New faces populate New York Rangers 2014 Fall Top 20

By Leslie Treff
Brady Skjei - New York Rangers

Defenseman Brady Sjkei leads the 2014 Fall Edition of the New York Rangers top 20 prospect list. Skjei was picked in the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

 

Six new players have been added to the New York Rangers top 20 prospect list this fall. Those include four players drafted in June and two that were signed as free agents since last spring.

The Rangers’ first round 2012 draft selection, Brady Skjei, takes over as organization’s top prospect. Several other previously top five players have dropped in ranking due to their failure to develop as expected last season. In total, there are 12 forwards, six defensemen, and two goaltenders who comprise the top players in the organization.

1. (7) Brady Skjei, D, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 28th overall, 2012

Originally expected to be purely a defensive defenseman at the NHL level, Skjei showed more offensive upside while playing for the University of Minnesota last season. An All-Big Ten Honorable Mention defenseman, Skjei posted 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 36 games during the 2013-14 season. The Rangers always knew that Skjei had an outstanding shot from the point, but in his sophomore year as a Golden Gopher, the young Minnesota native looked for more offensive opportunities. When the Rangers looked at Skjei’s whole package, including his newly found offensive upside, excellent positioning, skating ability, puck distribution skills, and increasing size and strength, Skjei became a prime candidate to sign a professional contract this summer. However, he has committed to return to Minnesota for his junior year and play one more year of collegiate hockey.

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

Buchnevich was one of the most skilled players available in the 2013 draft. Considered an offensive dynamo, with off-the-charts talent, there were questions about whether he would come to play in North America without a guarantee of NHL ice time, whether an NHL team could match what he could make in his home country of Russia, and whether he could be responsible in his own zone. When those issues were added to the fact that Buchnevich was signed to a KHL contract through the end of the upcoming season, he fell in the draft to the third round.

Since selecting Buchnevich in 2013, the Rangers have seen him play on both the international stage and in development camp, and are extremely impressed. Buchnevich has picked up his defensive play, makes plays that no one else in the system can make, and is developing very well. He has returned to the KHL’s Severstal Cherepovets for the 2014-15 season and is expected to sign a contract with New York when that season has completed.

3. (4) Anthony Duclair, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 80th overall, 2013

In recent years, the Rangers are known to select players who have fallen in the draft. Sometimes that strategy has been very successful and sometimes not. New York is hoping that Duclair falls in the former category, and judging from his performance last season, they may very well be the case. Duclair dropped to the Rangers in the draft because his sophomore QMJHL 2012-13 season fell way below expectations. However, in 2013-14, he recovered his offensive prowess and posted the sixth best regular season numbers as a member of the Quebec Remparts. Receiving many league-wide awards, Duclair recorded 99 points (50 goals, 49 assists) in 59 games. Expected to return to juniors this season, Duclair will get an extended opportunity to impress in Traverse City and New York’s main training camp.

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

Miller is a very solid player, who could have been an NHL regular last season, but did not get enough playing time to solidify his spot. Although Miller did appear in 34 NHL games last season, he was not given sufficient top-nine minutes to show his offensive abilities. While a member of the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack, however, Miller was arguably the best player on the team. With 42 points (15 goals, 27 assists) in 41 games, there was no question about his offensive upside at that level. After two productive seasons in the AHL, it will be this season that everyone will be looking at for Miller to make the successful jump to the NHL.

5. (NR) Brandon Halverson, G, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 59th overall, 2014

With excellent size, good vision, and outstanding lateral movement, Halverson is the best goaltending prospect the Rangers have seen in years. After performing in a backup role last season for the OHL Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds, Halverson is expected to play a more significant role with the team this season. An American born netminder out of Traverse City, Michigan and the Little Caesar’s system, Halverson was very impressive in development camp and is expected to take the lead in Traverse City. Although he can give up some juicy rebounds, generally Halverson does a good job tracking the puck, does not panic, and sees the game in front of him very well.

6. (NR) Kevin Hayes, C/RW, 7.0C
Signed as a free agent, August 20th, 2014

Originally drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks, 24th overall in 2010, Hayes signed an entry-level contract with the Rangers after exhausting his four years of collegiate eligibility. In his four years at Boston College, Hayes continuously increased his offensive production, completing his final season with 65 points (27 goals, 38 assists) in 40 games as a 21-year-old. Mostly playing center in college, Hayes can also be used on the wing. With a very large frame, a nose for the net, and good passing abilities, Hayes will get a good look in both Traverse City and in the main training camp. He is one of the forwards who will fight for a roster spot up front.

