Rangers Top 20 prospects

By Leslie Treff

Top 20 at a Glance

1.Henrik Lundqvist, G
2.Petr Prucha, RW
3.Marc Staal, D
4.Al Montoya, G
5.Jarkko Immonen, C
6.Nigel Dawes, LW
7.Lauri Korpikoski, LW
8.Hugh Jessiman, RW
9.Brandon Dubinsky, C
10.Michael Sauer, D
11.Thomas Pock, D
12.Tom Pyatt, C
13.Bruce Graham, C
14.Ivan Baranka, D
15.Darin Olver, C
16.Marc-Andre Cliche, C
17.Bryce Lampman, D
18.Ryan Russell, C
19.Ryan Callahan, RW
20.Dane Byers, LW

Key: Rank (former rank) Name, Position, Age
How Acquired, Grade

1. (1) Henrik Lundqvist, G, Age: 23
Acquired: 7th Round, 205 overall (2000) Grade: 9.0B

Although the Rangers were looking to bring Lundqvist along slowly in his first NHL season, he proved ready for the No. 1 goaltender responsibilities early in the 2005-06 campaign. At the Olympic break, he has played in 40 games, and is second in the NHL in save percentage (.927) and third in goals against average (2.09). A candidate for the Calder Trophy as best rookie NHL performer this season, Lundqvist played the previous five years for Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League. His performance this year is not too surprising, because in 2004-05, Lundqvist led the Swedish Elite League in wins (33), GAA (1.79), save percentage (.936), and shutouts (6). With excellent lateral movement and a great catching glove, barring injury, Lundqvist should be the Rangers No.1 netminder for many years to come.

2. (12) Petr Prucha, RW, Age: 23
Acquired: 8th Round, 240 overall (2002) Grade: 8.5B

Forty-nine games into his rookie season, Prucha has registered 34 total points (25 goals, 9 assists), and is currently eighth among rookies in scoring and fourth in goals. The fleet-footed, diminutive right winger has soft hands and always appears to be around the net to wrist the puck past an opposing goalie. Prior to suffering a medial collateral ligament injury to his right knee on Feb. 4, Prucha was consistently among the top five rookies in total offensive production. He is still maturing as a player and fellow Czech Republic Ranger teammates have helped Prucha’s adjustment to North America. Prior to coming to the NHL for the 2005-06 season, Prucha played five years for Pardubice of the Czech Republic Extraleague, and although he did not show the same offensive prowess that he is now demonstrating during the 2004-05 Czech Republic regular season, in last year’s Extraleague playoffs, Prucha registered 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists) in 16 games.

3. (3) Marc Staal, D, Age: 19
Acquired: 1st Round, 12 overall (2005) Grade: 8.5C

Staal showed that he is a force on the ice when he almost single-handedly shut down the Russian offense in the gold medal game of the 2006 U20 World Junior Championships. Named the best defenseman in the tournament, it was just the latest in a series of accolades for this 6’4, 205 defenseman. Staal is currently ranked tenth in scoring among defensemen in the Ontario Hockey League, with 43 points in 45 games (10 goals, 33 assists) and is captain of his junior team, the Sudbury Wolves. Expected to have a good chance of making the jump to professional hockey next season, Staal’s positioning, hockey intelligence, and work ethic are excellent, but he still needs to work on his shot and strength to play at the NHL level.

4. (2) Al Montoya, G, Age: 21
Acquired: 1st Round, 6 overall (2004) Grade: 8.0B

In his rookie AHL season, Montoya is putting up excellent numbers for the Hartford WolfPack. He is currently ranked fifth in the AHL for goalies, and second among rookies, with a 2.47 GAA and a .913 save percentage. Montoya has compiled a record of 17-5-1, with two shutouts, in the 27 games in which he has appeared. Last season Montoya appeared in 40 games for the University of Michigan, compiling a 30-7-3 record (2.52 GAA, .895 save percentage). Montoya has made a good adjustment to professional play.

He has been working hard on positioning this season, and although Montoya still can be too aggressive in challenging the shooter, his improvement is palpable and growing through the 2005-06 season. If he continues to develop his game, Montoya should have no trouble becoming a long-term number No. 1 NHL goaltender.

