New York Rangers possess tough, skilled group at CHL level

By Leslie Treff
Photo: Forward J.T. Miller plays a two-way game that is equal parts skill and strong defensive play. He is expected to play professionally in 2012-12. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The Rangers have 10 players in junior hockey this season, including nine in major junior hockey (including five in the OHL, three in the WHL, and one in the QMJHL) and one playing in junior A. Six of these players are forwards, three are defensemen, and one is a goaltender. Of the 10 juniors, five were drafted in 2011. Two are playing in their overage seasons, and two are former first round picks. Roughly half of these players should be professionals in the fall of 2012.

OHL

Andrew Yogan, C/LW, Peterborough Petes
Acquired: 4th Round (100th overall) in 2010


After losing almost all of 2010-11 to shoulder surgery, Andrew Yogan appeared in two AHL games last Spring with the Connecticut Whale, in which he posted three points. Despite his solid production in that small sampling, the Rangers were unsure whether Yogan was ready to be a full-time performer at the AHL level.

With the possibility that he may be returned to junior for the 2011-12 season, Yogan was traded from the Erie Otters to the Peterborough Petes before the start of this season. With the Petes this season, Yogan has more than a point a game (39 points in 38 games). Good on face-offs, he can play either center or on the wing and has excellent size. One of Peterborough’s top offensive producers, Yogan has taken some untimely penalties or made other costly mental mistakes on the ice this season. He is however developing and is expected to be signed to an entry-level contract this spring.


J.T. Miller, C/RW, Plymouth Whalers
Acquired: 1st Round (15th overall) in 2011

When J.T. Miller was drafted by the Rangers last summer, he planned to attend University of North Dakota this fall. However, the Rangers saw him as potentially on the fast track to the NHL, and Miller decided that the best way to accomplish that would be playing in the CHL. An excellent two-way forward, Miller works very hard down low and along the boards, and has been an excellent playmaker with the OHL Plymouth Whalers this season. Miller has excellent size, and can crash the net well. He also has very good passing skills on the rush. Currently, scoring at more than a point per game pace in the OHL (39 points in 33 games), Miller recently was a member of the U.S. U-20 World Junior Championships team, where he posted two goals and two assists in six games. Because Miller was drafted out of the NTDP, he will be eligible for AHL play next season and is expected to become a professional after the Whalers’ 2011-12 campaign is completed.

Christian Thomas, RW, Oshawa Generals
Acquired: 2nd Round (40th overall) in 2010

There has been a lot of buzz around Christian Thomas over the last year, and there was even some speculation that he may have competed for a Rangers roster this past fall. He posted outstanding numbers for the Oshawa Generals during the 2010-11 season, however Thomas was not particularly impressive in either the Rangers Development Camp last summer or in Traverse City this past September. Clearly not ready for NHL play, he was returned to the Generals for the 2011-12 season. He got off to a slow start, but did start to produce offensively in mid-October, when Thomas was assessed a 10-game suspension for hitting a player in the face with his stick. Although the league did not allege that Thomas intended to injure his victim (and, in fact, little injury occurred), Thomas did swing his stick, and so he was benched for almost a month. Since returning to action in mid-November, Thomas has been producing well, though it is questionable whether he will be able to repeat his 54-goal 2010-11 season. Thus far, in 29 games during the 2011-12 season, Thomas has recorded 18 goals (including two game winners) and 19 assists. An excellent skater, with a very quick release, Thomas needs to get stronger on the puck prior to becoming a professional. He is expected to begin his pro career with the Whale in Connecticut next fall.

Peter Ceresnak, D, Peterborough Petes
Acquired: 6th round (172nd Overall) in 2011

Peter Ceresnak is a right defenseman (a right-handed shot), who plays a very good two-way game. Blessed with excellent size, Ceresnak spent much of the summer and early fall adjusting to the smaller size rink and higher level of competition. Since joining the Peterborough Petes this fall, Ceresnak has improved his positioning and adjusted well to North American hockey. Thus far, he has recorded 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 33 regular season OHL games, with a plus-one rating. Additionally, Ceresnak played in the 2012 U20 World Junior Championships for his native Slovakia. In six games in the Alberta, Canada tournament, Ceresnak posted no points and a minus-four. Ceresnak is not expected to become a North American professional until at least the fall of 2013.

