Welcome back to the first Around the Farm of the 23/24 season! We are now roughly ten games into the prospect schedule this season and that leaves us with much to talk about. For those who have not read one of my Around the Farm reports before, I typically do in-depth commentary on our top prospects paired with shorter check-ins on some of our late-round picks. I then like to finish each piece by highlighting a draft-eligible prospect.
As usual, please remember that I am just a Rangers fan who played a little too much Be a GM mode as a kid. To that point, please disagree with me if you have reason to and if you have any prospects you would like me to focus on in the next Around the Farm let me know in the comments!
The Soaring Eagles
If you read any of my work over the summer, you will know that I am a massive Gabe Perreault fan. For the uninitiated, here is my extensive scouting report on him from this past summer, which includes a 20-minute highlight video that I compiled of his play last season.
To summarize, I found that the skill/playmaking/IQ combination that public scouts raved about was spot on and points to top-line upside. I also came to the conclusion that he was far from a passenger on the line with Leonard & Smith. In fact, my viewings found that he was noticeably the most efficient creator of offense on that line, and I did not have the same concerns about his frame or skating that others did.
Back door's open ????
— BC Men's Hockey (@BC_MHockey) November 4, 2023
Perreault has had a hot start to his NCAA career, notching 15 points in 10 games to lead the Eagles in scoring. On Monday, he secured his second Hockey East Rookie of the Week award of the young season, following a weekend where he was involved in all four of BC’s goals and scored the shootout winner on Saturday. Soon-to-be first-overall pick Macklin Celebrini is the only First-Year to score more points than Perreault, who also leads Hockey East in assists with 13.
This is far from a surprising development, as Perreault scored two points per game against NCAA opposition last season. These points are not coming against an easy schedule either. Boston College has already played #7 Quinnipiac, #3 Denver, #11 Michigan State twice, and #9 Maine twice.
With 15 points in his last 8 games, Perreault is just starting to heat up. Perreault could even have a few more goals – he has missed a couple breakaways – and he looks like a driver as one of the youngest players in the country. I consider him a lock for the upcoming World Junior Championship, where Team USA will be the favorite to win it all.
A little Team USA WJC roster update, maybe add Cruz Lucius as a wild card but don't see what his role would be. This is going to be a very challenging roster to construct because players who could play in the top 6 will be cut and there is no avoiding that. Perreault a lock IMO pic.twitter.com/280dTym30z
— Will Wright (@wwright88) November 14, 2023
Perreault won’t be the only BC Eagle at that tournament. While the numbers do not jump off the page, third-round pick Drew Fortescue has been a staple on the Eagles’ top pairing with captain and fellow NTDP alum Eamon Powell since the start of the season.
Fortescue’s lone goal came against LUI, but point production will never really be his game. The Boston College blue line is littered with NTDP alums and it speaks to the trust that coach Greg Brown has in him that he has been thrust into this role against top opposition. This is a promising step in Fortescue’s development, and I expect him to play a prominent role on Team USA’s blue line in December.
Drew Fortescue ties it at 2! pic.twitter.com/3sY7C9gVBg
— Eagles Daily (@EaglesDailyBC) October 13, 2023
The Young Wolf Pack
By now Rangers fans have all heard about the disappointing news that Pack coach Kris Knoblauch has been hired to coach the Oilers. Holding onto Knobauch was always going to be very challenging following the appointment of Peter Laviolette, and, understandably, he has jumped at the opportunity to join a McDavid-led team that has been a bit unlucky this season.
Hopefully, his loss does not derail what has been a very promising start to the season for the Wolf Pack, who sit in second place in the Atlantic division.
All eyes were on Brennan Othmann to see what his transition to the professional game would be like. Othmann has fared reasonably well in his early AHL days. He got off to a tremendous start, scoring two goals from seven shots in his AHL debut, but only has points in three games since then.
His shot generation looks strong though, as he is regularly finishing games with three shots on goal. Despite that, he has not scored on any of his last 29 shots on goal, a trend that his shooting talent level suggests is not sustainable. I don’t think there is anything to worry about here.
— David ???? (@DaveyUpper) October 14, 2023
While Othmann has struggled to post points consistently, 2020 fifth-rounder Brett Berard has made a strong start to his professional career posting 9 points in his last 10 games. Berard is a player that I am really high on, despite his undersized frame.
