New York Rangers prospects excelling in junior, despite middling draft positions

By Leslie Treff
Photo: With 46 points (24 goals, 22 assists) in 46 games, Ryan Gropp is scoring at a point-per-game clip for the first time in his junior career. (Courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

Photo: With 46 points (24 goals, 22 assists) in 46 games, Ryan Gropp is scoring at a point-per-game clip for the first time in his junior career. (Courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

 

 

The New York Rangers currently have seven prospects playing junior hockey, including six in the CHL and one in the USHL. Of them, two represented their countries in the World Junior Championships earlier this month (Brandon Halverson and Adam Huska).

The smaller number of junior players within the organization is the result of the Rangers having fewer draft selections in recent years. From within the CHL, the Rangers have gone back to using the WHL as its main source for players—four of the five skaters currently playing junior hockey are from that league.

The Rangers did break away from recent drafting tendencies in 2015, by selecting a non-NTDP USHL prospect—Slovakian Adam Huska toils between the pipes for the Green Bay Gamblers.

WHL

Ryan Gropp, LW, Seattle Thunderbirds
Acquired: 2nd round (41st overall), 2015

For most of this season, Gropp has been on Seattle’s top line with Mathew Barzal, one of the NHL’s top prospects. After posting over a point per game with Barzal and Keegan Kolesar (CBJ, 2015), Gropp’s production slowed while Barzal was at the WJCs. Since reunited, his numbers have rebounded.

With excellent speed and a very good shot, Gropp is equally adept at seeing playmaking opportunities and making an effective pass at the right time. Physically mature, with good size and bulk, Gropp projects to be a hard-working second- to third-line forward in the NHL. The Rangers signed Gropp to an entry-level contract on December 31, 2015, rewarding him for his excellent production this season.

Keegan Iverson, C, Portland Winterhawks
Acquired: 3rd round (85th overall), 2014

Iverson got off to a good start this year (posting 0.68 points per game), however in late November he sustained a “lower body” injury and was off the ice for more than a month. Since his return, Iverson has not been very productive offensively, but he continues to be a very physical player (he fought for the first time since the holidays during last weekend’s games).

Iverson does have some offensive upside, but is expected to be a bottom-six player in the NHL. It remains very uncertain as to whether the Rangers will reward Iverson with an entry-level contract prior to the expiration of their rights to him this June.

Brad Morrison, C, Prince George Cougars
Acquired: 4th round (113th overall), 2015

Currently third in scoring on the Prince George Cougars, Morrison is a dynamic playmaking center, with excellent speed. After starting the 2015-16 season off very slowly, over the last few weeks, he has posted more than two points per game. A smaller center who is offensively focused, Morrison will have to bulk up and become more responsible in his own zone to make it in the NHL—but he has the potential to be a second-line forward.

Sergey Zborovskiy, D, Regina Pats
Acquired: 3rd round (79th overall), 2015

A surprise very late cut from Russia’s U20 World Junior team last month, Zborovskiy has been very good this season with the Regina Pats. A big, strong player with some offensive upside, Zborovskiy is expected to be a purely defensive blueliner at the professional level. He is very strong in the corners and has good positioning most of the time, but continues to work on his skating, his decision-making with the puck, and bulking up physically. He is coming along well during the early part of the 2015-16 campaign and is now one of the organization’s top junior prospects.

OHL

Ryan Mantha, D, Niagara IceDogs
Acquired: 4th round (104th overall), 2014

At 6-foot-5, Mantha is an imposing two-way defenseman at the junior level. Expected to be mostly a defensive blueliner in the pros, Mantha is in his final year of junior play. He has great reach and uses his stick well to defend. And, although Mantha skates well for a defenseman of his size, he still could use more work on this skill. The Rangers are expected to offer Mantha an entry-level contract before their rights to sign him expire in June, but it will take several years at the AHL level before he would be NHL-ready.

Brandon Halverson, G, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Acquired: 2nd round (55th overall), 2014

One of the top prospects in the system, Halverson was the backup netminder for the United States at the 2016 U20 World Junior Championships. Halverson struggled for the Soo at the start of the season, but since the beginning of December, Halverson has posted an 8-3-1 record.

Overall, he has a 3.11 GAA and a .899 save percentage for the season, but since his return from Finland, Halverson is at 2.77 and a .911 save percentage. He was signed to an entry-level contract by the Rangers this past July, and is almost certainly in his last year of junior hockey. Halverson is expected to begin his professional career in either Hartford or Greenville next fall.

USHL

Adam Huska, G, Green Bay Gamblers
Acquired: 7th round (184th overall), 2015

The Rangers were not looking for another goalie when the 2015 NHL Entry Draft began. With Halverson, Igor Shestyorkin, and Mackenzie Skapski already in the organization as prospects, New York’s goaltending pipeline is now very strong. However, when the team saw Huska was still available in the seventh round, the Rangers grabbed him with their last selection due to his performance at the 2015 U18 World Junior Championships. If his numbers in Green Bay this season are any indication, the scouts were correct in believing he should have been taken sooner. Currently, he is the number one goalie in the USHL in both GAA and save percentage (co-leader in shutouts with four).

World Junior Championships Update

The U20 WJCs took place in Finland from December 26th through January 5th. Brandon Halverson, Adam Huska and Aleksi Saarela participated. Although Halverson appeared in only two games, with 91:51 minutes of ice time, he faced 37 shots and stopped all but one. He posted a 0.65 goals-against and .973 save percentage.

Saarela was in the middle of his Finnish teammates in scoring during this tournament. Appearing in all seven games for his country, he recorded four goals and three assists on 19 shots. Saarela posted four power play goals in the tournament, the most of his teammates.

Huska appeared in every game for Slovakia. In his first U20 tournament, he performed very well between the pipes, although his team was eliminated by Sweden in the first playoff game. Overall, Huska recorded a .899 save percentage and 3.90 goals-against. Huska will be eligible to represent Slovakia again next year.

Prospect of the Month: Adam Huska

Adam Huska - New York RangersWith two wins, including back-to-back shutouts, Huska went from a .987% save percentage and 0.34 goals-against for the Green Bay Gamblers to representing Slovakia in the U20 WJCs. Although not as successful in the WJCs (Slovakia’s scoring efficiency was near the bottom of the 10 teams participating), Huska was named the best player for Slovakia in the tournament. He appeared in every contest for his country, posting numbers that put him in the middle of the goaltending pack. He then returned to Green Bay and promptly won his next three games.