5. (4) Jarkko Immonen, C, Age: 23
Acquired: March 3, 2004 Trade with Toronto, Grade: 7.0B

Immonen is in his first year of North American hockey (though not classified as a rookie), and is currently leading the AHL Hartford WolfPack in scoring with 48 points (24 goals, 24 assists) in 53 games. He has a plus/minus rating of +7, and on Feb. 4, Immonen scored five goals in one game against Portland. Prior to coming to North America, Immonen played for JYP of the Finnish League, and in 2004-05, the 6’0, 209 lb center registered 47 points (19 goals, 28 assists) in 54 games for the Finnish team. Known as a creative playmaker with excellent vision on the ice, Immonen has performed extremely well this season and is a top candidate for promotion to the Rangers.

6. (7) Nigel Dawes, LW, Age: 21
Acquired: 5th Round, 149 overall (2003) Grade: 7.0B

Dawes is the top rookie scorer on the AHL Hartford WolfPack this season. With 42 total points (23 goals, 19 assists) and a plus/minus of +17 in 50 games thus far, Dawes has not missed a step in moving from the Western Hockey League to professional hockey. In his 2004-05 junior hockey season, Dawes registered 76 points (50 goals, 26 assists) in 63 games, and ranked first on the Kootenay Ice in goals, points, power-play goals and game-winning goals. Although just 5’8, Dawes compensates for his lack of size with his immense skill, hockey sense, and work ethic. He is gifted with speed and soft hands, and has worked hard this season learning positioning and puck control. Dawes is a top candidate for promotion to the Rangers.

7. (6) Lauri Korpikoski, LW, Age: 19
Acquired: 1st Round, 19 overall (2004) Grade: 7.5C

Korpikoski is in his second season playing with TPS Turku of the SM-Liiga, the top Finnish league. In 43 games thus far, Korpikoski has registered seven points, including three goals. The 19-year-old was Finland’s star player at the U20 World Junior Championships. In seven tournament games, Korpikoski garnered an impressive six points (1 goal, 5 assists). A speedy, two-way player, Korpikoski is passionate about the game and works hard on every shift. He is expected to debut in North America next season, and if his performance in the recent WJC is any indication, his skill set will transfer well to the North American professional ranks.

8. (5) Hugh Jessiman, RW, Age: 21
Acquired: 1st Round, 12 overall (2003) Grade: 7.5C

Jessiman has had a rough year transitioning to professional hockey. The former Dartmouth winger was injured almost all of last season, and decided last July to sign a professional contract rather than to return to the college ranks. Jessiman did not have an impressive training camp and was sent to Hartford of the AHL to begin the season. Jessiman was not ready to play at that level, so the Rangers organization sent him to Charlotte of the ECHL to gain confidence. In the 25 games Jessiman played at Charlotte, he registered 23 points (13 goals, 10 assists), and since returning to Hartford, the 6’5, 220 lb winger has played in 13 games and garnered eight points (3 goals, 5 assists). His confidence has returned and he is much more visible around the net. A smart player with good hockey sense, Jessiman still needs to work on his positioning and play with the puck as he continues his adjustment to professional play.

9. (15) Brandon Dubinsky, C, Age: 19
Acquired: 2nd Round, 60 overall (2004) Grade: 7.0C

Dubinsky is having a breakout year for his Western Hockey League team, the Portland Winter Hawks. In 38 games, the Winter Hawk alternate captain has registered 54 points (18 goals, 36 assists). Prior to sustaining a knee injury on Jan. 7, he was one of the league leaders in total points. He continues to lead his team in that category, and in his first game back this past Friday, Dubinsky registered two assists. Dubinsky is a faceoff specialist, with excellent hands and good vision. Although originally projected as a third line NHLer, because he does not shy away from contact and eagerly goes into the corners to dig out pucks, Dubinsky has shown more offensive prowess in his play this year, which warrants an upward adjustment to his grade and position on the Top 20.

