Skilled group of forwards leads New York Rangers spring Top 20

By Leslie Treff

Anthony Duclair - New York Rangers

Photo: Forward Anthony Duclair had a huge 2013-14 season in the QMJHL, where he managed 50 goals and 49 assists in 59 regular season games. Duclair was selected in the third round of the 2013 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

The New York Rangers have had a big turnover in their top prospects over the last few years, as more and more young players have cracked their NHL roster. Chris Kreider, who has been a top prospect since he was drafted in 2009, has graduated after being the franchise's best prospect for the last three years.

Fourteen players on this current list of 20 were drafted by the Blueshirts, four were signed as free agents, and two were traded to the team. Twelve players are forwards, six are defenseman, and two are netminders – with five new players added to the spring list.

1. (2) Danny Kristo, RW, 8.0C
Trade with Montreal Canadiens, July 2nd, 2013

Originally selected in second round (56th overall) of the 2008 NHL Draft, Kristo spent four years at the University of North Dakota prior to turning pro last spring. Although he had an outstanding career at North Dakota, Kristo started slow in Hamilton (AHL) last spring. Therefore, when the Rangers were interested in trading Christian Thomas (MTL) in the early summer, Kristo was available.

There never was a question as to whether Kristo had raw talent, the issue with him has been whether that talent can transfer to offensive production at the AHL level. That remains a question as, although he started the season in a very promising way, Kristo has been inconsistently putting up points this season with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack. He should, however, get a long look in training camp next fall. In 53 AHL games this season, Kristo has recorded 20 goals and 16 assists, with 16 penalty minutes and a minus-two rating.

2. (3) J.T. Miller, C/LW, 7.0B
Drafted 1st round, 15th overall, 2011

In the past two seasons, Miller has appeared in 54 NHL games. Up and down several times this season, he has been given mostly fourth line minutes while he has been in a Rangers' uniform. Although it is not yet clear what he can do at the NHL level, what is certain is that he can produce in the AHL. Thus far this season, Miller has posted 37 points (12 goals, 25 assists) in 35 AHL games. He is still learning the game at the pro level, but he likely would be the first injury call up if one of the Ranger forwards goes down during the rest of the season. Expect this to be Miller's last season in a Wolf Pack uniform, as he likely will be in New York full time starting next fall.

3. (4) Jesper Fast, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 6th round, 157th overall, 2010

There was a lot of hype prior to his coming over from Sweden, and in training camp, Fast was very impressive. He made the New York Rangers out of camp this past fall, with a display of speed that Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault could not stop talking about. However, an adjustment to the North American ice surface was really needed, and fourth line minutes were not enough to make that adjustment quickly enough to stay in the NHL. An assignment to Hartford was appropriate and Fast has had an up and down AHL season. At times he looks ready for the NHL and at others, he disappears-and the difference is from one shift to another.

Statistically, Fast has recorded 30 points (15 goals, 15 assists) in 42 games, with 24 penalty minutes and a plus-11 rating, but concerns are more about his consistency than his scoring. Fast does have a very good offensive upside, but it remains to be seen whether or not he can reach that potential or will go the way of many other European players who the Rangers have signed only to return to Europe two or three seasons later.

4. (16) Anthony Duclair, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 80th overall, 2013

Duclair was a hot prospect that dropped to the Rangers in the draft last summer because he had a 2012-13 season in the QMJHL that fell below expectations. This season, Duclair recovered his offensive prowess and posted the sixth best regular season numbers in the Q. With 99 points (50 goals, 49 assists) in 59 games, Duclair had three short-handed and seven game-winning goals. Additionally, he was several times named one of the league's Three Stars of the Week and Three Stars of the Month during the season. However, in a game on February 28th, 2014, Duclair sustained a concussion that kept him out for the remainder of the regular season games. Although there is a chance that he may return at some time during the playoffs, he was not skating with the team late last week.    

5. (8) Pavel Buchnevich, LW, 7.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 75th overall, 2013

Buchnevich is an offensive dynamo, whose talent has been compared to the late Alexei Cherepanov. Playing for the KHL's Severstal Cherepovets this season, Buchnevich recorded seven goals and 11 assists in 40 games. On the international stage in the World Junior Championships, he posted good numbers (seven points in seven games), but he took several selfish penalties and had positional issues, which made his overall performance somewhat disappointing. Buchnevich's KHL contract ends in 2015, however, that is the minimum amount of time he is expected to stay in that league.  