Scott Stajcer, G, Owen Sound Attack
Acquisition: 5th round (140th overall) in 2009

Due to a devastating hip injury that shortened his 2010-11 season, Scott Stajcer is playing an overage 2011-12 season with the OHL Sound Attack. After several inconsistent seasons, the Rangers had worked hard with Stajcer and expected big things from him last season. When they did not have a chance to see whether he could consistently perform between the pipes, they signed him to an entry-level contract last May and expected to return Stajcer to the OHL for this season. It was not a certainty, however, and Stajcer did get a chance to show that he was ready for professional play this fall. In the end, the Rangers decided that Stajcer would be best served in junior hockey for one more season. Stajcer remains somewhat inconsistent though he has a very good goals against average (2.55) and save percentage (.925). Stajcer is expected to begin his professional career next Fall, either with the Rangers’ AHL or ECHL affiliate.

WHL

Michael St. Croix, C, Edmonton Oil Kings
Acquired: 4th round (106th overall) in 2011

Currently, ranked fourth overall in the WHL in total points, Michael St. Croix is having a career year. With four game-winning goals thus far this season, St. Croix has posted 67 points (25 goals, 42 assists) in 42 games, while maintaining a plus-23 rating. Recently named the WHL Player of the Month, St. Croix was previously the league’s Player of the Week. Expected to be a good two-way forward at the NHL level, St. Croix is more of a playmaker than a scorer. A smaller player, he has very good speed and excellent hockey sense. St. Croix is expected to play another year of junior hockey prior to becoming a professional in the fall of 2013.

Shane McColgan, RW, Kelowna Rockets
Acquired: 5th round (134th overall) in 2011

A scrappy winger, who plays in all situations, Shane McColgan is an undersized agitator with the skills to offensively produce in professional hockey. Very impressive in both Traverse City and Rangers’ training camp this Fall, McColgan has continued to show in Kelowna why the Rangers were excited to draft him in the fifth round. McColgan has posted more than a point a game during the 2011-12 season (42 points in 40 games; 46 penalty minutes, minus-four), including six points in the last three games. McColgan is a boom or bust draft pick, whose issue previously has been consistency. Although the jury is still out on whether he will be a successful draft pick for the Rangers, McColgan has made an excellent start as a Rangers’ prospect. He will likely play one more year of junior hockey prior to commencing his professional career.


Dylan McIlrath, D, Moose Jaw Warriors
Acquired: 1st round (10th overall) in 2010

The Rangers drafted Dylan McIlrath to be the in-your-face, crease clearing defenseman that the team has been missing for years. Since selecting him, the Blueshirts have nurtured McIlrath, making him the captain of the Traverse City rookie tournament team and taking him to Europe with the NHL team this fall to start the season. McIlrath has made quite a bit of progress since he was drafted by the Rangers, particularly in his positioning and handling of the puck. The Warriors alternate captain has posted 14 points in 30 WHL games this season, while accumulating 74 penalty minutes. Eager to fight anyone who gets in his way, McIlrath has participated in eight bouts thus far this season. McIlrath has worked on his skating and, at 6’5 and 215 pounds, has a long reach and is very imposing on the ice. Expected to begin his professional career next fall, it is likely that McIlrath will begin the season with the Rangers’ AHL affiliate in Connecticut.


QMJHL

Samuel Noreau, D, Baie Comeau Drakkar
Acquired: 5th Round (136th overall) in 2011

Samuel Noreau is a big defenseman (6’5, 225 lbs) the Rangers selected because he likes to throw his weight around on the ice and is a good fighter. Not afraid to challenge opposing players, Noreau, a right-handed shot, can clear the crease and can also move the puck well. Still learning positioning and gap control, as well as attempting to improve his skating, Noreau has made many strides in the short months since he was drafted. Expected to spend two more seasons in junior hockey, Noreau could possibly patrol the New York blueline alongside Dylan McIlrath, which would be a frightening thought for opposing players.

BCHL

Steven Fogarty, C, Penticton Vees
Acquired: 3rd Round (72nd overall) in 2011

Selected out of Edina High School in Minnesota, Steven Fogarty is committed to attend the University of Notre Dame in the Fall of 2012. This season, he is playing in the BCHL for the highly talented Penticton Vees and has posted more than a point a game (45 points in 38 games). Although he is far from the leading scorer on the Vees, Fogarty has excellent hockey smarts and good skating for his size. His weakness is the defensive side of his game, however, Fogarty is a quick study, and has been working hard on the two-way game. He is expected to be ready for Division 1 hockey next fall, but it is unclear at this point whether Fogarty will attend more than one or two years of college. At this point, he is still very raw and is at least two years away from the professional game.

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