10. (8) Michael Sauer, D, Age: 18
Acquired: 2nd Round, 40 overall (2005) Grade: 7.0C

Although plagued with injuries throughout his young career, Sauer keeps bouncing back to show lots of skill and promise. Currently playing for the Portland Winter Hawks, Sauer has 27 points (6 goals, 21 assists) in 45 games. Last season, Sauer was also injured and was only able to play 32 games for Portland. During those games, he registered 13 points (2 goals, 11 assists) with a plus/minus rating of +6. That performance was sufficiently impressive to garner him an invite to the evaluation camp last summer for the U20 World Junior Championships, however, his injuries kept him from attending, and, thereafter, from being named to the United States team. Sauer is a big defenseman (6’3, 208), who is solid in his own zone (his current plus/minus rating is +2), and has good passing skills. He skates well for his size, has good hockey sense and makes smart decisions with the puck. If Sauer can stay healthy, his future is very bright.

11. (13) Thomas Pock, D, Age: 24
Acquired: Signed as free agent, March 2004 Grade: 6.5C

The Rangers re-signed Pock this past summer in the hopes that he would be ready to join the NHL club this year. However, to date, Pock has only played two games with the Rangers. He has spent almost the entire season with the AHL Hartford WolfPack, registering 43 points (11 goals, 32 assists) in 48 games with a +5 plus/minus rating. Although Pock is offensively gifted and is currently second on the WolfPack in scoring, he must continue to develop his defensive skills to be successful at the NHL level. In the two games he played in New York, he appeared to be overmatched in his own end. If he continues to improve, Pock could have a successful NHL career.

12. (NR) Tom Pyatt, C, Age: 19
Acquired: 4th Round, 107 overall (2005) Grade: 7.0D

Pyatt, the Saginaw Spirit’s OHL All-Star, debuts on the Rangers Top 20 at No. 12. After impressing the Rangers’ coaching staff in training camp, Pyatt returned to junior hockey and has continued to impress all who watch him play. Thus far in 45 games, he has registered 42 points (20 goals, 22 assists), with a plus/minus rating of +1. He was recently named the Western Player of the Game in the OHL All-Star Game, after scoring two goals and far outshining any of his teammates on the ice. His experience as a leader in the OHL and as a player on the gold medal-winning Canadian U20 World Junior Championship team seems to have matured Pyatt. His offensive skills are now matched by a much more consistent effort on the ice, and he has moved into the category of a top Ranger prospect.

13. (9) Bruce Graham, C, Age: 20
Acquired: 2nd Round, 51 overall (2004) Grade: 7.0D

Graham has split this season between the AHL Hartford WolfPack and the ECHL Charlotte Checkers. Although he was expected to return to the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to play another season there, the Rangers chose to sign him to a professional contract and send him to Hartford. Last year, Graham registered 42 points (23 goals, 19 assists) in 47 games while playing for Moncton, but in Hartford, Graham was less than productive (7 points in23 games) and was not getting the ice time that he needed to adjust to the professional game. He was assigned to Charlotte on Jan. 30, and since that date, Graham has registered six assists in nine games. Graham has a large frame (6’6, 234) and is a good playmaker. Although not particularly physical, when he plants himself in front of the net, he is hard to move. Graham needs to continue to adjust to the professional game and gain confidence. He has the potential to become a second line center in the NHL.

14. (11) Ivan Baranka, D Age: 20
Acquired: 2nd Round, 50 overall (2003) Grade: 6.5C

After playing for the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey league for most of 2004-05, Baranka was signed to a Hartford Amateur Tryout Agreement last spring. In this, his first professional, season, the 20-year-old defenseman has played 45 games for Hartford and registered nine points (3 goal, 6 assists), including one power-play goal. Baranka has two points thus far this month, but more importantly for the stay-at-home defenseman, Baranka has a plus/minus rating of +5 in February. Baranka is a strong skater, who sees the ice very well, and if he can continue to improve his defensive zone coverage, Baranka will have a successful NHL career.

15. (14) Darin Olver, RW, Age: 20
Acquired: 2nd Round, 36 overall (2004) Grade: 6.5C

A junior at Northern Michigan University (CCHA), Olver, a natural center, has recently been moved to the wing. In 30 games this season, he has registered 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists), including five game-winning goals. In 2004-05, Olver played in all of Northern Michigan’s 40 games, and was tied for first in the CCHA and fourth in the nation with 34 assists. Used to being successful at every level, Olver is an excellent skater, with a good work ethic. Despite being slim (6’0, 170), Olver has shown a willingness to take the body and block shots. He also has very good passing and shooting skills, which will serve him well when he makes the jump to the professional game.

