10. Ryan Gropp, W – Ryan Gropp is a polarizing character on the Rangers prospect list. Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of prospects more than I like Gropp, but given his physical traits and his quick release he may have a better chance at carving out an NHL career. It is hard for me to get excited about Gropp knowing the Rangers willingly passed on Daniel Sprong, Jeremy Bracco and Oliver Kylington and it is even worse when he hasn’t exactly made them look brilliant. While he is known to be a wonderful scorer with an NHL release, you would expect him to produce more as an overage guy in the WHL.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, he didn’t really get the offense going until halfway through the year when Islanders top prospect Matt Barzal returned to his pivot. His lack of offense was a major red flag, and coincidentally as it was becoming more profound we started getting prospect reports discussing Gropp’s drastically improved defensive play.
In terms of WHL play, Gropp has been a disappointment and is not exactly in great NHL company. He is poised to play in the AHL though and hopefully he can at least look improve on his game. We would also get to see how well he improved on defense, as he no longer gets to defend against teenagers.
I know Gropp has been compared to a James Neal type player, but when I watch him all I can see is a left handed Michael Ryder. Not the best skater and needs a center to do a lot of work for him, but can score once the puck gets to him in the slot. Overall, we need to keep a close watch on Gropp this AHL year. This is not a ‘make or break’ year as it is for some older prospects, but following up a disappointing end of the WHL career, an improved look in the AHL likely makes him more of a trade bait prospect. Another thing I think Gropp shows is how poor the Rangers have been in drafting WHL players of late, I can’t even remember the last WHL player that actually made the Rangers for an extended period of time.
9. Alexei Bereglazov, D – I was very happy when the Rangers brought in Bereglazov. Bereglazov to most Rangers fans is a bit of an unknown, he is only a recent add and the lack of AHL time/interviews made him almost of an afterthought. With all of that said, Bereglazov to me is a free bottom pair defenseman. He is a big guy who can play both sides of the ice and has been used quite a bit on the right side, especially on the power play. He is strong and boxes out the crease well, wins battles along the boards, and has an extremely active stick that helps him break plays up.
Bereglazov isn’t the best skater, but as I mentioned in my post when we signed him, I believe the smaller North American rink may actually suit him better, as his wingspan can be used even more effectively. Within the defensive zone, he takes up space well enough to disturb the opponent’s cycle and has a crisp first pass. However defending the rush is where I am most worried about Bereglazov. He doesn’t snow angel, but I do wonder how he will do against the speedy players.
Even though he is more of a defensive defenseman, he is quite good in the offensive zone as well. He will pinch when needed and handles the puck well enough to set plays up. I don’t have the stats behind me, but in my time watching the KHL and Mettallurg he is adept at holding the blue line and keeping pucks in the zone. Bereglazov should likely be in the NHL this year as his KHL out-clause is a risky thing to have, but he is in my opinion good enough to at the very least be a 7D that plays 30-35 games this year.
His ability to play both sides is an important asset especially if we move Nick Holden (these two things may not be independent of each other). He adds another Russian speaker who can help Pavel Buchnevich (locker room interactions always seem to be mentioned). Finally, for those who are worried about him not being able to speak English, and I have seen that mentioned, do not worry. His wife was actually an English professor in Russia so I am sure he is fine in that regard.
8. Tyler Wall, G – With a name like Wall, we should not be surprised that Tyler has become such a good prospect only one year after his draft. The story behind Wall is simple, he came from a league that not many prospects get drafted out of but was absolutely lights out during the season. The Rangers decided to take a calculated risk on a goalie that showed dominance and would be under team control for four years and so far it has made them look like geniuses.
Wall came to UMass-Lowell and competed with three upper classmen goalies for the crease. It took about a month before he took full control of the team as their starting netminder and becoming the NCAA Hockey East champion. Wall was consistently one of the best players in any game he started, even in the games that he lost he was never really embarrassed. If we look at his stats compared to the rest of the NCAA, Wall is ranked 18th in SV% while playing in Hockey East.
Wall has become such an integral part of UMass-Lowell that he is also ranked 18th among all goalies in total time played during the season. Just one year removed from his draft, Wall has become one of the top goalie prospects in the NCAA.
