastered on a poor 4th line during his first year in the AHL. Don’t get me wrong I expected him to do much better than his four points, but in my mind since he wasn’t even supposed to be there so I am not as distressed. Kovacs definitely fits the mold of recent draft picks by the Rangers, not elite talent but the kind of guys who have the skating ability that can put them in many places in the lineup while also playing an up tempo game that will frustrate the other team. Kovacs showed he was able to do that job extremely well in Sweden’s second league, hopefully, he can do that in the AHL and then eventually the NHL.