Rangers continue to build NHL roster from within

By Leslie Treff
Photo: Marek Hrivik had nine points (three goals, six assists) in 15 games for Hartford in the 2015 AHL Playoffs, a considerable improvement over his regular season production. (Courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

Photo: Marek Hrivik had nine points (three goals, six assists) in 15 games for Hartford in the 2015 AHL Playoffs, a considerable improvement over his regular season production. (Courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

For many years, high-end prospects in the New York Rangers organization had little hope of ever playing on Broadway. The skill positions were the domain of big-ticket free-agent signees or declining veterans who came by trade. Almost ten years ago, that strategy changed, and as a result the majority of the Rangers roster is now home-grown. Continuing in that current trend, it is likely that two more prospects will be on the team when the season opens.

This change in philosophy has been a great success, in that the Rangers have been close to winning the Stanley Cup over the last two years. The problem is that in the current salary cap environment, with the Rangers very tight against the cap, the team will each year lose a key player to keep some of the high-end (and often not so productive) veterans on the team.

In this environment, what is needed is a very good prospect pool, so that there is a potential steady flow of talented, young, cheap replacements when that inevitable loss comes. Because the Rangers have recently traded away first and second-round draft picks, as well as promising prospects, the current prospect pool is now thin.

Pro

Top Pro Prospect
Brady Skjei, D, Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL)

Skjei, drafted by the Rangers in 2012, left the University of Minnesota after three years under the tutelage of Head Coach Don Lucia. Signed to an entry-level contract with the Rangers in March 2015, Skjei played on an ATO in Hartford last spring. He does need time to adjust to the professional game and is expected to get a lot of ice time with the Wolf Pack this season. With a cannon of a shot and good size, Skjei projects to be a first- to second-line stay-at-home blueliner in the NHL.

NHL-Bound Prospect
Dylan McIlrath, D, Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL)

After five years in the Rangers’ system, the 10th overall pick in the 2010 draft is finally ready to take an NHL roster spot. After three years in Hartford, McIlrath’s skating, positioning, fighting ability and decision-making have all improved to the point where he is NHL-ready. Although McIlrath is started as a third-pairing or seventh defenseman, in recent preseason games he has shown excellent stick work and such positioning that he may be able to move to the second pair after some NHL experience.

Breakout Season
Adam Tambellini, C, Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL)

One of the Rangers’ third round selections in 2013, Tambellini has shone at every level that he has encountered. Originally committed to the college route, Tambellini switched to major junior hockey during the 2013-14 season. Since that time, he has flourished and improved his offensive production by leaps and bounds. He has filled out his frame and, at 6-foot-3, looks and plays big. He is expected to play a large role for the Wolf Pack this season and should continue to produce offensively. Still at least one to two years away from NHL readiness, Tambellini should provide some excitement in Hartford.

Bounceback Prospect
Marek Hrivik, LW, Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL)

The Rangers signed Hrivik in 2012 after three excellent junior seasons, hoping that the Slovakian winger would continue his offensive contributions at the pro level. During his first season in Hartford, Hrivik was plagued by injuries. For the last two seasons, he just has not produced up to expectations. But, there is expected to be a more offensive focus in Hartford this season and, so the Rangers re-signed the 24 year-old winger. If he is given a bigger offensive role, Hrivik might surprise everyone and put up some big numbers.

Unsigned for 2016-17
Michael St. Croix, RW, Greenville Road Warriors (ECHL)

St. Croix came out of junior hockey slotted as a responsible two-way center, who was a bit small but with enough skill to make it to the NHL level. But he did not adjust well to the speed of the professional game and has spent most of the last two seasons at the ECHL level. St. Croix will get a chance to show something this pre-season in Hartford, but even if he stays in the AHL, he is no longer expected to be more than a career minor league play and will most likely not be re-signed next summer.

Junior

Top Junior Prospect
Brandon Halverson, G, Sault St. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)

Halverson is in his third and likely final season of major junior hockey. A standout during the 2014-15 regular season, Halverson also got his first exposure to the World Junior Championships. Expected to be the primary netminder for the USA during the U20s this coming holiday season, Halverson should be able to use his athleticism and excellent vision to also have a stellar season in the Soo. Halverson is one of four excellent goaltenders in the Rangers’ organization; absent a Rangers’ trade of one of the netminders, Halverson could start in the ECHL in his first professional season.

Offensive Breakout
Ryan Gropp, LW, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)

The first player selected by the Rangers in the 2015 NHL draft (in the second round), the Rangers are very high on the Kamloops BC native. Gropp made significant improvements to his game last year which translated into close to a point per game during the regular season and more than that in the playoffs. Back in Seattle for his third season, Gropp will have every chance to show his offensive capabilities. The young winger has excellent speed and a great shot, and is projected to be a top six forward in the NHL.

Bounceback Prospect
Keegan Iverson, RW, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

Iverson is a big, powerful winger, who did not offensively produce as much as expected last season. He is a goal scorer, who was more of a playmaker during the 2014-15 campaign. The Rangers would like him to go back to what he does best–battling for pucks and going to the net. If he can do that and keep his toughness, the Rangers will have done well drafting Iverson in the third round of the 2014 draft.

Amateur

Top Amateur Prospect
Boo Nieves, C, University of Michigan (Big Ten)

Nieves is a 2012 draftee in his final year of college eligibility. After an outstanding freshman season, Nieves hit a skid in his sophomore year. Back on track in his junior season (28 points in 35 games), the New York native is an excellent playmaker, who can skate and use his body to go after pucks. Named alternate captain of the Wolverines in his senior season, he is expected to spend at least one season in Hartford before being NHL-ready.

Breakout Season
Steven Fogarty, C, University of Notre Dame (Hockey East)

Fogarty is now in his senior year with the Fighting Irish. Named captain of the Notre Dame hockey team for the second season, Fogarty’s excellent leadership skills and character have been highly-touted by his school. Big and strong, Fogarty was a very raw high school hockey player in 2011 when the Rangers drafted him. At this point, Fogarty is more polished and has learned the two way game. In 2014-15, he finally found some of his offensive game (21 points in 39 games), and during 2015-16, he is poised for an even more offensively productive season.

Europe

Top European Prospect
Pavel Buchnevich, LW, Severstal Cherepovets (KHL)

Just 20 years old, Buchnevich is a budding star in the KHL. A playmaker with an incredibly quick release and excellent skating speed, he has dominated offensively in international play. His performances in Rangers development camps have been outstanding; however, his offense-at-any-cost style has cost his team in its own end. Although he was expected to come to North America to play this season, his arrival has been delayed at least a year, as Buchnevich signed a one-year extension with Severstal Cherepovets in May 2015.

Breakout Season
Igor Shestyorkin, G, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)

Although Shestyorkin began the 2015-16 KHL season with SKA St. Petersburg’s junior team, his performance was so outstanding that he has been promoted to back up of the men’s KHL team. Shestyorkin, who has excellent lateral movement, good instincts, and good coverage down low, has been successful at every level at which he has played, but this season may be the one that he breaks into the KHL and takes over between the pipes. Still only 19 years old, if it was certain he was eventually coming to North America, Shestyorkin would be vying with his fellow countryman Pavel Buchnevich for the top prospect in the Rangers organization.