New York Rangers have strong group of prospects in pipeline

By Leslie Treff

Igor Shestyorkin - New York Rangers

Photo: Goaltender Igor Shestyorkin is one of three netminders the New York Rangers have drafted over the last two years. Shestyorkin was a third round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

 

After being weak for several years at both the goaltending and center positions, the New York Rangers have shored up their organization depth chart and have a fairly strong group of prospects who will vie for NHL spots within the next two to five years.

The 2014 NHL Draft was a particularly good one for New York between the pipes as the team picked up both Brandon Halverson and Igor Shestyorkin as goaltending prospects. Several free agent signees are also expected to make their mark in a Blueshirts’ uniform this year and next.

Left Wing

At left wing, the Rangers have two top prospects, both selected in the third round of the 2013 entry draft. Anthony Duclair, the Rangers’ top prospect at this position, has begun the season on the NHL roster. So impressed was management with Duclair’s preseason performance, they traded away two players to make room for him within the 50 NHL contract cap. The other top prospect is Pavel Buchnevich. More of a playmaker than Duclair, who is a natural sniper, Buchnevich has an excellent release and very good wheels. Playing in the last year of his KHL contract with Severstal Cherepovets, the 19-year-old is off to an excellent start in Europe’s top men’s league. The Rangers expect Buchnevich to sign an entry-level contract after the season and for the Russian forward to be playing in North America next season.

Adam Tambellini, the team’s first selection in the third round of the 2013 draft, has always been a project. When he was drafted, he was described as a raw talent with good size, but someone who also has a long way to go. Originally on the NCAA track, Tambellini decided to make a change and left North Dakota mid-season 2013-14 to join the WHL Calgary Hitmen. The son of ex-NHLer Steve Tambellini, Adam is in his second season with Calgary and is currently leading the Hitmen with three game-winning goals in 28 games.

Both Marek Hrivik and Chris McCarthy are professionals, both skating with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack. Hrivik, a former junior teammate of prospect Ryan Bourque, was signed after a successful amateur try-out with the Wolf Pack in 2012. After an injury-filled 2012-13 season, Hrivik had a lackluster campaign in 2013-14. Now in the final year of his entry-level contract, Hrivik has this year to prove that he should be re-signed by the Rangers. After beginning the season in the ECHL with the Rangers’ affiliate Greenville, McCarthy was recalled to Hartford last week. McCarthy was signed in March 2014 as a free agent after four plus years at the University of Vermont. Although an offensive dynamo in college, McCarthy is not expected to put up big numbers in professional hockey. However, he has decent size and very good hockey smarts.

Center

The Rangers have seven prospects who are natural centers within their system. The top center prospect is Kevin Hayes, the former first round 2010 pick of the Chicago Blackhawks who signed with the Rangers as a free agent in August of 2014. Hayes has begun the season on the NHL roster and thus far has used his big body very well. Still adjusting to the speed of the professional game, Hayes has recently started to get on the scoresheet, and has six points in his past 15 games.

Oscar Lindberg, Bourque, and Michael St. Croix are also professionals who have played center in the Rangers’ system. Lindberg is AHL Hartford’s first line center this season, and he is off to a fast start. Lindberg, who was obtained from Phoenix in a trade that sent Ethan Werek going the other way, is in his second season with the Wolf Pack. If he shows consistent scoring and two-way play, Lindberg, who is a good face off man, will be a call up to the NHL team during the 2014-15 campaign.

Bourque has been playing left wing since turning pro in 2011. Now in his fourth season in the AHL, Bourque has good speed, and he really turned on production toward the end of last season, but his long term future is likely not in a Rangers’ uniform. Michael St. Croix is in his second professional season, both of which he has suited up for the ECHL Greenville Road Warriors. With Greenville, the two-way center has been approximately a point-a-game player, however, St. Croix has yet to be able to successfully make the jump to AHL play.

Keegan Iverson, the Rangers third round selection in 2014, has been named the alternate captain of the WHL Portland Winterhawks. A good forechecker with a thick body, Iverson does not put up big numbers, but he is a presence that opponents cannot ignore. Projected to be a bottom six forward, Iverson will likely play on the wing in the pros.