6. (5) Dylan McIlrath, D, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 10th overall, 2010

This is McIlrath's fourth season as a Rangers' prospect. It was hoped when he was drafted that the 6'5, 230 pound prospect known as "Big Mac" would develop into a feared, stay-at-home defenseman who easily cleared the front of his own net. The Rangers have done everything they could to groom McIlrath to be a leader, a responsible player in his own zone, and a fighter when he needed to be. Now in his second season with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack, the jury still is out as to where McIlrath will fit in within the organization. But, at the present time, he is not NHL-ready.

Knee problems have plagued the McIlrath in the past, and delayed his development by approximately one year. Unfortunately, McIlrath had such issues again this season. However, for the last two months, the big blueliner has been back on the ice and getting good ice time in every game. With monstrous size, he is slowly coming along. In 51 AHL games this season, McIlrath has posted 13 points (six goals, seven assists), 145 penalty minutes, and minus-two rating.

7. (6) Brady Skjei, D, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 28th overall, 2012

Although Skjei is projected to be a defensive defenseman at the NHL level, he has one of the hardest shots from the point of all current hockey prospects, and last week he looked more like a two-way blueliner. The sophomore at the University of Minnesota was recently named the All-Big Ten Third Star for the week, for scoring three goals against University of Michigan on March 14th and 15th. An All-Big Ten Honorable Mention defenseman, the Minnesota native posted 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 36 games this season. The Rangers expect Skjei to return to Minnesota for one more season.

8. (14) Conor Allen, D, 6.5B
Signed as free agent, March 30th, 2013

Allen was playing well enough in Hartford earlier this season to get a short call-up to the Rangers. Although he did not put up any offensive numbers while in the NHL, the Rangers liked what they saw of Allen while he was in New York. In the AHL this season, he has recorded 26 points (five goals, 21 assists) in 61 games, with 59 penalty minutes and a minus-four rating. Although he is not expected to get another chance in New York this season (the Rangers already have two extra defensemen), Allen should be on the NHL roster during the 2014-15 season.

9. (7) Oscar Lindberg, C, 6.5B
Trade with Phoenix Coyotes, May 8th, 2011

The best player at the Traverse City Rookie Tournament this past fall, once the Rangers' main training camp began, Lindberg disappeared. Originally Phoneix's second round pick (57th overall) in 2010, Lindberg had a difficult time adjusting to the North American ice early in the season. Although he is now the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack's leading scorer, Lindberg still has consistency issues and his faceoff percentage needs improvement, but he should get a long look in training camp next season. Thus far, Lindberg has posted 40 points (16 goals, 24 assists) in 65 games in the AHL this season.

10. (NR) Ryan Haggerty, RW, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, March 12th, 2014

Haggerty, who has good offensive upside as well as a solid physical side to his game, was recently signed by the Rangers after his junior season at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). Pursuant to the requirements of the current CBA, Haggerty will spend the duration of the 2013-14 season as a member of the NHL team. It is expected that next season he will be assigned to Hartford. While at RPI this year, Haggerty recorded 28 goals and 15 assists in 35 games, while accruing 42 penalty minutes.

11. (9) Cristoval Nieves, C, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd Round, 59th overall 2012

After an outstanding freshman season in 2012-13 (Nieves was University of Michigan's leading scorer), there were very high expectations for the New York native this season. An outstanding skater, Nieves got off to a really slow start to the 2013-14 hockey season, getting his first goal in October and then going four months without potting another. On the season, Nieves has recorded three goals and 19 assists in 34 games. He is expected to spend at least one more season at Michigan.

12. (12) Adam Tambellini, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 65th overall, 2013

The Rangers first selection in last summer's draft, Tambellini has had a turbulent year. He started the season in the NCAA as a member of North Dakota, then left in January for the WHL. The Portland Winterhawks owned his rights, but as part of his deal to play in the WHL, a trade was arranged and Tambellini was sent to the Calgary Hitmen. After the move, Tambellini caught fire, averaging more than a point per game during the regular season (39 points in 31 games). As a late 1994, who was drafted on the college route, Tambellini is eligible to play in the AHL next season; it is expected that he will begin his professional career in Hartford next fall.