I love his skill/skating combination and those who watched the WJC know that he is a tenacious player who does not stay on the perimeter of play. His shot generation numbers are trending in a very positive direction; in his past two games, he put 14 (!) shots on goal. Berard’s progress this season will be really interesting to track.
Brett Berard has been excellent today. Just drew a penalty. Has a game-high 5 shots
— Mark Divver (@MarkDivver) November 12, 2023
Adam Sykora is where things start to get a bit more hairy, and he is the last of the big three skater prospects down in Hartford. I am on the record questioning the decision to bring him to the AHL. He is 19 years old and comes from a league that I would not consider among the top 5 leagues in Europe (SHL, Liiga, NLA, DEL, Extraliga).
The AHL is likely the second-best league in the world and is a massive step up in competition quality, even when you factor in his impressive scoring track record. Facilitating a move to a stronger league within Europe would have been preferable.
Thus far, Sykora’s 4 points in 13 games and insignificant shot generation support that argument. I want to stress that this is not an indictment of the player in any way, it is merely a concern about the development path the Rangers chose.
Full disclosure: Between Beer League games & BC games, I have not had a ton of time to watch Hartford. Luckily I do not have Friday night games for the foreseeable future, so I intend to catch more Wolf Pack games in the coming weeks. If this production trend continues for Sykora and the play I see is reflective of that, I think the Rangers have to act to salvage – for lack of a better word – the situation.
For what it’s worth, Sykora was the first overall pick in the 2022 CHL Import Draft and could be assigned to Medicine Hat.
However, just as I am on record questioning the decision to bring him to Hartford, I also generally believe that the CHL is not the best development path for most high picks in their D+2 season. For that reason, I think facilitating a loan to a team in one of Europe’s top 5 leagues would be preferable.
It is early and these things can change, but a 23-point scoring pace is concerning for Sykora’s development. I don’t want to see another Robin Kovács situation.
Rounding out the Wolf Pack recap, 2020 pick Dylan Garand has parlayed his outstanding late-season play from last season into a superb start to the 23/24 season. After posting a .935 SV% in last season’s playoffs, Garand is shutting teams down with a .927 SV% through seven games played this season.
This is a really encouraging development for the Rangers, as Garand’s stock dropped last season due to his early-season struggles. I consider him a top 10 goalie prospect in the league with starter upside, and if he maintains this level of play I would love to see him get a couple games with the Rangers if there is an injury down the road.
It feels like he has been around for a while, but he is only 21. There’s a long way to go with Garand.
Noah Laba, Colorado College: Laba has had an excellent start to his Sophomore year, and had a big weekend against the Miami Redhawks, scoring four goals and assisting two more in their back-to-back this past weekend. I have not had a chance to catch a Colorado College game this season, even against my beloved Union College
Dutchmen Garnet Chargers.
That will change soon, and I haven’t forgotten you, person who yelled at me for not including him on my top 10 this past summer! You might have been right.
Jaroslav Chmelar, Providence College: Chmelar is a player I really liked coming out of last season’s World Juniors and he is chugging along at a point per game in his Sophomore season. His eleven points have him as the leading scorer for the Friars, who have been a top 10 team in the country.
Chmelar’s frame and style of play make him extremely projectable in a bottom-six role if he maintains this development trajectory. I will make sure to watch carefully when the Friars play the Eagles in January.
Brody Lamb, Minnesota: Lamb was an upside pick on draft day and a player who would need a lot of runway. He endured a somewhat difficult rookie season but was buried on a deep Minnesota team, which is no longer the case and he has started to shine.
Lamb had a dominant weekend against Michigan, contributing two goals and two assists, and was named the BIG 10’s second star of the week. He hasn’t been riding on the coattails of stars like Oliver Moore or Jimmy Snuggerud either. Another late-round pick with pro-level tools that is enjoying an encouraging development trend to start the year!
2024 Draft Prospect Highlight
Tij Iginla, C, Kelowna Rockets
I have generally tried to focus on prospects in the range that I expect the Rangers to draft in, and what better way to start than with Jarome Iginla’s son! He is currently the 14th-ranked prospect according to EliteProspect’s November rankings, but I have seen him closer to 30 in most other rankings.
It would not be a surprise to see him rise though following a summer trade from the powerhouse Seattle Thunderbirds to the Kelowna Rockets. That increase in ice time has allowed him to showcase his diverse skillset, and he is currently second in scoring for the Rockets behind Andrew Cristall.