The New York Rangers went into the 2014 NHL Draft with only four selections, in the second through fifth rounds. During the draft, New York made trades to add two additional picks, giving the Rangers seven selections for the first time since 2009.
The Blueshirts’ biggest organizational needs prior to the draft were at center and in goal. With the addition of free agent Matthew Lombardi and the re-signing of NHL-veteran Dominic Moore, the Rangers are stronger down the middle. The team chose to address their future goaltending needs at the draft with the selection of two high-end netminding prospects, Brandon Halverson and Igor Shestyorkin. In addition to the two goalies, New York selected two forwards and three defensemen.
Brandon Halverson, G, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
2nd round, 59th overall
Height: 6-4 Weight: 180 lbs
Ranked sixth among goaltenders eligible for the draft by NHL Central Scouting, Halverson had a very good rookie major junior season with Soo. An American born netminder out of Traverse City, Michigan and the Little Caesar’s system, Halverson has very good size and his lateral movement is excellent. This season, he was a backup for the Greyhounds, so viewings were limited, however, Halverson was very impressive in development camp earlier this month. Although he can give up some juicy rebounds, generally Halverson tracks the puck well, does not panic, and sees the game in front of him very well. Halverson needs to come out and challenge shooters more, but he is one of the best goaltending prospects the system has had in many years.
Halverson spoke with Neate Sager of Yahoo Sports at the 2014 NHL Combine, with some of that conversation being captured in this HF video.
Iverson, a Minnesota native, is expected to be a two-way winger when he gets to pro hockey. Basically a grinder with some surprising offensive upside, Iverson gives the Winterhawks maximum effort and grit on every shift. Iverson made significant offensive strides this past season (in 67 regular season games, he posted 22 goals and 20 assists for Portland) and he is expected to continue developing that part of his game next season. He will need to improve his skating to be effective at the next level, but if Iverson continues on his current trajectory, he looks to be a top nine player in the NHL.
Mantha is big and can move the puck, which are his greatest on ice virtues. The problem for him has been defensive play, as he is frequently beaten due to lack of foot speed and poor positioning. Mantha is raw and will need quite a few years to develop, however, because he was drafted out of the USHL, the Rangers could wait up to four years before making up their mind to sign Mantha to a contract. Uncommitted to any college, it appears that Mantha will choose major junior hockey instead. Last month, his rights were traded by the OHL Soo Greyhounds to the Niagara IceDogs.
Mantha spoke with Yahoo Sports’ Neate Sager and HF at the 2014 NHL Combine, with some of his comments being captured in this HF video.
Igor Shestyorkin, G, MHK Spartak (MHL)
4th round, 118th overall
Height: 6-0 Weight: 185 lbs
Shestyorkin was without question one of the best goaltending prospects in this year’s draft. But there were questions about whether he would come play in North America-the perfect Rangers’ draft pick. With excellent lateral movement, good instincts, and good coverage down low, Shestyorkin could be the steal of this draft for the Blueshirts. Although he had a poor Canada-Russia Super Series last fall, he was outstanding during the playoffs for Spartak. With one more year on his contract in Russia, which he intends to honor in St. Petersburg, Ranger fans will not see Shestyorkin in North America at least until next summer. However, the Rangers expect Shestyorkin to be an elite netminder once he gets here.
Richard Nejezchleb, LW, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
5th round, 122nd overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 210 lbs
With the first of three fifth-round selections, New York picked Nejezchleb, a second year Czech import who had recently completed a nearly a point per game regular season in Brandon (32 goals 25 assists in 67 games). Nejezchleb led the Wheat Kings in goals last season, and, at age 20, could turn pro this fall. Expected to be a top nine scoring forward in the professional game, Nejezchleb does the little things well-he is strong on the puck, fights well for possession along the boards, and can go to the net.
Small and dynamic, Walcott has excellent balance and awareness of the puck. Very impressive in his rookie QMJHL season (10 goals and 29 assists in 67 games), Walcott was the second 20-year-old fifth round selection for the Rangers. One of Walcott’s greatest attributes is his skating-he not only has speed, but also is very strong on his skates (particularly for his size). A high risk/high reward pick, Walcott was very impressive in development camp earlier this month. Every time he was on the ice, he made things happen.
Tyler Nanne, D, Edina High (Minnesota high school)
5th round, 142nd overall
Height: 5-10 Weight: 175 lbs
The final player selected by New York in this year’s draft, Nanne is an outstanding skater, who is undersized, but plays a big game. Still learning how to defend, Nanne thinks offense first, which sometimes causes turnovers and opponents to blow right by him. Committed to Ohio State for the 2015-16 season, Nanne had a good development camp in early July. A high risk/high reward selection, Nanne is a long shot to make the NHL.