Duclair, Graves lead New York Rangers prospect awards

By Leslie Treff

Ryan Graves - New York Rangers

Photo: Defenseman Ryan Graves had a strong third year of junior hockey, split between the Charlottetown Islanders and Val d’Or Foreurs. Graves was selected by the New York Rangers in the 4th round of the 2013 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)

When the New York Rangers drafted Anthony Duclair in the third round of the draft last summer, they were hoping that the young Quebec Remparts left wing would bounce back from a mediocre sophomore season and become a really good prospect. But even the most optimistic scout could not have predicted how successful Duclair would be in his 2013-14 season.

Other Rangers' prospects were up and down. In his first professional season, Danny Kristo showed flashes of skill, but was inconsistent at both ends of the ice. At the NCAA level, defenseman Brady Skjei make unexpected strides on the Minnesota Golden Gophers' blue line. J.T. Miller continued to develop well in Hartford and spent several stints with the NHL team, while defenseman Ryan Graves, 2013 fourth round pick, was a surprise standout in the QMJHL.

Prospect of the Year/Fastest Skater: Anthony Duclair, LW, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)

There is no question that Duclair can skate extremely well. Rivaling the speed of Rangers' wingers Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider, Duclair can use his speed to be a game-breaker. The question was could he combine that speed with enough offensive production to be a real threat. Duclair seems to have answered that question this past season when he posted approximately two points per game with the Remparts. A top ten regular season scorer in the QMJHL, Duclair is as good making plays as he is putting the puck in the net. He has soft hands and excellent passing skills, which in addition to his speed, earns him the Rangers' 2013-14 Prospect of the Year award.

Hardest Worker/Most Improved: Ryan Graves, D, Val d'Or Foreurs (QMJHL)

The Rangers scouted the QMHJL heavily before the 2013 draft, feeling that some of that league's players were being underrated by other NHL teams. One of the defensemen that impressed the Blueshirt scouts was Ryan Graves. Big and imposing, Graves showed scouts a tremendous work ethic. The Rangers were looking for better positioning and using his body more this season, and Graves really responded. He worked incredibly hard and, as a result, earned himself an entry-level contract in March, a year earlier than expected.

 Hardest Shot/Best Defensive Prospect: Brady Skjei, D, Minnesota Golden Gophers (Big Ten)

Two years ago, when he was drafted 28th overall by the Rangers, Brady Skjei was known to have a cannon of a shot. With good wheels and excellent vision, Skjei was expected to be a mostly stay-at-home defenseman. He once again has been named the prospect with the hardest shot in the Rangers' organization. Additionally, this season Skjei has started to develop into more of a two-way blueliner, showing more offensive upside. With another injury-riddled season sidelining Dylan McIlrath for a significant period of time, adding more doubts to whether he will reach his potential, Skjei has to be considered the top defensive prospect in the system.

Breakout Player for 2014/15: J.T. Miller, C/W, Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL)

J.T. Miller was in the hunt to fill the final Rangers' roster spot going into the season. Instead the position went to rookie Jesper Fast. Miller was left to refine his skills in Hartford and he quickly showed that he could be very offensively productive at the AHL level. Scoring at a rate of a point a game this season in Hartford, Miller posted 43 points (15 goals, 28 assists) in 41 AHL regular season games. Yet, he was not very productive in his NHL appearances during numerous regular season call-ups. Although this was in part a lack of ice time, Miller was deemed by the coaches as not quite ready. Expect him to be a regular roster player next season, when Miller should be given a chance to show his offensive abilities on the Rangers' third line.

Overacheiver: Ryan Bourque, LW, Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL)

Ryan Bourque is a diminutive forward, who was very offensively minded in junior hockey. He rounded out his game as a pro, becoming very defensively responsible and one of the better penalty killers in Hartford/Connecticut over the last three seasons. Always a hard worker, for his first two professional seasons, Bourque was not very offensively productive. In 2013-14, his final year on his entry-level contract, however, the winger produced 37 points (21 goals, 16 assists) in 74 games. With a history of concussions and not really in the Rangers' future plans, it is likely that Bourque will either sign with another NHL team or skate in Europe next season.

Underachiever: Christoval "Boo" Nieves, C, Michigan Wolverines (Big Ten)

Boo Nieves excited everyone with an outstanding 2012-13 rookie collegiate season. Named to the honorable mention CCHA All-Rookie Team last season and the CCHA Rookie of the Month for February 2013, a lot was expected of him coming into the 2013-14 campaign. However, given more responsibilities and ice time, Nieves did not thrive in his sophomore season. He literally went months without a goal, scored only three on the season, and missed the net when he shot as often as he hit it. Always looking first to pass the puck, the Rangers want Nieves to develop more into a crash the net player, where, in fact, he is very successful. Hopefully, he will do this more in his junior season at Michigan.

High Risk/High Reward Prospect: Danny Kristo, RW, Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL)

A lot was expected from collegiate standout Danny Kristo in his rookie professional season. A speed skater and slippery sniper at the University of North Dakota, when Kristo was traded from the Montreal Canadiens to the Rangers last summer, what they hoped they were getting was an offensive dynamo. Although there were times when Kristo showed his talents on the AHL ice this season, mostly he looked out of place on a team that plays a very two-way game. If put in the right situation, Kristo can be very effective, however, it is not clear that he will find that opportunity in Hartford. If he is not given freedom to create his own opportunities though, he can be a very ineffective player.