The New York Rangers currently have nine prospects playing in the CHL, including five of the seven players selected in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Three of the prospects play in the WHL, four in the OHL, and two in the QMJHL. Four forwards, four defensemen, and one netminder are included in the group.
Tomas Kundratek, D, Medicine Hat Tigers
Acquired: Third round (90th overall) 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Kundratek is the highest rated Rangers prospect currently playing in the WHL. Drafted out of Europe, Kundratek joined the Medicine Hat Tigers after recovering from a hand injury sustained during the summer of 2008. He had an very good season upon joining the junior team, and was expected to get a look in Rangers training camp this Fall. With a late 1989 birthdate, Kundratek could have become a professional for the 2009-10 season, but pre-season with both the Blueshirts and the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack made clear that he just was not ready for the leap to the next level.
The mostly defensive blueliner had to be convinced, however, that a return to junior play for an overage year was a good idea. Once he made the decision to report to Medicine Hat, he had a very productive month of October. Although he is still on the Tigers power play, Kundratek has not been as effective as he was last month.
With a booming shot and excellent size, Kundratek is still learning positioning and needs to fill out more prior to becoming an effective NHL player.
Roman Horak, C/LW, Chilliwack Bruins
Acquired: Fifth Round (127th overall), 2009 NHL Entry Draft
After being a surprise in the Traverse City Rookie Tournament this past September, much was expected of Horak this season. He has not disappointed. Currently second on the Bruins in scoring, Horak plays in all situations, and has a nose for the net. A natural center, Horak has been moved to left wing, and has been on a tear since early October. This week he had two-goal game, including a short-handed game winner. It was Horak’s fourth goal in three games. Currently, third among WHL rookies in scoring, Horak is a top candidate for WHL Player of the Week.
The young Czech is an excellent face-off man who can play both sides of the puck. A creative playmaker, Horak sees the ice very well, and is projected to become a second-line NHL player.
Sam Klassen, D, Saskatoon Blades
Acquired: Free Agent Signing, 2009
When the Rangers signed Klassen this past summer, they were projecting him to be a big, strong, tough addition to the Hartford Wolf Pack blueline. But his play in the pre-season indicated he just was not ready to be a pro. Because he was born on January 1, 1989, Klassen just squeaked into overage eligibility. Given his age, size, and WHL experience, he should be playing very strongly at this level. But he is not, and is currently carrying a +21 plus/minus rating. Klassen, who is not a fighter, will most likely become a career minor league player, probably at the AA level.
Ethan Werek, C, Kingston Frontenacs
Acquired: Second Round (47th overall), 2009 NHL Entry Draft
Werek was a top OHL rookie last season, on a team that was one of the worst in the OHL. After the young center was drafted by the Rangers, he participated in both the Development Camp this summer and the Traverse City Rookie Tournament this Fall, before returning to New York to attend the NHL team’s main camp. At each one of these events, Werek took in all he could, worked very hard, and improved. His work ethic and solid two-way play were noted each step of the way.
Werek returned to Kingston and two months into the season is on a point and a quarter per game scoring pace this year. He plays in all situations and can crash the net, forecheck well against the boards, and is a constant scoring threat. Werek is a large part of the Fronts success, and although he was sidelined for several games with hip issues which hindered his production late last month, Werek has come back very strongly over the last two weeks.
Chosen to participate in the Subway Super Series, in which the OHL stars play two games against Russia, Werek was instrumental in helping the Canadian team come back to win the first game this past week.
Mitch Gaulton, D, Erie Otters
Acquired: Sixth Round (171st overall), 2008 NHL Entry Draft
The Rangers knew that Gaulton had an elbow injury when they drafted him in the summer of 2008. Had he not had the injury, Gaulton never would have been available in the sixth round. Before the injury, Gaulton was an excellent puck mover with a better than average shot. Following surgery, Gaulton was projected to have a full year of recovery prior to coming back to the OHL. He worked very hard and came back mid-season, but Gaulton was not himself and struggled last season.
This season was the real test for Gaulton, and he did not start out well either in Development Camp or Traverse City. He was slow to get going back in Erie too, but things have changed. Gaulton seems to be working his way back to his previous form, and, while he still has some positional issues, he is playing much better. The Otters use Gaulton in all situations, and his offensive production is way up the past few weeks. Whether that will continue and Gaulton overcomes some of his defensive issues remains to be seen. However, if he continues to improve over the coming weeks, the Rangers could have a gotten a real steal in the sixth round.
Daniel Maggio, D, Sudbury Wolves
Acquired: Sixth Round (170th overall), 2009 NHL Entry Draft
Like Gaulton, Maggio was a late-round pick because of injury issues. Sudbury is one of the worst teams in the OHL, so Maggio has had his hands full along the blueline. He is the leading offensive producer among defensemen on the team, but over the last few weeks, his play has been inconsistent. Since the beginning of November, Maggio has been mediocre at best, both in his own zone and contributing to the offense. Maggio will have to change that to gain an NHL entry-level contract, but he has more than a year to prove to the Rangers that they made the right choice in selecting the young right-handed defenseman from LaSalle, Ontario.
Scott Stajcer, G, Owen Sound Attack
Acquired: Fifth Round (140th overall), 2009 NHL Entry Draft
Stajcer has been extremely inconsistent between the pipes this season. Although this is partially due to the defense in front of him, the young goaltender has played very few games in which he duplicated his excellent showing in Rangers training camp and in Traverse City. There is no question that Stajcer is facing a tremendous number of shots each game, but after making some herculean saves, he then can let in soft goals at critical times. Stajcer does have time to make corrections, and the Rangers organization is very high on him, but the young Cambridge, Ontario native must play more consistently to move forward to the next level.
Ryan Bourque, C, Quebec Remparts
Acquired: Third Round (80th overall), 2009 NHL Entry Draft
Currently tied for fourth among rookies in the QMJHL, Bourque has been playing extremely well over the last month. An offensive wizard, who at first had a little trouble adjusting to the level of QMJHL play, Bourque is now only one of two rookies in the league who is on a more than a point a game pace. He has had five multiple-point games, including three this month.
Bourque is a highly talented playmaker who is expected to put up really good numbers in the Q. Learning to play in both zones will be important, as well as making adjustments to his play to compensate for the tight coverage against him. Thus far, he is doing a better job at the latter than the former, but it will take both for Bourque to become a regular NHL player.
Chris Doyle, C/LW, PEI Rocket
Acquired: Fifth Round (141st overall), 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Doyle is another offensive wizard who was selected in the 2008 draft in the hopes that he would become a power play specialist. On a point a game pace this season, there is no question that Doyle, who is playing left wing for the Rocket, can produce offensively. But character issues that have plagued Doyle since before the draft have continued this season.
There have been problems with at least one referee and at least one woman accusing him of attacking her, which have taken the focus off Doyle’s play on the ice. The court case that will resolve the assault charges against him has been adjourned until December 10, 2009, but the Rangers are not very happy about Doyle’s continuing problems. The team is unlikely to sign Doyle to an entry-level contract prior the expiration of his rights this June.