The Rangers had seven prospects playing junior hockey this season — six were members of CHL teams, and one, Danny Hobbs, skated for Ohio Junior Blue Jackets of the USHL. It was the lowest number of Rangers prospects to play junior hockey in recent memory. This was, at least in part, due to the return to Europe of two CHL-eligible 2006 NHL draft selections, Lucas Zeliska and David Kveton. Both Zeliska and Kveton played in the CHL for at least a portion of the 2006-07 season, but each chose not to return to North America for his final year of junior eligibility.
Bob Sanguinetti, D, OHL
Acquired: First round, 21 overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft
After playing for the Owen Sound Attack for the first three of his major junior hockey seasons, Sanguinetti got a fresh start last spring. After a disappointing 2006-07 regular CHL season, Sanguinetti made a fine showing in 12 AHL games and was determined to build on that during the 2007-08 season. He was traded to the Brampton Battalion in June and was named alternate captain of the Battalion when he got there this fall. During the regular 2007-08 season, the blueliner scored a career-high 29 goals, with a total of 70 points in 61 regular-season games. Sanguinetti led all OHL defensemen in regular-season goals and was second in points in the league (one behind the OHL leader), while maintaining a +10. Those numbers led Sanguinetti to be voted the best offensive defenseman in the league in the annual coaches poll. The lanky blueliner is still inconsistent at times on defense, which was particularly evident during the OHL playoffs and in a post-season stint with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack. However, Sanguinetti is expected to spend at least one year in the AHL to hone his skills.
Ryan Hillier, LW, QMJHL
Acquired: Third Round, 84 overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft
The 2007-08 season was Hillier’s final major junior year, and the 20-year-old took good advantage of the opportunities the QMJHL Halifax Mooseheads gave him. Hillier improved his offensive numbers, his team play, as well as his decision-making during the past season. He was third on his team in total points (72), behind Jakub Voracek and Brad Marchand, and made major strides toward more disciplined play. Known as a highly-explosive, gifted scorer, Hillier was signed by the Rangers to an NHL entry-level contract in early April. He is expected to play for the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack during the 2008-09 season.
Tomas Zaborsky, LW, OHL
Acquired: Fifth Round, 137 overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft
Wanting to get an opportunity to shine, the 20-year-old Slovakian decided to return to the Saginaw Spirit for an overage 2007-08 season. Zaborsky was given more ice time, and, as a result, he produced more than a point a game (70 points in 68 regular season games) this season. Clearly creative, with soft hands and a very quick release, Zaborsky had a very good 2007-08 campaign, but he did not blow the league away. Inconsistent decision-making and effort, as well as size and strength issues, kept him from being among the league’s top scorers. The same issues were apparent when Zaborsky was called up to Hartford and played in two regular season AHL games. The Rangers have until June 1 to decide whether or not to offer Zaborsky an entry-level contract. Although that is still possible, it is more likely that he will be offered an AHL deal.
Justin Soryal, LW, OHL
Acquired: Free Agent, March 12, 2008
A good two-way character player, who can crash the net and fight when necessary, Soryal was a spring 2008 free agent signing for the Rangers. A big winger with a high hockey IQ and a solid effort every night, Soryal played in 59 regular-season games, with 39 points, during the 2007-08 campaign as a member of the Peterborough Petes. An alternate captain for the team, Soryal spent his entire four-year OHL career with the Petes, where he accumulated 455 PIM in 201 games. The Rangers foresee Soryal as a fourth-line energy player, with some scoring ability and a very hard edge. He is expected to spend at least one year in the AHL.
Antoine Lafleur, G, QMJHL
Acquired: Second Round, 48th overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft
To say that Lafleur had a disappointing major junior season in 2007-08 would be an understatement. The tall, butterfly netminder had come off an excellent season when the Rangers drafted him last summer, but this fall the wheels fell off. Early in the season, Lafleur lost his No. 1 netminder status, and was inconsistent the rest of the season when he was between the pipes. Overall, Lafleur’s regular season numbers included a 14-19 record, 4.21 GAA and .877 save percentage. He appeared in three playoff games, recording three losses, a 6.89 GAA, and a .830 save percentage.
David Skokan, C, QMJHL
Acquired: Seventh Round, 193rd overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft
Skokan, a solid two-way player, recently completed his third season with the Rimouski Oceanic. He put up good, but not great, offensive major junior numbers, with 40 points in 53 games. He also had his second straight excellent World Junior Championship performance. In fact, it was Skokan’s solid 2007 WJC play that attracted the Rangers to the center last year. Two-way play, consistent effort, a willingness to take the puck into traffic, and solid physicality were the attributes New York saw in this Slovakian center. In this year’s WJCs, Skokan became an offensive powerhouse, with eight points in six games. It is somewhat disappointing that Skokan came nowhere near that level of production upon his return to major junior play. However, the Rangers have another year to decide whether they want to sign the hard-working forward to an entry-level contract.
Danny Hobbs, RW, USHL
Ohio Junior Blue Jackets
Acquired: Seventh Round, 198 overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft
Hobbs was the second seventh-round selection the Rangers made in 2007. A long shot to make it to the NHL, Hobbs had a good season on a less than mediocre, now defunct, USHL team. After starting the 2007-08 campaign slowly, the hard-working winger recorded 13 of his 31 points in the last month of the regular season. Expected to skate for the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Minutemen starting this fall, Hobbs will have several years to hone his offensive skills and then learn the more physical game before beginning his professional career.