7. Adam Huska, G – I am surprised Huska hasn’t been reported to have a back injury yet, as he has been carrying every team he plays on. After the Rangers first drafted him in 2015, Huska gained notoriety for being a nearly impenetrable wall in the USHL for Green Bay and Slovakia in the World Juniors. It was in the WJC that Huska had to routinely stop 30+ shots a game. He had to make 49 stops in the 6-0 loss to Sweden during the quarterfinals which received quite a bit of admiration from a lot of people.
The next yearHuska joined UConn, which is close enough so Benoit Allaire can keep a close eye on one of the teams new project. Just like Wall, the freshman came in and took a starting role which in itself is impressive. Huska shouldering the load of a team without that much support, in the long run, is probably great for his development. Huska ranked 2nd among the entire NCAA (>20 games played) in shots faced per game with 33.52. He managed a .916 SV% despite that volume.
Huska is an absolutely legit prospect for the Rangers who has shown that he can be someone his team can rely on in every level that he played in. If you ever watch Huska play, you will see that he is a super athletic goalie that uses his big body to become an intimidating force in net. The concerns people really have with Huska is that he has to continue to work on rebound control and also improve his positioning.
6. Ryan Graves, D – Poor Graves. What once was a barren defense unit that seemed like an easy path to the NHL was suddenly turned inside out. Graves is another example of the club’s ability to find some nice late round prospects outside of the WHL. He went along his development path as a defensive defenseman who added a monster shot to his arsenal. Graves was one of the few bright spots in Hartford over the last couple of years. In the 2015-2016 season as a rookie, Graves went to the All Star Game, winning the hardest shot competition with a 103.4MPH shot.
Last year he added to his offense while also becoming the go to guy on defense at both ends of the puck. He was a positive GF%Rel player for Hartford last year facing some of the more difficult competition on an awful team. Graves ranked 15th among defensemen (> 20 GP) in SH/GP at 2.51, Graves also had the second highest quality of competition for Hartford behind Chris Summers, and with his departure, it seems as though Graves will be the de facto 1D in Hartford this year.
He has the size and strength to be an NHL player right now. His issue is –as with most bigger defenders– defending the rush against the speedy shifty players. It’s been something that in my opinion he has improved upon though, at least to me, it seems that he got better at staying with his man and drawing him to the boards as the season went along. With skating being his biggest problem, improving against pros is a great sign. I think he is finally at that point to complete his development this year, get a few cups of coffee, and then challenge for a bottom pair role in the 2018-2019 season.
I do believe that Graves is a better option as a bottom pair guy than a lot of guys, he really is so close but there is no space for him at the moment. He will likely be the first call up, depending on what happens with Bereglazov and Holden. Luckily he is waiver exempt, but you have to wonder how frustrated he may become if he doesn’t get a shot this year with spots becoming limited due to the off season additions.
5. Neal Pionk, D – This may come off as biased but Pionk was probably the best undrafted free agent NCAA player signed this year. Frankly, I believe the only reason he wasn’t talked about as a target and got hyped up is that a lot of people probably thought he would be staying in college. In my opinion Pionk chose the absolute right time to leave. He is still young at 21, and the best puck movers like Pionk show their skill in the AHL and get to the NHL faster than many other kinds of defensemen.
Pionk is an incredible skater who uses it to be an intimidating player on the ice. In the offensive zone he needs the puck on his stick. He is quick in decision making, has nice placement with his shots and QBs the play whenever he is on the ice. Defensively he may go a little bit over the edge, he uses his skating to try to get square to guys and absolutely level them at open ice. He’s a two-way guy that prior to Kevin Shattenkirk the Rangers simply did not have in the system. He will likely “compete” for a spot this year but I doubt he will win one. After all, it took Brady Skjei a year in the AHL to really get things going. I can’t imagine Pionk would take less time especially at the current state of the Rangers. He and Graves next year can make an exciting pair for Hartford.
4. Sean Day, D – The “exceptional” prospect for the Rangers. Day is definitely a polarizing character but the Rangers made the right decision in drafting him 80th overall. His overall game is getting better, but let’s remember he is an offensive defenseman. Defensively, he does seem to be out of place a few times, but the good news is he is such a pure skater that he can recover better than any player that I have seen in Juniors.
