The New York Rangers went into the 2015 NHL Draft with only four picks over the seven-round event. As expected, the Rangers made several trades to add selections during the two-day draft, to wind up with a full complement of seven picks. But for the third year in a row, the Blueshirts had no first-round pick.
The Rangers had sent that 2015 first-round selection to Tampa Bay in the trade that brought Marty St. Louis to New York in March of 2014. Whether or not one believes that the St. Louis trade was a good one, the placement of the team’s pick in the first round (28th overall) would not have provided the Rangers an opportunity for a top draftee.
During the draft, the Rangers sent two roster players, Carl Hagelin and Cam Talbot, to Anaheim and Edmonton, respectively. Hagelin, a restricted free agent (who subsequently signed a long-term deal with the Ducks) was a victim of the Rangers’ salary cap issues and Talbot was traded to get New York something in return before he would become an unrestricted free agent in 2016.
Of the seven players chosen by the Rangers in this year’s draft, five are forwards, one is a defenseman, and one a goaltender. Three skated in the WHL during the 2014-15 season, three played in Europe and one in the USHL. None of these selections will break onto the NHL roster anytime soon, but the potential offensive firepower selected is impressive.
Ryan Gropp, LW, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
2nd Round, 41st overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 187 lbs
At 6’2, Gropp projects to be a power forward in the NHL. New York had already noticed the Thunderbirds forward’s incredible skating speed and his quick release before Gropp performed very well at the NHL Combine in June. After an excellent interview, the Rangers ranked Gropp higher than mid-second round. When he was available at the 41st pick, the Rangers were happy to get the young Kamloops, BC native.
Like Steven Fogarty, another Rangers forward prospect, Gropp came through the Penticton Vees (BCHL) organization. Originally committed to the University of North Dakota, Gropp decided in the fall of 2013 to go the major junior route. Born late in 1996, he skated in 67 regular season games with Seattle in 2014-15, posting 58 points (30 G, 28 A) and 44 PIMs.
With his size, speed and shot, Gropp is expected to be an offensive force in the NHL, but prior to getting to the show, the Rangers are looking for greater consistency in Gropp’s play.
Prior to the NHL Draft, Gropp took part in the 2015 NHL Scouting Combine. Hockey’s Future spoke with Gropp at that event, with that conversation being captured in this HF video.
Robin Kovacs, RW, AIK (Allsvenskan)
3rd round, 62nd overall
Height: 6-0 Weight: 159 lbs
Somewhat undersized, Kovacs is a speedster with high end skill, as well as an edge to his game. Kovacs will need to gain upper body strength prior to becoming a North American professional, but his game is very conducive to the smaller North American rink. He can pass the puck well, has excellent vision, and is dangerous on every shift.
Although Kovacs informed the Rangers that he will return to Sweden for the 2015-16 season, he was recently drafted by the North Bay Battalion in the CHL Import Draft. Last season, he spent the majority of his games in Sweden’s second tier men’s league, the Allsvenskan, recording 28 points (17 goals, 11 assists) in 52 regular season games. Additionally, Kovacs appeared in the Five Nations Tournament this year, posting six points in four games.
Sergey Zborovskiy, D, Regina Pats (WHL)
3rd round, 79th overall
Height: 6-3 Weight: 198 lbs
The Rangers see Zborovskiy as a potential two-way NHL defender. After playing his youth hockey in Moscow and debuting in the MHL at 16, Zborovskiy was selected by the WHL Regina Pats in the 2014 import draft. The big, raw defenseman was a coach’s favorite during his rookie North American season, coming on very strong during the second half of the 2014-15 season.
With 19 points (three goals, 16 assists) in 71 games, Zborovskiy was an excellent competitor, both with and without the puck. Zborovskiy’s positioning is excellent and he has a very good shot. Where Zborovskiy must improve to be successful in the pro game is in his skating. Both acceleration and his overall speed need work.
Unable to attend Rangers Development Camp earlier this month due to Visa issues, Zborovskiy is expected to play in Traverse City and attend the main training camp this fall.
Aleksi Saarela, C, Assat (Liiga)
3rd round, 89th overall
Height: 5-10 Weight: 198 lbs
Saarela was a very big part of Finland’s success during the 2015 U18 World Junior Championships in Switzerland. The team took the silver medal and Saarela was one of the team’s leading scorers (eight points in seven games).
Undersized, Saarela has tremendous skating acceleration and very good speed. Although he is not tall, it is tough to get the puck away from him. He has excellent hockey sense, vision, and quick hands, so he can be a playmaker and a goal-scorer equally as well.
During 2014-15, Saarela was an underaged skater for Assat. One of only three 17 year olds on the team, Saarela posted 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 51 games. Injured at the end of the season, Saarela was unable to come over for the Rangers Development Camp earlier this month. He is expected to continue to develop in Europe this fall.
Brad Morrison, C, Prince George Cougars (WHL)
4th round, 113th overall
Height: 5-11 Weight: 154 lbs
Morrison may be small and undeveloped, but there is something very special about the Prince George native. Like Saarela, he has natural offensive gifts—excellent vision, hockey smarts, and great hands. Willing to play in traffic, he often loses the battles, but tries to find other ways to make things happen.
In his second full season with the Cougars, Morrison showed his offensive skills (49 points in 67 regular season games and seven points in five playoff contests). The Rangers are looking for Morrison to bulk up and work on his skating, but he was quite noticeable at Development Camp.
Daniel Bernhardt, RW, Djurgarden J20 (SuperElit)
4th round, 119th overall
Height: 6-3 Weight: 191 lbs
One of the more dynamic players at the Rangers Development Camp, Bernhardt has good size and strength and can really make things happen on the ice. A good skater, who focuses on his conditioning and nutrition, Bernhardt had a fabulous 2014-15 season. He won the SuperElit scoring title (61 points in 44 games), coming out of nowhere to position himself on many teams’ draft lists.
The Rangers were hoping that Bernhardt would play North American junior hockey this season, and in fact, Bernhardt was drafted by the OHL London Knights. However, prior to leaving development camp, he told the Rangers that he would be returning to Europe for at least one, and likely two, years of development.
Adam Huska, G, Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)
7th round, 184th overall
Height: 6-3 Weight: 189 lbs
The last thing the Rangers needed to add to their system in this draft was a goaltender. However, when the team saw Huska was still available in the seventh round, New York grabbed him. Huska is a Slovakian netminder, who began the 2014-15 campaign with the national U18 team. The Rangers saw him at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament and were very impressed with his movement and the way he challenged shooters.
He then moved to North America to join the Green Bay Gamblers. In five games, Huska only played in a little over 245 minutes. However, he is expected to play regularly between the pipes for Green Bay during the 2015-16 season.