16. (NR) Marc-Andre Cliché, RW, Age:18
Acquired: 2nd Round, 56 overall (2005) Grade: 7.0D

Cliché is in his second year playing for the Lewiston MAINEiacs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He played though a serious shoulder injury last year and only registered eight points in 19 games during the 2004-05 season. Cliché has recovered this season, and in 53 games, the Lewiston alternate captain has garnered 70 points (28 goals, 42 assists). He is an excellent skater with soft hands and deadly shot, who uses his size (6’1, 180) on the ice. If Cliché continues to develop his raw skills, he has the potential to become a second line winger.

17. (16) Bryce Lampman, D, Age: 23
Acquired: 4th Round, 113 overall (2001) Grade: 6.0C

Lampman played in eight games for the Rangers in the 2003-04 season and one game earlier this year. However, the 23-year-old defenseman has played most of the last three seasons in Hartford of the AHL. In 2004-05, he registered 25 points (7 goals, 18 assists) in 74 games. This year he returned to Hartford after Rangers training camp and has accumulated five points (2 goals, 3 assists) in 11 games, with a plus/minus of +6. In mid-November 2005, Lampman injured his left shoulder and has not played since. Over his four years of professional hockey, Lampman has proven to be a steady defenseman, who takes care of his own end. Promotion to the NHL on a permanent basis will depend on full healing of his shoulder and aggressive, solid defensive play.

18. (NR) Ryan Russell, C, Age: 18
Acquired: 7th Round, 211 overall (2005) Grade: 6.5D

Russell, who is having an outstanding season with the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League, debuts on the Rangers Top 20 at No. 18. His 64 points (30 goals, 34 assists) in 61 games ranks Russell ninth in scoring in the WHL. However, Russell is no stranger to offensive production. Last season, he registered 53 points (32 goals, 21 assists) in 66 games, while posting a plus/minus rating of +27. He is an excellent skater, with good hands and great hockey smarts, who plays a gritty game. However, Russell needs to get stronger to become a professional player (he is currently 5’10, 162). If he continues to work on his strength and offensive production, Russell has the skill set to make it to the NHL.

19. (NR) Ryan Callahan, RW, Age: 20
Acquired: 4th Round, 127 overall (2004) Grade: 6.0C

Callahan chose to return to his junior team, the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League, this year rather than accept an AHL contract. The overage team captain has proven how prolific he is by leading the Storm in points, goals, plus/minus, and shorthanded goals. Callahan has registered 69 points (43 goals, 27 assists) in 52 games, with 17 power-play and five shorthanded goals and a plus/minus of +21. He has always been a good two-way player, with a nose for the net. However, although Callahan has improved all his statistics this season, it is not clear that he will garner the NHL contract he seeks next fall.

20. (NR) Dane Byers, LW, Age: 20
Acquired: 2nd Round, 48 overall (2004) Grade: 6.0C

Byers is playing in his fourth season for the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League. He has always dominated with his physical presence (6’3, 194) and can intimidate with his tough play. This year he has added offensive production to his repertoire, more than doubling the number of points he has registered in previous seasons. His 42 points (20 goals, 22 assists) in 58 games lead all Raiders. His penalty minutes are down slightly from last year, but he still does not shy away from a fight. If Byers continues to improve his offensive production and concentration, he will make an easy transition to the professional ranks.

Missing the Cut

Several players fell just below the Top 20 list that are worthy of mention. Hartford center Dwight Helminen has registered 36 points (21 goals, 15 assists) in 51 games, while maintaining a plus/minus ratio of +17. Saskatoon Blade Zdenek Bahensky (52 games, 44 points, +5) and Calgary Hitmen Brodie Dupont (60 games, 42 points, -1) are both playing well in the Western Hockey League. Finally, Joey Crabb at Colorado College (32 games, 34 points) and Greg Moore (32 games, 33 points, +9) at University of Maine are excelling in the NCAA.

Note: Dominic Moore, who has just two more games before graduation by Hockey’s Future criteria, was not included in the list.

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