Projects prevalent in New York Rangers Top 20 prospects

By Mike Farkas
Adam Huska - Green Bay Gamblers - New York

Photo: One of the biggest risers among the New York Rangers prospects, Adam Huska was the USHL’s top goaltender this season (courtesy Green Bay Gamblers).

 

 

Going to at least the Eastern Conference Final round in three of the past five seasons does not come without some collateral damage. For the New York Rangers, and many other teams in contention, it has come at the cost of some prospects and draft picks.

Aleksi Saarela and Anthony Duclair would easily be top-5 prospects in this group, not to mention the multitude of first and second round picks that have been dealt over this span. What’s left is a lot of longshot prospects and some lower-end depth players. The Rangers have picked in the top 50 once (41st in 2015 – Ryan Gropp) since using the 28th pick on Brady Skjei back in 2012 and, barring a trade, they won’t select in the top 50 this draft either as they have invested their first and second round picks in previous trades. That’s the price of doing business in the NHL sometimes, but that puts a lot of pressure on the scouting staff to get creative with the remains.

20. (NR) Tyler Nanne, D, 6.5D
Drafted: 5th round, 142nd overall, 2014

Tyler Nanne last played hockey more than a year ago with the Madison Capitols of the USHL. He tallied seven goals and six assists in the final 29 games with the club. Since then, medical issues have kept him off the ice but the flashy offensive defenseman plans to transfer to the University of Minnesota and restart his hockey career.

The hard-shooting right-hander is a converted forward, turned agile defenseman. He is certainly a project pick and his time away from the ice obviously does not help to mitigate concerns about his development, nor would having to sit out an additional year due to transferring schools – though a waiver situation could arise if all parties can agree.

19. (17) Steven Fogarty, C, 6.0C
Drafted: 3rd round, 72nd overall, 2011

A four-year player at the University of Notre Dame, Steven Fogarty comes into the pro game with a lot of contests under his belt. Fogarty is a big right-handed center with a good head for the game. He was not a big scorer in college, though he set career highs in goals (10), assists (13) and points (23) as a senior in 2015-16.

The Edina, Minnesota native has enough size and smarts to carve out a niche as a checking line center. His skating has improved enough over the years that he can keep up at the pro level. A dedicated effort to being a role player should be enough to keep the 23 year old around.

18. (20) Daniel Bernhardt, LW/RW, 6.5D
Drafted: 4th round, 119th overall, 2015

After taking a dip into junior hockey in North America, Daniel Bernhardt will return to his native Sweden in 2016-17. The long winger finished the season with the London Knights (OHL) playing mostly on their fourth line. To that end, his 11 points in 29 games will leave some questioning his offensive upside. However, offensive potential might be all he brings to the table at this point.

Bernhardt has a terrific release, the puck jumps right off of his stick and he goes to the posts to find loose change regularly. That said, he is not much for physical play and is nonchalant defensively. The 6-foot-3 forward still lacks a little coordination with his skating. Even at 20 years old, there is still something of an awkward stride there and his first few steps are not pretty. His ice time back in the SHL might be dependent on how good of an offseason of training he has.

17. (NR) Calle Andersson, D, 6.0C
Drafted: 4th round, 119th overall, 2012

Lanky Swedish defenseman Calle Andersson has had an interesting development route, coming from the Malmo junior program before going to Farjestad at the SHL level, back to Malmo (Allsvenskan), in 2014-15 he played for two NLA teams in Switzerland and finally played in Hartford last season.

Andersson pocketed five goals and nine points in 43 games while playing a depth role with his newest club. Andersson is a mobile blueliner with a quality shot. The 22 year old has good on-ice awareness and is capable at both ends of the ice. Not that he has a ton of puck skills, but his biggest knock is his overall lack of strength and how easy he is to knock off his skates – he looks like all arms and legs on the ice.

16. (4) Brandon Halverson, G, 7.0D
Drafted: 2nd round, 59th overall, 2014

American-born goaltender Brandon Halverson has had his ups and downs throughout his junior career, like most goalies would. His averaging stats remained on a pretty similar plane in 2015-16, with a 3.00 goals against average and .907 save percentage in 43 games. Even the good statistical showing at the World Juniors (giving up short of two-thirds of a goal per game in two appearances) is asterisked by the relatively weak competition he faced (Switzerland and Denmark, respectively). With a contract already in hand from the previous summer, Halverson did not have to fight for his pro life, he could just work on his technique and help carry an average Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds team as far as he could.

Halverson’s technique is based in butterfly teachings, but it still has a lot of holes in it. His predecessor, Matt Murray, does not let a lot of goals get in through his body – a trait that Halverson has yet to fully master as a big guy. Though an excellent stickhandler – likely the best in the OHL – Halverson has a lot of trouble tracking the puck at very acute angles or even “negative” angles (i.e. behind the net). His shuffle ability in the crease is controlled, but could stand to get much stronger, especially given how far back he normally sits in the net. He needs to get better with his glove and his blocker, even as a low setup goaltender. That said, he may be a dead ringer for Rangers goalie coach Benoit Allaire to help tidy up.