Cristoval “Boo” Nieves and Steven Fogarty are Rangers prospects skating in the NCAA. Nieves had an outstanding freshman season at the University of Michigan and then fell off in production during the 2013-14 campaign. Drafted in the second round in 2012, Nieves was projected to become a top six NHL playmaker, but it is not clear that he will fill that role in the pros. Recently moved to right wing, in his junior season, Nieves will be able to concentrate more on scoring.

Meanwhile, Fogarty was selected out of Minnesota high school in the third round of the 2011 draft. In his junior season at the University of Notre Dame, Fogarty was named captain of the Fighting Irish and is off to a quick start this season.

Right Wing

The Rangers have seven prospects who play right wing in the organization, including six skaters who are professionals.

Jesper Fast, drafted by the Blueshirts in 2010, has recently been called up by the Rangers and is skating on the fourth line. A very speedy, two way forward, Fast thinks the game very well and is extremely responsible in his own zone. Fast has found some recent offensive success, and has four points in his last five games.

Three of the wingers, Danny Kristo, J.T. Miller, and Ryan Haggerty are currently playing in the NHL. Kristo, who was traded to New York by Montreal in July 2013, has huge offensive upside. However, he was very inconsistent shift to shift last season, and has begun the 2014-14 season the same way. There is no doubt that the talent is there, but given his execution on the ice, his long term association with the franchise has to be in question.

Miller, the Rangers’ first round pick in 2011, has always looked good at the AHL level. Now returned to his natural position of center, Miller enters his third professional season. Still only 21 years old, Miller has not yet been able to make the jump to being a consistent NHL player, but he is getting stronger and learning to play better defense in the AHL. This will be a key season for him, as Miller attempts to show that he is ready for an everyday spot on the Rangers’ roster.

Haggerty joined the Rangers’ organization in March, 2014, after he spent three season with the RPI Engineers. The free agent burned off a year of his entry-level contract last season (without playing a game), so although he signed his first contract at age 21, Haggerty only has two years left before becoming a restricted free agent. He showed his scoring ability in the pre-season and it was a close call as to whether he could have deserved to remain with the NHL team, however, he was reassigned to begin his career in Hartford. With a very quick release on his shot and heady play, Haggerty is expected to put up big numbers in the AHL this season.

Josh Nicholls and Michael Kantor both started the season in the ECHL. Nicholls, a seventh round 2010 selection, put up very good numbers in the ECHL last season, but he did not seem to have the speed to do well in the AHL. Kantor is a tough guy, who plays a nasty game. A good team player, Kantor had 14 penalty minutes in his only AHL game thus far this season.

Richard Nejezchleb is the only right winger in the organization playing junior hockey. Drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 entry draft, Nejezchleb was traded earlier this month from the WHL Brandon Wheat Kings to the Tri City Americans. Injured in the Traverse City rookie tournament, after a very impressive first game, Nejezchleb has belatedly begun his WHL season strongly (13 points in nine games). With excellent size and offensive instincts, Nejezchleb projects to be a power forward in the NHL.

Defensemen

At the professional level, five of the blue line prospects are skating for either Hartford or Greenville–Conor Allen, Mat Bodie, Dylan McIlrath, Tommy Hughes, and Samuel Noreau.

Allen, a free agent out of UMass-Amherst, was signed by the Rangers in March 2013. Arguably the most consistent defenseman in Hartford last season, Allen got a cup of coffee and the NHL and the Rangers were very happy with what they saw. Allen played well for the Rangers again in the pre-season this fall, and so it was somewhat of a surprise that he began the 2014-15 season in the AHL. A good two-way defenseman, Allen has excellent vision and generally makes good decisions with and without the puck. He had a four game cup of coffee with the Rangers in early November.

Bodie is an offensive defenseman signed by the Rangers as a free agent last spring out of Union College. With very good offensive instincts, Bodie has had a good start to the 2014-15 season with the Hartford Wolf Pack. However, he needs to build more core strength to be stronger on the puck.

