Bryce McConnell-Barker - NY Rangers Top 25 Under 25

If you’re unimpressed with the 2023 NY Rangers Top 25 Under 25, then I can’t blame you. The list hasn’t had much to get excited over, aside from a third pairing defenseman and a potential goalie steal. But now we are getting to guys that should be on your radar. Whether it’s a high ceiling or just being close to NHL ready, these are guys that will be in the NHL conversation.

The ground rules for this list are simple. To qualify, a player must be under 25 years old. It doesn’t matter if this player is in the NHL, AHL, or in any of the leagues around the world. If they are Ranger property and under 25, they were considered.

As a reminder, my personal rankings take into account kids playing in men’s leagues, so you may see a player or two on here that may not have a sexy stat line, but is a kid playing against grown men. That matters a lot, especially if they hold their own. The reverse is true as well, as big stat lines as an overager in the CHL or getting cut from Hartford last year negatively impacts rankings as well.

Aged Out (2): Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren
No longer with the Rangers (5): Nils Lundkvist, Vitali Kravtsov, Hunter Skinner, Lauri Pajuniemi, Jayden Grubbe
2023 Rankings: Honorable mentions, 25-21, 20-16
2022 Rankings: Honorable mentions, 25-21, 20-16, 15-11, 10-6, 5-1

15. Matthew Robertson – Defense, 2019 2nd round pick (LY: 13)

What an odd professional career it’s been for Matthew Robertson. Highly touted out of his draft year, the Rangers signed him to an ELC almost immediately, a somewhat rare occurrence for a 2nd round pick. He’s a very steady three zone player who has a good first pass and solid instincts in the defensive zone.

His first pro year with Hartford was rough, putting up just 1-10-11 in 65 games. He made major progress last season, jumping to 5-18-23 in 57 games. That’s a significant improvement on the score sheet, but something seems to have been lacking in his game. Perhaps it’s as simple as injuries, as he was limited to just 57 games and missed the playoffs last year. But that would also be ignoring how quickly he was cut from the Rangers last season as well.

Under Gerard Gallant, I would have guess Robertson was going to get a long look at camp this year (possibly with Zac Jones traded). However under Peter Laviolette and with Jones still in New York (and no longer waiver exempt), Robertson is headed to Hartford again this season. It’s a big year for the kid, and he needs to give the Rangers a reason to hold onto him when his ELC is up this season.

I’d expect Robertson to be the first call up due to injury, ahead of Ben Harpur.

14. Jaroslav Chmelar – RW, 2021 5th round pick (LY: HM)

Jaroslav Chmelar makes the biggest jump this year to the top-15. He was a high ceiling pick in the 2021 draft out of Finland, with a great skill set that, if developed properly, could have top-six potential. He’s started to put it together after coming to the US, playing with Providence College last year and impressing with a 7-6-13 line in 33 games.

Providence’s top two scorers last season –Parker Ford and Brett Berard– will not be back next season, giving Chmelar a chance to seize some top line minutes and take the next step in his development. Chmelar is a project pick who is at least 2 years away from turning pro, and possibly 3 years away from an NHL spot. At 6’4″ and 200 lbs, he has the size and the tools to make it. It’s about development and putting it together.

Providence helped Brett Berard go from 5th round pick to likely NHL third line pest. Chmelar has better tools at his disposal, but is further away than Berard, making him harder to project. This is a kid to keep an eye on.

13. Bryce McConnell-Barker – Center, 2022 3rd round pick (LY: 19)

When Bryce McConnell-Barker slid to the Rangers in the third round in 2022, I’m sure the draft room was thrilled to draft him. BMB lost his first year in the OHL –after being taken 4th overall in the 2020 OHL draft– thanks to Covid. He put up 23 goals and 49 points in his age-17 season, followed by 30 goals and 77 points in 68 games with an atrocious Soo Greyhounds team in the OHL as an 18 year old. You love to see lines like these for a kid so young.

At just 19 years old, BMB can’t play in the AHL this year, so he will be sent to the OHL for his age-19 season. BMB is a fine skater who is great in all three zones and pretty strong for his age. He’s already 6’1″ and 200 lbs, so he has the NHL strength already. The expectation is that BMB will improve upon his scoring line while continuing to develop. If there is a “hole” in his game, it’s his acceleration and top speed, something he can address while in the OHL.

BMB projects to be a middle-six center. His pro timing may “coincidentally” align with Vincent Trocheck’s NMC expiring in two seasons. Something to watch for.

12. Zac Jones – Defense, 2019 3rd round pick (LY: 11)

Zac Jones made the Rangers out of camp last season, but was returned to Hartford after an underwhelming 16 games paired with Braden Schneider. There were real on-ice reason for him to be returned to Hartford, but there are also real questions as to why he wasn’t allowed to work through them at the NHL level, in favor of objectively worse defensemen like Libor Hajek and Ben Harpur.

He put up an impressive 8-23-31 in 54 games with Hartford last season and 2-4-6 in 9 playoff games. He’s too good for the AHL now, which aligns nicely with his waiver status. Jones will break camp with the Rangers again this year, but he won’t be returned after a handful of games.

Jones gives the Rangers another puck mover, something they desperately need. If Laviolette gives the Rangers more structure and zone exit strategy, Jones will fit right in. This likely isn’t Jones’ last chance with the Rangers, but it’s a big year for him. Robertson is knocking at the door, and Erik Gustafsson is a solid option if Jones can’t cut it as a 23 year old.

11. Brett Berard – Forward, 2020 5th round pick (LY: 14)

Ranking Brett Berard so high, up 3 spots from last year, after he didn’t match his sophomore year production last year in Providence will certainly raise eyebrows. But there’s a method to the madness.

Berard projects to be a bottom-six pest and has a higher ceiling if the offense carries over from the NCAAs. He has a ton of skill, and being undersized makes him model his game more like Brad Marchand, which would make him an instant fan favorite if he makes it. Remember how much everyone loved Sean Avery in his first run with the Rangers?

What would hold Berard back is simply stagnating his development. The renewed focus in Hartford probably helps a guy like Berard fine tune his game to the NHL level. It’s a possibility, and a real one at that.

There’s a lot to love about Berard’s game. His floor, as of the writing of this post, is a bottom six winger about 1-2 years away. At 21 years old, he would need to be in the NHL by his age-23 season to continue on that path. His ceiling, though, is far higher. It’s unlikely he achieves that ceiling (he was a 5th rounder, after all), but it’s there and it shouldn’t be ignored.


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