Defensive depth highlights New York Rangers minor league prospect contingent

By Tony Piscotta

Mackenzie Skapski - Hartford Wolf Pack

Photo: Hartford Wolf Pack goaltender and New York Rangers prospect Mackenzie Skapski played 27 games for the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits in 2015-16 (courtesy of Graig Abel/Getty Images)

 

Chris McCarthy, LW, 24

Chris McCarthy was signed by the Rangers as a free agent in 2014 following his senior season at the University of Vermont. After spending most of the season in the ECHL last year he has been a solid two-way forward for the Wolf Pack in 2015-16.

McCarthy plays an honest, two-way game and has some playmaking ability but he is considered more of a depth player in terms of his NHL potential. He would become an unrestricted free agent if not tendered a qualifying offer by the Rangers following the season.

Matt Lindblad, LW, 26

Matt Lindblad was signed by the Rangers over the summer after playing two games with the Boston Bruins in each of the two previous seasons but he missed most of the season after suffering a back injury while training in the off-season. He played just eight games with Hartford, making his debut in late December and playing his last game on January 27th.

When healthy he is an effective lower-line forward, but whether the former Dartmouth College star can get his career back on track is uncertain.

Greenville Swamp Rabbits

Mackenzie Skapski, G, 21

Mackenzie Skapski enjoyed a honeymoon rookie season in 2014-15, making two starts with the Rangers and winning both with one shutout when he was called up to back up Cam Talbot while Henrik Lundqvist was out with an injury. Skapsky won 15 of 28 starts with the Hartford Wolf Pack and it looked like things were heading in the right direction.

This season has been more of a challenge. Recovering from off-season surgery at the start of the year, he played 10 games with the Wolf Pack and was 2-6-0 with a 3.51 goals-against and .888 save percentage. He was subsequently assigned to Greenville and had similar struggles with the Swamp Rabbits, fighting to regain his confidence and yielding the Greenville crease late in the season to one-time Sudbury Wolves and Laurentian University goalie Alain Valiquette.

As with any young goalie, it is difficult to predict Skapski’s long-term career path, but he does have some talent with plenty of time to get things straightened out. With high profile prospects like Igor Shestyorkin, Adam Huska and Brandon Halverson in the Rangers’ pipeline, though, his future opportunities may come elsewhere.

Richard Nejezchleb, RW, 21

Richard Nejezchleb was drafted in 2014 as a 20-year-old and played for the Swamp Rabbits on an AHL contract after starting the season with the Wolf Pack. Highly-regarded for the playmaking skills that he showed in the WHL with both Brandon and Tri-City, he has been a work in progress at the professional level in terms of putting things all together.

After scoring just one goal and posting a -6 rating in 13 games with Hartford, he was assigned to Greenville in November. The Czech forward had points in his first five games with the Swamp Rabbits and was one of the team’s more consistent scorers before suffering an upper-body injury that kept him out of the lineup for most of February.

Nejezchleb would become an unrestricted free agent if not signed to an entry-level contract by June.

Josh Nicholls, RW, 23

Josh Nicholls, like Skapski and Nejezchleb, spent some time with the Wolf Pack, skating in 11 games for Hartford with one goal and two assists. Now in his third season with Greenville, he was the Swamp Rabbits’ third-leading scorer and is a bit of a fan favorite in South Carolina.

Nichols was a dominant scorer in the WHL playing with Dallas Stars‘ prospect Matej Stransky but has struggled to crack the AHL lineup for Hartford. Playing in the ECHL in the third year of an entry-level contract is generally an indication that a player is no longer an NHL prospect.

Michael St. Croix, C, 23

Michael St. Croix is also in his third season with Greenville and is the team’s fourth-leading scorer behind minor league veterans Scott Fleming, Jack Combs, and Nicholls. A fourth round pick by the Rangers in 2011, the Winnipeg native was a 105-point scorer for the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings in 2011-12.

More of a playmaker than a pure scorer, St. Croix has not yet developed the supplementary areas of his game enough to stick with the AHL’s Wolf Pack. Like Nicholls, his potential as an NHL prospect is limited.

Michael Kantor, RW, 24

Michael Kantor has struggled to stay healthy in his three-year pro career, and that was the case again this season. The power forward scored 3 goals with 2 assists in 13 games with the Swamp Rabbits, playing his last game on November 27th.

Kantor is still on the Greenville roster but has played just 46 games in three pro seasons.

Troy Donnay, D, 22

Troy Donnay is in his first professional season after an overage season with the OHL’s Erie Otters in 2014-15. Signed to a three-year, entry-level contract as an undrafted free agent after attending the Rangers’ prospect camp in 2013, his professional potential appears limited but he has enjoyed some success with the Swamp Rabbits and is a huge defender at 6’7″.

After seeing regular ice time with Greenville this year he will push for a lower pairing slot with the Wolf Pack in 2016-17. With two years left on his original contract, he is still a project with time to develop.

Norfolk Admirals

Samuel Noreau, D, 23

Another third-year pro who is toiling in the ECHL, Samuel Noreau’s pro impact — if there will be one — will be that of an enforcer heavyweight. Drafted out of the QMJHL following his second year with Baie-Comeau in 2011, he is a big defenseman (6’5″, 225) who showed some offensive promise but has never been able to translate that potential to production.

Second on Greenville with 114 penalty minutes last year, Noreau was loaned to Norfolk this season and was briefly with the Evansville Icemen in his third ECHL season. His five goals and 11 assists this season were both career highs, as was his 164 penalty minutes in 60 games.

He appears to be a Rangers’ prospect on paper only at this point.

Follow Tony Piscotta on Twitter via @Piscottas_Way

 

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