McIlrath, the Rangers first round selection in 2010, has had a checkered road to the NHL. Now in his third pro season, he started with the Rangers in the 2014-15 regular season and is now back in AHL (where he has skated for the majority of his professional career). McIlrath’s suffered a major knee injury in 2012, which has set back his development, but it is unclear at this point whether or not he will ever become the shutdown defenseman that the Rangers were hoping for when they selected him tenth overall in 2010.

Hughes was a free agent skating with the OHL London Knights when he was signed by the Rangers to an entry-level contract in March 2013. A good defensive blueliner, Hughes is a solid puck-mover who plays well on the penalty kill.

A fifth round selection in 2011, Noreau had balance and skating issues when he was drafted. After becoming a pro for the 2013-14 season, he split his time between the AHL and ECHL. Three years after being drafted, he had improved enormously and was expected to make an impact with Hartford this season. However, Noreau’s job is to be tough, and he just did not look good at that portion of his duties in the early part of the regular season. Thus, at the end of October 2014, Noreau was reassigned to Greenville.

Four of the defensemen in the Rangers’ system are playing junior hockey in the CHL (Ryan Graves, Daniel Walcott, Ryan Mantha, and Troy Donnay) and one in the USHL (Tyler Nanne).

Graves missed training camp this fall, recovering from shoulder surgery, however the 2013 fourth round pick is back on the ice for the QMJHL Quebec Remparts. A very large, mostly defensive defenseman, the Rangers are very high on Graves, who has developed rapidly over the last three years.

The diminutive Walcott was drafted as a 20-year-old in the fifth round this past summer. An offensive defenseman, who is always noticeable on the ice, Walcott is the captain of the QMJHL Blainville–Boisbriand Armada.

Mantha plays mostly in his own zone and has a very big frame. A fourth round selection in 2014 and a member of the OHL Niagara IceDogs, Mantha missed the early part of the season to a shoulder injury and just recently returned to the lineup.

At 6’7, Troy Donnay, signed as a free agent in August 2013, is the tallest skater in the Rangers system. The captain of the OHL Erie Otters, Donnay is a tough guy, who backs down from no-one.

A Rangers fifth round selection in 2014, Nanne is an offensive defenseman that plays in the USHL. After starting the season as a member of the Sioux Falls Stampede, Nanne was recently traded to the Madison Capitols.

Brady Skjei, the top prospect in the Rangers’ system is currently playing for the University of Minnesota. Off to a great start to the season (four points in eight games), Skjei is a two-way blueliner, He missed several weeks in November because of a lower-body injury.

Both Petr Zamorsky and Calle Andersson are skating in Europe this season. After signing a two-year entry-level contract with the Rangers in June 2014, Zamorsky played with the Rangers prospect team in Traverse City in September and then came back to New York to attend training camp. Zamorsky then was loaned to the Espoo Blues in Finland to play during the 2014-15 season.

Anderson has been in the Rangers’ system since 2012. After playing for two years post-draft in his native Sweden, the Rangers signed him to an entry-level contract. The offensive blueliner is currently skating in Switzerland.

Goaltending

The Rangers have four goaltenders in their system, including two drafted in 2014 (Brandon Halverson and Igor Shestyorkin). Halverson, a second rounder, is in his second year between the pipes for the OHL Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Taking over the number one duties in the Soo this season, Halverson is a very athletic butterfly netminder, with a good glove.

Shestyorkin plays in the St. Petersburg system in Russia. A fourth round selection this past year, Shestyorkin keeps impressing as he plays more and more international tournaments. He has great lateral movement, challenges the shooters very well and gets set very quickly.

Twenty-year-old Mackenzie Skapski (sixth round, 2013) began the 2014 season in net for the ECHL Greenville Road Warriors. However, when Jason Missiaen’s play slipped in Hartford recently, Skapski got the call to the AHL. His play since his reassignment has been excellent and a return to the ECHL does not appear imminent.