This season likely has not gone the way Gustav Rydahl planned when he signed for the NY Rangers back in May of 2022. Rydahl, like most Rangers fans, surely saw himself penciled in as the fourth-line center on a team that was in the process of making a run to the Eastern Conference Final. When training camp came around, he played well and in the opinion of most fans, he outplayed his competition (now Hartford teammate Ryan Carpenter) for the 4C spot, but he was still sent down due to his waiver-exempt status on a cap-strapped team.
Instead of contributing to one of the hottest teams in the league, Gustav Rydahl has spent the season on a Hartford Wolf Pack team that has struggled to score and looks set to miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season – no AHL playoffs were held in 2020 or 2021. If Hartford wants to change their fate this season, they are going to need to put together a winning run to end their season. An impressive comeback win on Sunday against Lehigh Valley, which was sparked by a Gustav Rydahl hat trick, could provide a nice foundation if they are to do so.
Gustav Rydahl’s tying goal, which earned him the hatty, set the stage for a Libor Hajek winner with just two minutes remaining. A net-front scramble led to the puck exiting the crease and landing on Turner Elson’s stick, who fed Hajek for the winner.
Go ahead, Libor ???? pic.twitter.com/q6llqwIKLH
— Hartford Wolf Pack (@WolfPackAHL) February 20, 2023
Will Cuylle was another contributor in the win, netting a powerplay goal midway through the third that cut the deficit down to 3-2. Bobby Trivigno added two points to cap off a four-point weekend that will hopefully kickstart his season, as he was enduring a dry spell in the scoring department. Zac Jones continued his impressive production, adding two assists on the weekend to bring his point total to 21 in 32 games.
It is a little confusing that the Wolfpack have struggled the way they have this season, and I honestly do not watch them often enough to have an informed take on why that has been the case. They do not lack AHL-level talent; CJ Smith was a point-per-game player at this level a year ago and he only has 6 points in 21 games this year.
Usually the farm teams of rebuilding organizations experience a boost of some kind but that just has not happened for the Rangers since the rebuild started. If Hartford misses the playoffs again, surely an organizational reboot of some kind will take place. Do you trust Brennan Othmann, Brett Berard, or Adam Sykora to develop in that environment? I don’t at this stage.
The rest of the kids
Speaking of Sykora, his production this season is peerless among Rangers forward prospects, and this past weekend he hit the 20-point mark on the season with a primary assist. The big question with Sykora is what should the next step be in his development? The Rangers blocked a move to the WHL, and while the WHL is by far the strongest CHL league, a move from pro hockey to Juniors seems like a lateral move at best even if Sykora’s age gives him more runway. I do not see how a move to Hartford really benefits him given that he is at least two seasons away from challenging for a roster spot.
Adam Sýkora registered a primary assist on Sunday. He now has 20 points in 33 games in the Slovakia Extraliga. Decent numbers given his age. pic.twitter.com/4IN3ZTCfrt
— Adam Herman (@AdamZHerman) February 20, 2023
To me, the two clearest options are to stay at Nitra for one more season or to move to a stronger league in Europe. The benefits of staying at Nitra are very clear: he knows the coach and the system, he is guaranteed key minutes, and he is still a teenager who may not be comfortable with a move away yet (although he seems pretty outgoing).
A move to a team in the SHL/Liiga/NLA does bring risks, but I am sure that his team and the Rangers would do their due diligence on any potential destination. A move to a stronger league would allow him to develop his game against stronger competition, but with the aid of more talented teammates and likely better development infrastructure. It is a dilemma that will be interesting to track, but there is no question Sykora is trending toward delivering on his promising talent.
Brennan Othmann’s strange production trend continues, as he is still only scoring at a PPG rate on his new team and is now on pace to score fewer points than Rangers 2022 3rd-round pick Bryce McConnell-Barker. Nothing has changed about Othmann’s projection in my opinion, and the toolkit remains exactly the same. He still projects as a second-liner with powerplay upside, and who knows, we could see him join the roster for our playoff run!
McConnell-Barker is currently pacing for 81 points in 68 games, which would be a 32-point improvement from last season. Not bad for a summer birthday on the third-worst team in the league! McConnell-Barker doesn’t have the same upside as Sykora or Othmann, but he does have several NHL tools and this should be viewed as a positive season for him. The hope has to be that next season he can approach 100 points and contend for a spot on Team Canada.
2023 Prospect of the Week
Matvei Michkov, RW/LW, HC Sochi (KHL), Russia
Matvei Michkov has long been one of the most anticipated prospects in the sport. For those that are unaware of the story of this prodigious talent, Michkov became one of the focuses of the prospect world after he led Russia to gold at the 2020 Youth Olympic Games with 14 points in 4 games, beating out a loaded US team that featured players like Jimmy Snuggerud, Cutter Gauthier, Frank Nazar, and Rutger McGroarty.
A year later, Michkov led the 2021 U18 World Junior tournament in scoring with 12 goals and 16 points in 7 games – this was probably the strongest U18 tournament in history due to the presence of Canada’s top talent, which included Shane Wright, Brennan Othmann, Logan Stankovan, and the one and only Connor Bedard.
In his D-1 season (last year), Michkov scored more than a goal per game in the MHL, and posted 5 points in 13 games for SKA’s KHL team. That was unheard-of production – for context, that is roughly what Nikita Kucherov produced in his actual draft season for CSKA.
Michkov started his draft season with SKA’s KHL team, but a dirty hit by Rangers fan-favorite Alexei Emelin knocked him out of action, and when he returned he joined SKA’s VHL team, which is Russia’s 2nd-tier professional league. Once again, Michkov proved that he was up to the challenge, scoring 10 goals in 12 games to go along with four assists.
Despite his objectively phenomenal production, Michkov’s stock was seemingly starting to drop while he was in the VHL, and not just due to his contract situation. Public analysts were questioning whether his skillset would truly translate to the NHL and considered him to be a fairly risky pick, albeit one with enormous upside. Coincidentally, it was at this time that Michkov was loaned the HC Sochi, one of the worst teams in the KHL.
Since joining Sochi, Michkov has shone in a prominent KHL role, scoring 14 points in 24 games and regularly posting enormous SOG totals (he had 11 SOG the other day against Traktor). His production in this elevated role has quelled talk of his skills not being translatable and has helped him regain his status as arguably the second-best prospect in this class. His scoring rate puts him on pace for the most impressive production for a draft-eligible KHLer since Rangers forward Vladimir Tarasenko!
My take is that analysts have struggled with Michkov because he simply does not play like other prospects of his caliber – he is only 5’10”, is not an elite skater, and does not always appear engaged. His hockey sense is second to none in recent memory though, he is one of the most creative players I have ever seen and he has truly elite puck skills to match his processing speed.
For those who don’t know, Michkov signed a contract with SKA that ties him to them for three more seasons, so where he will go in the draft is really up in the air. But the Blues waited three seasons for Tarasenko to join them, and Kuznetsov didn’t join the Caps until his D+5 season. How did that work out for them? Michkov will be worth the wait.
Use this link to access the Rangers’ prospect pool to see in-depth stats: EliteProspects