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

Fast won a roster spot on the NHL team after a very impressive training camp last fall. Rangers Head Coach Alain Vigneault could not stop talking about how quick he was. However, an adjustment to the North American ice surface was really needed, and fourth line minutes were not enough to allow for that to happen quickly enough to stay in the NHL. Fast was reassigned to the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack for the majority of the 2013-14 season and he performed generally well there (34 points in 48 regular season AHL games). Called up to appear in the playoffs with the Rangers, Fast played a minimal role with the team, however, he played well enough to still be considered in the mix for a spot this fall. Although Fast does have a very good offensive upside, it remains to be seen whether or not he can reach that potential. This season will be telling, because if he is unable to secure a regular NHL roster spot this season, it is likely that his future with the Rangers’ organization will be short.

8. (1) Danny Kristo, RW, 7.5D
Trade with Montreal Canadiens, July 2nd, 2013

Kristo has dropped precipitously in HF’s rankings over the last six months. There is no question that he can be a game breaker, but since his professional debut last season, Kristo has given an up and down performance on the ice. He has terrific vision and excellent hands, and when added to his creativity and skating ability, he should be one of the top prospects in the league. But Kristo disappears for long periods of time, shift-to-shift, and at times he becomes a big liability defensively. His numbers last season with the Hartford Wolf Pack were good (43 points in 65 games), however, at 24 years old, Kristo is one of the Rangers’ older prospects. Because other younger prospects are passing him by, he dropped in the rankings. Kristo will get a long look in training camp, but is expected to begin the season again in Hartford.

9. (6) Dylan McIlrath, D, 6.5B
Drafted 1st round, 10th overall, 2010

It is more than four years since “Big Mac” was drafted. Hoped to be developed into a feared, stay-at-home defenseman who easily cleared the front of his own net, McIlrath’s development has been hampered by major knee injuries. With monstrous size, he is slowly coming along, but it is unclear whether or not he will ever develop into close what was hoped for. In 62 regular season AHL games last season, McIlrath posted 17 points (six goals, 11 assists), 165 penalty minutes, and a plus-two rating. He will get a trial by fire this season, as it is likely that the Rangers will start McIlrath as a third pairing blueliner for 2014-15. The fact is, however, that McIlrath may need one more year of seasoning in Hartford before he is ready. Given the severity of his knee injuries, he may have effectively lost more than one year of development over the last two years.

10. (8) Conor Allen, D, 7.0C
Signed as a free agent, March 29th, 2013

The Rangers were very happy with Allen during his short call-up to the NHL squad last season. Although he did not post any offensive numbers in his three games with New York, Allen played a solid all-around game, which impressed the New York brass. It was Allen’s first professional season, after spending four years at UMass. With the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack, Allen recorded 31 points (six goals, 25 assists) in 72 games, with 71 penalty minutes and a minus-four rating. At age 24, Allen is one of the Rangers’ older prospects. Although he is expected to compete for an NHL roster spot on the Rangers’ blue line, it is expected that Allen will begin the season in Hartford.

11. (10) Oscar Lindberg, C, 6.5B
Trade with Phoenix Coyotes, May 08th, 2011

After wowing the Rangers in Traverse City last fall, once the Rangers’ main training camp began, Lindberg disappeared. Originally Phoenix’s second round pick (57th overall) in 2010, the 2013-14 campaign was Lindberg’s first in North America. Although he was the Hartford Wolf Pack’s leading forward in scoring, Lindberg continued to experience consistency issues throughout the season. He will get a good look in training camp this fall, but it is likely that Lindberg will begin the season back in the AHL. If he is more consistently producing offensively, expect the 22-year old Lindberg to be a mid-season call-up to the NHL.

12. (NR) Mat Bodie, D, 7.0C
Signed as a free agent, April 15th, 2014

Bodie signed an entry-level contract with the Rangers after an outstanding collegiate career with Union College. The 24-year-old captained his NCAA Championship team and was named a first team All-American, while posting 39 points (eight goals, 31 assists) in 40 games last season. Bodie is the most offensively gifted defenseman in the system, with excellent vision, offensive instincts, and skating ability. Although likely to begin the season in the AHL, if he shows early in the season that he can take the punishment of professional hockey and put up big numbers, he almost certainly will get a call-up.

