On the Rangers roster right now, one will find several emerging talents who are all under the age of 25. Wingers Radek Dvorak and Jan Hlavac showed they could net 30 goals ands 60 points at the pro level, and they are only expected to improve. Mike York showed that he could play in situations other then offensively and may just be the most versatile member of the whole team. Tomas Kloucek jumped from AHL rookie team member and all-star to a solid NHL rookie who is logging close to 20 minutes a game and may earn a spot on the NHL’s All Rookie squad. Kim Johnsson battled slumps but improved upon his point totals and defensive play from his freshman campaign, while Dale Purinton made the seemingly impossible jump from the AHL to a semi-regular spot on the Rangers blue line. Mike Mottau learned the pro game and after a successful season in the minors finds himself playing the point with his idol Brian Leetch. Peter Smrek was acquired in a late season deal and looks like he may be a quality defenseman who isn’t always noticed but always gets the job done. Most importantly once forgotten first round pick Manny Malhotra returned to the NHL having learned a new position which lately has been put to excellent use. While not only chipping in with the odd point or so, Manny has added speed, energy and size to a line that appears to possibly stick as the first line next season. At the very least the combination has shown the Rangers brass what Malhotra and Dvorak are capable of with a little development.
Yet with all the developments at the NHL level, progress at the minor, junior and collegiate levels were mixed. Some players excelled, others fell. Some played for bad teams, others for good teams. Stefan Cherneski, the only true power forward prospect finally retired due to knee problems. Below is my rankings for the Rangers prospects following the 2000/2001 season.
1. Jamie Lundmark: Lundmark scored almost as much as Brendl, played twice as hard and on a team that was perhaps half as good. Jamie elevated his game and that of Seattle’s to a new level after his arrival in a trade. Unfortunately for Jamie, Seattle was not really that much better of a team then the one he left in Moose Jaw. However it is often the kids playing for bad teams that learn to work the hardest and in Jamie’s case it will certainly benefit him. He played all 3 forward positions and played with an array of linemates and yet still managed to average one and half points per game. With numbers like that one has to wonder what he would have done on a team like Red Deer or Calgary. Jamie played a solid all around game despite his plus/minus rating, which is probably the most deceiving statistic in all of sports. Lundmark plays a hybrid game, sometimes you think Yzerman, other times you think Roenick, yet you can see Mike York in him too with a never say die attitude. Potentially he has a higher upside then York and is a few inches and pounds heavier. Playing currently at 6’0 and 190 pounds the slick forward needs to add a little more weight still in order to handle the NHL.
2. Pavel Brendl: Perhaps ranking him second is a bit harsh, 1A might be a little better. No player outside of the NHL has more offensive upside then Brendl. Calgary wasn’t as strong as year’s past and Brendl’s numbers declined, but he was still the most dangerous player to face in the WHL. The main reason for ranking him second is simply that he is more of a wildcard then Lundmark. The statements said two years ago can be said again today about Pavel, he will either net 50 goals in the NHL or he won’t even crack a lineup. Pavel has grown a lot this season but still has a long way to go, his fitness is improved but if he trained half as hard as Lundmark or former prospect Stefan Cherneski, he’d already be netting goals in the big show in his sophomore year. A strong playoff performance would be a good showing to a Rangers’ brass that feels Lundmark is the best prospect in the organization. Pavel has great size which makes him hard to stop, at 6’2 and 205 pounds he still has another 10 pounds to add before he is done growing. Brendl’s skating is still not the greatest but his improved conditioning makes him much better than average. Brendl can play either wing position and even saw some time at center, but appears the most comfortable playing the off wing side.
3. Mike Mottau: Because he hasn’t played more then 25 games, he is still a prospect. Should be on the big club to stay next season, but time will tell. Isn’t overly big but is learning to play the angles better to make up for his lack of size. Was slightly oversold by the previous front office but still has a ton of talent. Might not have all the stuff needed to be a number one guy but certainly has the skills to be a harder working Mathieu Schneider. Potentially a future team captain, Mottau showed a lot of poise and maturity down in Hartford and was a leader in the locker room.
