Rangers fall 2007 junior prospects update

By Leslie Treff

The New York Rangers have only six prospects playing in the CHL and the USHL during the 2007-08 season. The new CBA, as well as the decision of three recent draft picks to play in Europe this season, have resulted in the NHL team having the fewest number of players in junior hockey in recent memory. Three of the junior prospects (two wingers and a defenseman) were selected in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft; the other three (two forwards and a netminder) were Rangers picks in Columbus this past June.  All but one (Danny Hobbs of the Ohio Junior Blue Jackets) is playing for a CHL team.

Forwards

Ryan Hillier, LW
Junior Team: Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Drafted: Third Round, 84 overall, 2006
DOB: 1/25/88

In his fourth year with the Halifax Mooseheads, Ryan Hillier has become a scoring machine. Currently second on the team in points, Hillier has been successfully playing in all situations. His head coach, Cam Russell, calls the 19-year-old winger, “a great shooter, who does not hesitate to shoot the puck and scores a lot of goals. We have given him a lot of ice time — a regular shift, time on the power play, and sometimes we even double shift him. Ryan has taken advantage of every opportunity we have given him this season.” 

Hillier’s excellent efforts were recognized by the Q when he was selected to play in the QMJHL portion of the ADT Canada-Russia Challenge. Outstanding play in the first game last month saw Hillier score an unassisted goal, as well as register an assist. Hillier was named Game 1’s third star, and although Canada did not win the game, his performance was excellent. 

Always aggressive pursuing the puck, with great hands and good vision, Hillier has had some trouble with consistency earlier in his junior career. He has made great strides this season and should be ready for AHL play next fall.

Tomas Zaborsky, LW
Junior Team: Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Drafted: Fifth Round, 137 overall, 2006
DOB: 11/14/87

During the 2005-06 season, Zaborsky posted 61 points in 42 junior games in his native Slovakia. After his selection in the fifth round by the Rangers, he played in the 2006 Traverse City Prospects Tournament, where the winger showed some of his sharpshooter talent. He joined the Saginaw Spirit immediately after the rookie tournament and fought for ice time on a team that was stocked with highly-talented personnel. Despite often relegation to the Spirit’s third line, Zaborsky registered 43 points in 59 games, and had a +18 plus/minus rating.

This season, Zaborsky’s role on the team has changed. Now, at age 20, the winger is third on the team in scoring and has been given greater responsibilities.  Assistant coach Steve Cooke attributes the change in ice time and success to the fact that, "Zaborsky has worked hard on his strength and conditioning, and the improvement is noticeable. The result is that he is winning puck battles, and is quicker and stronger at the net."

Although Cooke says that Zaborsky must still get faster (something he sees in almost all prospects), he feels that "Tomas brings a lot to the table. He can finish with skill or power and has shown us a real desire to be a dominant power forward. He brings with him the tools necessary to be a scorer at the next level." As Saginaw is not a powerhouse team this season, it is possible that Zaborsky will be at the next level within three months. Expect him to join the Hartford Wolf Pack this spring and be in his first Rangers training camp next fall.

David Skokan, C
Junior Team: Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)
Drafted: Seventh Round, 193 overall, 2007
DOB: 12/6/88

Skokan has taken what has become an annual break from the Rimouski Oceanic to play for Slovakia in the 2008 U20 IIHF World Junior Championships. Although not yet officially named to his country’s team, he is expected to be on the ice next week when the tournament begins. It will be his third and final appearance on this world stage.

After an excellent junior career in Slovakia, Skokan first came to the QMJHL to play North American hockey during the 2005-06 season. He struggled in his initial North American junior experience two seasons ago, with less than half point a game scoring total and a –35 plus/minus rating. Despite being invited to join 44 elite players in the CHL Top Prospects game last January, and a much-improved performance during the regular season with Rimouski, he fell to the seventh round of the NHL Entry Draft last June.

Skokan has done well offensively thus far this season, however, he was drafted for his two-way skills, and he is struggling defensively. He has one of the worst plus/minus ratings on the team.

  
Danny Hobbs, RW

Junior Team: Ohio Jr Blue Jackets (USHL)
Drafted: Seventh Round, 198 overall, 2007
DOB: 2/21/89

Hobbs was the last player selected by the Rangers in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He is the only Rangers prospect currently playing in the USHL. Known as a hard worker who can skate and has a good shot, Hobbs plays in all situations and is a scoring threat on the penalty kill. In his second season with the Junior Blue Jackets, Hobbs has put up respectable, but not exceptional numbers. Continued work on his two-way game and increased strength will be required for him to play the professional game.
 

Defense

Bob Sanguinetti, D
Junior Team: Brampton Battalion (OHL)
Drafted: First Round, 21 overall, 2006
DOB: 2/29/88

Currently, Sanguinetti is a member of the team that will represent the United States in the IIHF U20 World Junior Championships. An elite blueliner with a very offensive game, prior to joining the US team, Sanguinetti was leading all OHL defensemen in total points and was 20th in the league overall.

After spending the first three years of his OHL career with the Owen Sound Attack, Sanguinietti was traded to the Brampton Battalion last June. The trade has been very beneficial for the 6’1, 174 lb blueliner. Additionally, Sanguinetti was given a lot of ice time during a late 2006-07 season stint with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack. The blueliner gained valuable experience and solidified his defensive skills during his time in Hartford.   

From the moment he arrived in Brampton after Rangers’ training camp this past fall, Sanguinetti was a more confident, knowledgeable player. He began to put up big numbers almost immediately, and in mid-November, the blueliner was named OHL Player of the Week. Although he is expected to play with the Wolf Pack next season, Sanguinetti has an outside chance at an NHL defensive roster spot next fall.

Goaltender

Antoine LaFleur, G
Junior Team: PEI Rocket (QMJHL)
Drafted:  Second Round, 48 overall, 2007

Widely seen as a surprise pick in the second round of last summer’s NHL Entry Draft, LaFLeur is 6’4, 176 lbs. Other more highly-touted netminders were available, but the Rangers were impressed with LaFleur’s regular season 2006-07 statistics (27-19; 2.97; .909). LaFleur did not play as well in the playoffs, and has continued his lackluster play to begin this season. LaFleur is currently sharing the netminding duties with rookie Marc-Antoine Gelinas, who has been named QMJHL Defensive Player of the Week twice this month.