Top 10 prospects
1.Chris Kreider, LW
2. Ryan McDonagh, D
3. Christian Thomas, RW
4. Evgeny Grachev, C
5. Mats Zuccarello, LW
6. Dylan McIlrath, D
7. Carl Hagelin, LW
8. Ryan Bourque, C
9. Tim Erixon, D
10. Chad Johnson, G
The Rangers have become a gritty, young team, whose players are willing to block shots and finish checks to make plays. With a coaching staff that stresses aerobic fitness and speed, as well as physical play, the Blueshirts have remade themselves from a team almost completely dependent on free agents in the prime of their careers and beyond to one rebuilt from within, very dependent on drafted young players for success. After barely missing the playoffs during the 2009-10 season, the Rangers were eliminated in the first round this past season. But with excellent goaltending by stalwart Henrik Lundqvist, and an outstanding young defensive corps, the rebuilding process has been completed and this will be a competitive team going forward. However, there are team weak spots that will need to be remedied to make New York an elite team in the league.
Scoring is the Rangers’ biggest issue. Although right winger Marian Gaborik is an elite forward still in the prime of his career, his 2010-11 offensive production was his lowest since the 2003-04 season. One of the biggest reasons for this is the lack of an established first-line center who can be a playmaker for Gaborik. A first-line left winger could also be added, but it is much less of a priority, as, not only do the Rangers have several forwards who can serve in that role over the coming year and several top prospects should be ready to battle for that role within a year or two. It is the acquisition of a top-line center that is the team’s first priority this summer.
On defense, the team is stocked with excellent young blueliners. Any questions about the blue line rest on a power play quarterback and whether Michael Del Zotto, or the recently signed Tim Erixon, are ready for that role. One expectation for the coming season is the addition of a crease-clearing blueliner, which could wind up being Pavel Valentenko, who skated with Connecticut last season and showed signs of being comfortable in that role, or an outside addition. The rest of the defense corps are two-way or defensive blueliners, who have already proved competent to toil along the Rangers’ blue line.
The Rangers should be set in the goaltending position for the 2011-12 season. With Lundqvist between the pipes for the majority of the games, and a healthy Martin Biron backing him up for 15-20 games, the Rangers will have one of the NHL’s best tandems in net. Biron is a perfect backup, as he is experienced, steady, and can get the team wins while spelling Lundqvist. In addition, he also seems able to give some helpful advice to younger members of the team, and generally be a positive force in the locker room.
There are some very strong prospects at forward within the Rangers’ organization. On the wings, Chris Kreider will be attending college for one more season, but is a first-line prospect within the organization. Christian Thomas, who put up big numbers in the OHL last season, will get a good long look in camp this fall, however, is likely one more year from NHL play. Evgeny Grachev, another top-line prospect, should compete for a roster spot on the NHL team this fall, although not for a first-line spot. Although Grachev’s development has not been meteoric, and he looks like a longer-term project than expected, he is only 21 years old and could still be a top-six forward in the NHL.
Mats Zuccarello, who split the season between the NHL and AHL during 2010-11, is under contract for another year and is expected to play a top-six role with the Rangers this season. In addition, Swedes Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fasth may be playing top-six roles with the Rangers in the future.
The Rangers have a strong defensive corps already playing in the NHL, but there is no shortage of talent waiting in the wings. Mid-season call-up Ryan McDonagh already has played 40 games in a Rangers uniform and has shown himself to likely be a long-term fixture on New York’s blue line. The aforementioned Erixon is a two-way defenseman with very good offensive upside and he should start competing for an NHL roster spot in a few weeks. The mean and tough-to-play-against Dylan McIlrath needs more development in junior hockey, but his longer term projection is to be a tough guy, who can clear the crease and create havoc for opposing NHL teams. In addition, the Rangers have both Pavel Valentenko and Tomas Kundratek, who are arguably ready for NHL roles this coming season, as well as Mikhail Pashnin, who is expected to sign an entry-level contract before the 2011-12 season begins.
The Rangers have no strictly offensive defensemen in the system. After trading Bobby Sanguinetti to Carolina prior to last season and failing to re-sign Ilkka Heikkinen to another contract, the team only has Michael Del Zotto in the system. Should Del Zotto fail to rebound from a bad sophomore season, this weakness could severely impact the team.
Additionally, there are no potential number one netminders in the system. All the goalies that are currently in the system (there are four, including Chad Johnson who becomes a restricted free agent this summer) are not projected to become number one goaltenders.
Although Lundqvist is under contract through the 2013-14 season (three more years), the team should begin to consider grooming a young goaltender to fill this role in the future.
Generally, the Rangers have generally looked to the CHL for their draft selections. Of the 42 picks the Rangers have made since 2005, 25 of the selections have been from one of the WHL, OHL, or QMJHL. Four of the six first-round selections have been out of the CHL, with only Kreider and Alexei Cherepanov selected from other leagues. During that time, the Rangers have selected no higher than 10th overall (in 2010), but have been very successful in picking up players that for one reason or another have fallen to them in the middle of the first round.
Additionally, New York has been very successful with turning second-round selections into NHL players in those drafts. Included among them are Michael Sauer, Artem Anisimov, and Derek Stepan, each from a different league. From 2010, one of the team’s top prospects, Thomas, was also selected in the second round.
Among the 19 first through third round selections over the last six years, the only European players selected have been Cherepanov, Grachev, Kundratek, and Anisimov. The Rangers have had less hesitation in selecting Europeans in the later rounds-six have been selected in the last five years. Of the Europeans selected in any round since 2005, all but two have been forwards.
Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result:
No. 15: Tyler Biggs, RW
After selecting defensemen in four of the last six NHL drafts, the Rangers will look to pick up a forward in the first round this year. With not a lot of players with high end potential at this point in the draft, the Rangers will look to winger Biggs, another player who was ranked higher earlier in the season, but is expected to fall in St. Paul. A player with size, good bloodlines, international experience, excellent character, good hockey sense, and in tremendous physical shape, Biggs is an excellent two-way forward who can fight and contribute offensively. Improvements are needed in scoring however, as captain of the U18 US NTDP team this past season, he posted 17 goals and 11 assists in 48 games. Biggs is committed to attending Miami University.