4. Filip Novak: Probably the best defenseman in the WHL this season. Played in every situation, logged a ton of minutes and continued to adjust to the lifestyle of North America. Was never afraid to join the rush and be the quarterback, yet he was almost never out of place defensively. Novak probably even has a chance to become a number one defenseman depending on how he develops, at this stage though it is still a bit too early to tell. Filip definitely has more upside then Mottau, and if he can continue to develop he might be ready after next year. Was bigger then his listing of 6’0, 174 as most teams listed him at the draft as 6’1, 184. Is probably closer to 6’2 right now but needs to fill out more. Frame wise he is similar to Kim Johnsson, so picturing him in the 205 pound range isn’t far fetched. Is still a relative sleeper.
5. Johan Holmqvist: Had an up and down season but got far more blame for it then he deserved. Considering he was new to North America and playing for a Hartford team in a restructuring stage, he played very well. There were nights when he was simply hung out to dry by his defense and was the victim of many 2 on 1′s and 3 on 2′s. Still should be the Rangers goalie of the future and that will be proved as he continues to develop. Has very good size and once he learns to play his angles better he will be a tough goalie to find a hole on.
6. Peter Smrek: Another defenseman who is still a prospect because he hasn’t played in 25 games. A solid two-way defenseman with size and strength. There isn’t too much flash to Peter’s game and unless you are his coach you don’t really notice how good he plays. Not as offensively gifted as Leetch, Johnsson or Mottau, nor as physical as Kloucek, but Smrek seems to be the cross breed of the the two styles. Peter is still rough around the edges but certainly has the potential to be a top 5 guy.
7. Dominic Moore: The Harvard center is perhaps one of the most complete centers in college hockey. Moore does a little bit of everything and gets little credit for it. At 6’0, 185 he certainly isn’t a power center but he finishes his checks and plays with some grit. He is at a stacked position but he might look impressive as a LW, if fellow collegiate centerman and Ranger prospect David Inman played as hard as Dominic he’d be a blue chipper.
8. Henrik Lundqvist: Yet another European goaltender, Henrik helped his stock at the World Junior Championships. Made the jump to a new team and struggled but he is also only 19 years old. Perhaps the biggest dark horse of the top ten, you might never hear from him. Next season will be a big year for Henrik as it will help to determine how much his game has progressed now that he can only play with the older players of Sweden.
9. Pat Aufiero: Didn’t have the season expected of him, but then again his whole team was sub-par. A solid all around defenseman, Pat filled out a bit more this year and took more of a leadership role at Boston University. Ranger defenseman compares to a young Doug Lidster.
10. Garret Bembridge: Hard working winger averaged more then a point per game but might not be offered a contract. Generously listed at 6’0, 185 pounds, Bembridge isn’t fast enough or good enough defensively to overcome his lack of size. Still, Garret has played on a lame duck team his entire junior career and could turn out to be a bit of a surprise.
Pat Leahy: good size and wheels but not the power forward everyone thinks. Looks like a poor man’s Mike Knuble and that doesn’t say much. Some games he looks great while others he looks lost. Based on size though he has enough skills to be maybe a third or fourth liner.
Jeff Dessner: Played decent but considering he is already 24 he is getting older for a legit prospect. He needs at least one year in the AHL and even then he is probably a bubble player.
Evgeny Gusakov: Anytime you are a 6’6 forward you are going to take notice, but Evgeny didn’t really have much to show. His skating was painfully slow and his shot was almost nonexistent. He is no longer on this side of the ocean and he probably isn’t ever coming back.
Nathan Martz: The key word is time. This kid is a big, smooth skating center. He took strides in his freshman year and the Rangers think that by the time he is done with college in 3 years they may just have a real player on their hands.