15. (13) Mackenzie Skapski, G, 6.5C
Drafted: 6th round, 170th overall, 2013

It has been a rough 12 month stretch for Mackenzie Skapski, especially after playing in the NHL in his first pro season. He underwent surgery on his hip that set him up for a wonky 2015-16 season. With Magnus Hellberg unrelenting in the AHL crease by the time Skapski was in shape, the former Kootenay netminder spent much of his time in Greenville (ECHL). It was a tough adjustment for the young goaltender to go from workhorse (133 games, including 65 during the 2012-13 regular season, in his last two junior seasons) to playing just 73 games in three leagues over the next two seasons combined.

With a big frame and pretty good mobility in the crease, Skapski has some tools at his disposal to be a player. He does a better job than most young goalies at keeping his shoulders up and back and his chest high when moving laterally. He needs to continue work on his rebound control and not lose his angles against speedy attacks.

14. (NR) Adam Huska, G, 6.5C
Drafted: 7th round, 184th overall, 2015

The Rangers necessarily needed another goaltending prospect, but Adam Huska may make them look pretty smart for taking one. The Slovak netminder was the best goaltender in the USHL for Green Bay with a 1.82 goals against average and .931 save percentage. His goals against average was so razor thin that it has not been seen in the league in 14 years (among 20-game players). Huska represented Slovakia at the 2016 World Junior Championships and acquitted himself just fine behind a fairly poor group, but even he could not withstand the barrage he took from the highest class of teams in the tournament.

Huska is a low-setup goaltender who makes his stops with good positioning and rebound control. He does a fair job of not letting pucks through him, keeping his hands very low towards his pads in the butterfly. He’s listed at 6-foot-3, but it would be tough to guess that considering how forward his shoulders are in his stance; as a result, he leaves the upper reaches of the net a little too open sometimes. He is very controlled in his movements in the crease and is never outside of his goal posts, however, his shuffle ability is still in need of improvement. Huska is enrolled at the University of Connecticut for next season, an unlikely place for an NHLer to come out of – but with modern goaltending how it is, he certainly has potential to be a pro.

13. (12) Cristoval “Boo” Nieves, C/LW, 6.5C
Drafted: 2nd round, 59th overall, 2012

Four-year University of Michigan standout, Boo Nieves has finally signed on with the New York Rangers. He posted remarkably consistent numbers in his four years in Ann Arbor: 29, 21, 28 and 31 points, respectively, across his collegiate seasons, including exactly 21 assists in three of four years. Nieves looked impressive in his short, late-season stint with Hartford, featuring prominently and scoring five points in just eight games.

The American forward has a 6-foot-3, 200 pound frame and a really strong skating base to boot. A better than average passer and playmaker, Nieves still might be better served on the wing in the pro game, as opposed to center. While he shows flashes of brilliance, Nieves never really took the next step in terms of skill level. It is yet to be determined what his role will be, but the organization will probably want to give him every chance to succeed in the AHL to find out exactly what they have in the 22 year old.

12. (NR) Nicklas Jensen, RW, 7.0D
Acquired via trade with Vancouver, January 2016

The New York Rangers acquired this former Vancouver first round pick in exchange for speedy but flailing winger Emerson Etem back in January. Jensen was never recalled to New York and finished the year scoring 15 goals and 25 points in 41 games on a Hartford squad that was in desperate need of an offensive jolt. Jensen is a regular in all international competition for Denmark, but has yet to establish himself as an NHL regular, having played just 24 games (all with Vancouver) over the past four seasons.

Jensen has speed and a shot, but not a lot else to his game. He is 6-foot-2 and rangy; when he does have the puck, he has one of the best shots in the pipeline and chooses to whip it on net from anywhere on the rink. He also exhibits some world-class finishing moves near the net. Unfortunately, Jensen does not have a lot of use in a traditional bottom-six group of forwards and his game-to-game consistency can be quite frustrating. Unless he turns his game around, it seems more likely that he will return to Europe at some point in the near future.

11. (12) Sergei Zborovskiy, D, 6.5C
Drafted: 3rd round, 79th overall, 2015

Large-framed Russian import Sergei Zborovskiy has completed his second season with the Regina Pats of the WHL. Given the amount of minutes he logs, his eight goals and 25 points is a bit underwhelming, but he was a plus-15 (for the second straight season) on a team that exhibited a negative goal differential on the year. Despite playing in the CHL Subway Super Series, Zborovskiy was a late cut from the World Junior Championships team in December.

Certainly not in the mold of a Dmitry Orlov or Nikita Nesterov, Zborovskiy is a defensive-minded defenseman who is very strong at getting good body position on attacking forwards. He is pretty low on puck skills overall, but he can make a timely pinch to keep plays alive. Defensively, he is a very smart player who uses his body and his reach very well and can even sniff out ways to diffuse sustained attack time against by not running around aimlessly – as some green players tend to do. The young Russian is a very calm player, almost comatose at times, as he turns away a lot of attacks. With added experience and strength, he will be even better at clearing out the front of the net, as that can be one of the last defensive traits to really fully form.

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