In the offensive zone he is just magical. He can control the puck effortlessly and would be able to skate around the entire zone before setting a teammate up. It is mesmerizing to watch him play but he still has a ways to grow. The big question surrounding him is deciding between whether to take advantage of his exceptional status and let him play in the AHL this year. Personally, I am leaning towards letting him play another year in Windsor. He won’t be playing against the best competition as compared to the AHL, but with all of the players leaving Windsor, he will likely become the top defenseman there. He will have responsibilities beyond that of the top-four offensive defenseman.
His potential is still sky high but until he improves his defensive awareness and positioning that wall will prevent him from becoming the top pair defenseman he has the skill to be. I still believe though, due to his incredible skating and offense, he can become a quality offensive bottom pair guy but the potential is so alluring.
3. Igor Shestyorkin, G – Everyone knows his name by now. The apparent heir to King Henrik’s throne. Shestyorkin has become one of the most dominating goaltenders outside of the NHL and in my opinion the lack of press he is getting from some major prospect guys is just because he is Russian. The news about him is clear, he is practically an impenetrable wall backing the most complete KHL team. Sure people can argue that playing for SKA is actually bad given the competition of the rest of the league, but that in my opinion is a lazy statement. He broke the club record for wins and had a ridiculous shutout streak of 272 minutes and 18 seconds.
Another thing that is evident is that even when it looks like the opponent will be getting a sure fire goal, Shestyorkin can stretch out to the other side and rob him. He is extremely difficult to beat on the breakaway due to his lateral movement, he has that quick Lundqvist-esque glove. All of the talent is prevalent and he has Benoit Allaire to polish all the edges. He is under contract in the KHL until 2020, by that time he should be absolutely ready to take over.
2. Filip Chytil, C- While perhaps not as NHL ready and complete as Lias Andersson, combine his skill and just overall demeanor, and he certainly has become a fan favorite within the organization. As a 17 year old he played against grown men in the Czech league while not looking too out of place. When he played against people his own age he dominated. I mean what’s not to like? At 6’2 he also comes with some serious skating ability that is able to turn the defense inside out. He can control the puck at high speeds which makes him a lethal player on the rush. The combination of size, speed, and puck handling ability make him the perfect center that can begin plays from his own end.
Chytil is definitely more of a playmaker, but what is really cool about him when you watch him play is that he can recognize the proper point of attack and goes that way. He enters the zone like the old Soviet Union hockey players by making the defense identify him as the major threat, draw two guys to him and immediately set his teammate up for a high danger scoring chance. He really is the combination of size, speed and skill that the Rangers have lacked in their system in a while.
The big question is where he will play this year. He was drafted by North Bay in the OHL and I was vehemently against him going there. It’s an organization that doesn’t have the greatest development history and practically neuters offense. It appears, though, that if Chyil doesn’t make the NHL he will return to the Czech Republic. Overall, that is great for everyone involved. No need to rush a kid who is with family. Chytil is slotted to be the 2C for Zlin at the very least so we will see him get a lot exposure and becoming one of the main forces on offense, that is crucial for his development. We may also see the possibility of Chytil in Rangers blue this year. Now, it is very rare for players drafted at #21 to make a team right after camp, but with his skill, Jesper Fast’s injury, and lack of center depth, I wouldn’t be against giving him a cup of coffee in the NHL before letting him go back to the Czech Republic.
1. Lias Andersson, C- One of many future captains for the Rangers, and that term gets thrown around a lot, but Andersson may actually live up to the hype. The Rangers passed on some guys who may have been considered more talented to draft the guy who will likely be a great good all around NHL player. He is smart, he is strong, he can skate, he can pass, and he has a sneaky good wrist shot as well. He really is a jack of all trades that coaches and teammates lean on in many situations within the game. I mean, the kid was the 2nd line center for the SHL champions, how many guys honestly have had that kind of exposure before being drafted?
The concern for Andersson is his ceiling, which explains the backlash after the pick was announced. At #7 overall, you want the club to swing for the fences, but they went for the safe pick instead. It wasn’t until after Chytil was drafted that the full strategy was revealed. The Rangers got a “sure thing” in Andersson, who may already be NHL ready. Of all the prospects on this list, he may have the best shot of having a real impact for the Rangers this season.