13. (18) Steven Fogarty, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 72nd overall, 2011

A two-way center with good size, Fogarty is a sophomore at Notre Dame. Although his numbers are not particularly impressive (11 points in 32 games) this season, Fogarty is developing the defensive side of the game and doing well on faceoffs. Expected to be a bottom-six forward in the NHL, Fogarty will stay at Notre Dame for at least one more year.

14. (NR) Ryan Graves, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 110th overall, 2013

The Rangers recently signed Graves to an entry-level contract, at least in part as a reward for an excellent 2013-14 season. A very good-sized puck distributor, Graves has spent the season in the QMJHL, skating first with the Charlottetown Islanders and, after being traded in January, for the Val-d'Or Foreurs. In total, Graves has recorded five goals and 17 assists during 65 regular season games, accruing 68 penalty minutes and a plus-20 rating. Expect Graves to spend one more season in the Q before turning pro.  

15. (10) Marek Hrivik, LW, 7.0D
Signed as a free agent, May 30th, 2012

When Hrivik signed his entry-level deal with the Rangers at age 20, it was hoped that he would continue to develop his offensive game and become a top-six forward. During the 2012-13 season, Hrivik showed signs of doing that, but he was hampered by injuries. Healthy once again this season, he was expected to be a major contributor to the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack's offense. Although Hrivik has remained healthy this season, he has not been offensively productive (nine goals, 12 assists in 61 games). He has one more year on his contract and it is likely to be spent in the AHL.

16. (20) Tommy Hughes, D, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, April 1st, 2013

A mostly defensive defenseman, Hughes has good size and gets rid of the puck well. With almost no offensive upside, Hughes has not posted great numbers this season (two goals, six assists in 61 games, 28 penalty minutes, a minus-nine rating), but he is improving his positioning and anticipation. Hughes, who is still only 21, will play in AHL for at least one more year prior to being NHL-ready.     

17.  (11) Michael St. Croix, C, 6.5D
Drafted 4th round, 106th overall, 2011

St. Croix was a prolific scorer in junior hockey, but it was always a concern whether his skating and decision-making would translate to the professional game. This season, his first as a pro, has been a struggle. St. Croix has spent most of the season in the ECHL with the Greenville Road Warriors, where he has played well (43 points in 44 games). However, in his 13 games at the AHL level, he has not produced a single point. St. Croix will get another chance to perform at the AHL level next season, but it remains to be seen whether he can make the necessary mental and physical adjustment to the speed of the game at the AHL level.                                    

18. (17) Calle Andersson, D, 6.5D
Drafted 4th round, 119th overall, 2012

The Rangers drafted Andersson as a potential offensive defenseman and currently he is the only prospect who may fulfill that role in the system. Sent back to Europe to continue developing after being drafted in 2012, the 19-year old Andersson skated most of this season for Malmo of the Allsvenskan (Sweden's second league). While there, he recorded 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) in 43 games, with 10 penalty minutes and a plus-two rating. The Rangers must decide whether to sign Andersson to an entry-level contract by this June or they will lose his rights-at this point his signing is very uncertain.

19. (NR) Mackenzie Skapski, G, 6.5D
Drafted 6th round, 170th overall, 2013

Skapski was drafted as 19-year-old and will be eligible for pro hockey next fall. He has continued his 2012-13 good play as the number one netminder for the WHL Kootenay Ice this season. In 53 regular season games during 2013-14, Skapski had a goals against average of 2.70, a .916 save percentage, and one shutout. The Rangers are not required to sign Skapski until the spring of 2015, so technically, he could play in Hartford on an AHL contract next season.

20. (NR) Scott Stajcer, G, 6.0C
Drafted 5th round, 140th overall, 2009

Stajcer has bounced around the ECHL this season after another injury to the same hip that kept him out of action for almost an entire season in junior hockey. Prior to the injury that ended Stajcer's 2013-14 season, he was playing for the ECHL Gwinnett Gladiators, his third ECHL team this season. In total, Stajcer only appeared in 22 games during the 2013-14 campaign – 14 of them in the ECHL. His numbers were not good in either the ECHL or the AHL and one has to wonder whether he came back too soon from surgery last summer. In any case, Stajcer's career with the Rangers is in doubt, as his entry-level contract expires this summer.