2023 Rangers prospect rankings: Zac Jones does not crack the top-three.

Yesterday, we went through Part 1 of my 2023 New York Ranges prospect rankings, and today we go into Part 2. Part 1 had a few surprises, with Ryder Korczak cracking the top-10 and Matthew Robertson barely in the conversation anymore. Today we look at the next four prospects making the list, and perhaps #4 may surprise you, as based on the comments, some expected him to be in the top-three.

As I have said before, while I do follow prospects really closely I am far from an expert. If you disagree with my Rangers prospect rankings or have anything to add, please feel free to add your insights!

7. Dylan Garand, G, Hartford Wolfpack (AHL) 

Dylan Garand is a goalie with excellent pedigree and a track record that indicates he will be an NHL starter in due time. I am not a goalie expert – although I do think Rangers fans are more privy to separating the good from the bad with goalies than most fanbases due to their history – so I won’t pretend that I can communicate the nuances of Garand’s game. 

Garand’s statistical profile is really impressive, as he never dipped below a .920 sv% during his last three years in the WHL, backstopped Canada to a gold medal ahead of 2021 lottery pick Sebastian Cossa, and won the CHL goalie of the year in 21/22. 

While his .894 sv% may not point to a strong first professional season, Garand grew into his role on a middling team throughout the year, and eventually backstopped the Pack during their postseason run, posting an impressive a .935 sv% and two shutouts over the eight games that he started.

The knock on Garand is that he is a little undersized at around 6’1”, but he has succeeded thus far due to his athleticism and his ability to correctly read plays. 

Development Path/Timeline: Garand will play two more seasons with the Wolf Pack, hopefully taking over the starting role this upcoming season before becoming one of the more dominant AHL goalies in his age-22 season (he turned 21 in June). Rangers fans are going to want to keep a close eye on Garand; in two years the Rangers will have to decide whether to extend Shesterkin on a massive contract or move on.

That decision may seem like a no-brainer right now, but Garand has starter potential and if he continues his ascendence he will make it a tough decision. The most likely outcome is that he is a fringe-starting quality goalie. 

6. Brett Berard, LW, Hartford Wolfpack (AHL) 

Brett Berard capped off a successful three-year college career at Providence by joining the Wolf Pack for their playoff run. Berard was a draft pick that excited Rangers fans and impressed for Team USA at the 2021 World Junior Championships, where Team USA shut out Team Canada to win gold. Berard stood out consistently at that tournament, showing that he could drive play on Team USA’s loaded forward group. 

Berard did not improve on his impressive point-per-game sophomore season, but his MO as a prospect was never going to be as a high-scoring forward. Berard has consistently shown that he can overcome his small frame with his skating and motor, which he couples with enough skill and intelligence to produce valuable points. 

He is an excellent player in the transition phases of the game, and he is one of the most tenacious forecheckers I have seen. He is a player that will make the Rangers faster and harder to play against. I had him ranked as a second-round pick back in 2020, slotting him in at 55 in a class I knew very well, and I think he would have provided value at that spot. To me, he has developed as expected and I am confident that he can make the transition to the pro game. 

Development Path/Timeline: I think Berard will be a fun player to watch in pre-season, but to me he is a player that will need at least a season of AHL hockey, and likely two. If all goes right for Berard he could be a solid middle-six forward, but it is far more likely that he is a 9th forward at the NHL level who provides excellent energy and defensive play. I see him as being a fan favorite, and with his work ethic I think he is almost a lock to play in the NHL. 

5. Will Cuylle, LW, Hartford Wolfpack (AHL) 

Will Cuylle was not a popular second-round pick back in 2020 (due to the similarities in the ill-fated Carl Hagelin trade/Ryan Gropp drafting), but three years on it is looking like the Rangers were right to take a chance on the forward, who underperformed in his draft season. After a strong final season in the OHL, which included a 40-goal season and a bottom-six role on Team Canada, Cuylle joined the Rangers’ AHL franchise for his first full professional season (he played 18 games for the Pack during the OHL’s canceled season in 20/21). 

Like the Wolf Pack, Cuylle started relatively slow at the professional level, although he was pacing the low-scoring Pack in scoring for the first half of the season. But as the Wolfpack’s standards rose, so did Cuylle’s. He had an excellent second half of the season, which included multiple multi-point games to help propel the Wolfpack toward a playoff berth. 

While 45 points in 69 games may not scream an excellent prospect, but given the context, it was an impressive season for the 21-year-old as he led the team in goals and was second in points. He even earned a four-game stint with the big club this past season. 

Development Path/Timeline: While Cuylle did earn his four games last season, Drury’s offseason moves mean that Cuylle making the opening night roster is highly unlikely. Cuylle will likely spend another season as one of the Wolfpack’s top players; for me improvement would mean Cuylle pushing towards a point-per-game scoring pace. 

It will be interesting to see how he steps up on a team that will have some younger forwards, such as Othmann, Berard, and Sykora. I do think Cuylle is the most likely forward to be called up if there is an injury this season, but he likely makes the Rangers’ full-time roster in 2024. I see him as a bottom-six forward with 20 goal upside due to his frame and shot. 

4. Zac Jones, LHD, New York Rangers 

Zac Jones is probably the most well-known of the Rangers prospects on this list. The 2019 third-round pick has played 38 games at the NHL level over three seasons, notching 8 points in the process. Jones never really managed to gain the trust of Gallant last season, despite being one of the team’s better puck-moving defensemen. 

He had an excellent season in Hartford though, posting 31 points in 54 regular season contests, and led the defensive group in scoring during the playoffs. The knock on Jones is that he is an undersized player, but I think the skating, puck skills, and hockey sense all make Jones a potential number 4 defenseman who can run a powerplay. 

Development Path/Timeline: We are reaching make-or-break territory when it comes to Jones being a Ranger. He turns 23 in October and his waiver-exempt status has expired, meaning he can no longer return to the AHL without going through waivers. This makes it almost a certainty that Jones will be on the roster when the season starts, as Drury will not want to lose him for nothing. 

The hope is that Jones will get the opportunity to rotate into the lineup throughout the season, and when he does it is pretty clear that he should get a chance at running PP2.