Brandon Snee: Carried the whole Union team on his shoulders. He has good size and reflexes and probably would be one of the top college goalies on another team. Keep an eye on him.
Jason LaBarbera: Went from the NHL to the dog house this season. The key to his game is conditioning. Jason, simply put, is in horrible shape. At 6’3, 220 he would best be served playing about 15 pounds lighter. He has such great size that he fills the net. His physical fitness hurt him this year and his future rests on him.
Premsyl Duben: Late round pick does nothing fancy and plays a positional game. You’d love to see him use his size but he seems completely lost in the American game.
Dan Eberly: Played a nasty, in your face game and actually chipped in some points. Might be something to watch if he keeps improving. His skating needs a bit of work.
David Inman: Is as talented as just about any prospect the Rangers have, yet he can’t seem to put it all together. He has been moved to LW and still he can’t even function as a one trick pony. At 6’1, 200 pounds he could be dominate but he almost never shows up. You see the skating, the size, the stick handling and you drool. You see the game, the confusion, the misread plays and you slump in your seat. As Inman enters his senior year it is doubtful he will ever “get it”.
Jeff Ulmer: Basically a plug in player, got called up simply because there was no one ahead of him. Doesn’t have NHL size or skills but has a big heart. Reality is reality though and Ulmer is a third line AHLer.
Burke Henry: Played a good second season and probably deserved a call up. Problem is that there are guys ahead of him on the depth chart. Isn’t bad though, plays physical and has some offensive upside. The emergence of Mottau and Kloucek killed Henry’s stock and so he was viewed as Hartford’s third best defenseman. Might get a chance next season and could even surprise at camp.
Brandon Dietrich: Looked lost…didn’t score, didn’t fight. If you believe this kid is 6’0, 190 you’re dreaming.
Boyd Kane: A ton of untapped potential. Doesn’t always play his size and doesn’t bury the puck often enough to get away with it. Probably a fringe player who gets the odd call up.
Vitali Yeremeyev: Came out of nowhere and is slowly fading back into nowhere. Was a good fill-in but at 26 is hardly a goalie of the future. Not as talented as Holmqvist though he had better numbers. Probably shipped elsewhere this summer.
Wes Jarvis: If he snapped in the AHL the way he did in the ECHL he might be scary, but Wes plays like he is 5’8 way too much. He is raw and should be an NHL’er but he needs to start showing the consistency soon or else. At 6’5, 230 pounds there is no reason he shouldn’t be knocking people senseless in the AHL. Next year will be a deciding year for him.
Johan Asplund: Was good but not great and thus his stock fell. Still has the potential to be something special but he would be wise to try to come over to North America.
Tomi Kallarsson: Rangers have tried getting him over for two years now and see his game very similar to Tomas Kloucek. No one really knows if he even wants to come to America anymore.
Stefan Lundqvist: Big and skilled, Stefan is viewed as a long term project. He continues to develop his game and the Rangers have a serious interest in bringing him over. Might wait another year before making the jump.
Petter Henning: A thick, work the corners winger. Offense is a bit lacking but there is effort. Long shot, though one to keep an eye on.
Sven Helfenstein: A very good, but very small Swiss forward. The main thing holding him back is his size, listed at 5’11 he looks a lot closer to 5’9. Doesn’t have the greatest wheels but is a smart player and that’s what makes him look good. The Rangers are keeping an eye on him and not expecting too much, though they wouldn’t be surprised if he actually turned into something worthwhile someday.
Arto Laatikainen: Plays solid, defensive hockey. Makes his defensive partner look better and can be put in any situation. Still rough around the edges and probably 3 years away from coming over.
Bryce Wandler: Added for depth, Wandler worked hard and might actually be in a good position come next season. If there is an opening in Hartford Bryce would get the nod over LaBarbera simply because he works so much harder. Isn’t without skill and may just be the sleeper of the goalie prospects.
Jay Dardis: Works the corners and takes the body but can’t score to save his life. About as offensively gifted as a rock.