13. (NR) Igor Shestyorkin, G, 7.5D
Drafted 4th round, 118th overall, 2014

Shestyorkin just completed playing for Russia in the Four Nations Tournament, where he has been showing the hockey world why he is such a highly touted prospect between the pipes. For the tournament, Shestyorkin stopped 73 of 76 shots, finishing with a .961 save percentage and 1.45 goals against average in three games. One of the best goaltending prospects in this year’s draft, there were questions about whether the young Russian would come play in North America, so he slid to the fourth round. With excellent lateral movement, good instincts, and good coverage down low, Shestyorkin could be the steal of this draft for the Blueshirts-if he comes over. With one more year on his contract with St. Petersburg, Ranger fans will not likely see him in North America for a while. However, if we do see him in this side of the pond, the Rangers expect Shestyorkin to develop into an elite NHL netminder.

14. (10) 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 signed by the Rangers this past spring after his junior season at RPI. In order to burn off a year of his contract, Haggerty remained with the Rangers (and was not assigned to Hartford) after he signed an entry-level deal in March. The 20-year-old will participate in the Traverse City tournament and go on to the main camp, he is expected to begin the season in Hartford. While at RPI last season, Haggerty recorded 28 goals and 15 assists in 35 games, while accruing 42 penalty minutes.

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

After a turbulent 2013-14 season, during which he started the season in the NCAA as a member of North Dakota, then left in January for the WHL, Tambellini seems to have settled down and is playing a more mature game. Tambellini’s time with the Calgary Hitmen was very good for his development, as he averaged more than a point-per-game during the regular season (39 points in 31 games). The changes in his game were obvious during development camp earlier this summer, where his strength on the puck, decision making without the puck, and offensive production improved. A late 1994, who was drafted on the college route, Tambellini is eligible to play in the AHL this coming season; however, he is also eligible to return to the WHL.

Tambellini has yet to be signed to an entry-level, and it is possible that he and the Rangers will wait until Traverse City to make the decision as to where he will play for the 2014-15 season.

16. (14) Ryan Graves, D, 7.0D
Drafted 4th round, 110th overall, 2013

Graves is one of the best defensemen currently in the QMJHL, and was recently traded to the Quebec Remparts as part of their run for the Memorial Cup next May. The Rangers signed Graves to an entry-level contract last spring, at least in part as a reward for an excellent 2013-14 season. A very good-sized puck distributor, with excellent gap control, Graves recorded 22 points, 68 penalty minutes, and a plus-20 rating during the 2013-14 season. In the playoffs last spring, Graves posted eight points in 24 games for Val-d’Or. Expect this to be Graves’s last season of junior hockey.

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

Nieves fell in the rankings this fall because he failed to move forward significantly in his development over the course of the last year. After an outstanding freshman season in 2012-13 (Nieves was University of Michigan’s leading scorer), there were very high expectations for him in 2013-14. An outstanding skater, Nieves got off to a really slow start, getting his first goal in October and then going four months without potting another. On the season, Nieves recorded three goals and 18 assists in 34 games. Then he could not attend development camp this July due to a summer school requirement at Michigan. With an onslaught of new talent, Nieves has fallen lower down the depth chart. Another season without much production and he could fall out of the top 20.

18. (NR) Richard Nejezchleb, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 122nd overall, 2014

The 20-year old Nejezchleb completed his second season as a WHL import prior to being drafted by the Rangers this past summer. Nejezchleb led the Brandon Wheat Kings in goals last season, and, at age 20, is eligible to turn pro this fall. However, it is more likely the Czech forward will play an overage season in Brandon in 2014-15. 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.

19. (NR) Daniel Walcott, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 140th overall, 2014

Small and dynamic, Walcott is a late-bloomer, who at age 20 is just coming into his own. Very impressive in development camp earlier this summer, Walcott has excellent balance and awareness of the puck. In addition, he was one of the best skaters in camp. Not only does Walcott have flat out speed, he is very strong on his skates. After a very impressive rookie QMJHL season (10 goals and 29 assists in 67 games) with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, Walcott will captain the team as an overager in 2014-15. Walcott makes something happen every time he is on the ice, which is why this high risk/high reward pick warrants a place on the Rangers Top 20.

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

When the Rangers drafted Fogarty, they felt he had the size and offensive to potential to be a top six forward in the NHL. Coming from Edina High School, outside of Minneapolis, however, he was very raw. Fogarty continued to post good offensive numbers on the 2011-12 powerhouse Penticton Vees BCHL team. It is at Notre Dame that Fogarty is learning the two-way game, which he will need to do to play in the NHL. He is not likely a top six NHL player, but if he can continue to refine his skills, he is a potential second to third line center. Expect Fogarty to remain at Notre Dame for all four years of his eligibility.