Chris Kreider remains top prospect for New York Rangers

By Leslie Treff

Christian Thomas - New York Rangers

Photo: Winger Christian Thomas is one of several Rangers forward prospects who are playing their first season of professional hockey. (courtesy of Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

The New York Rangers boast excellent forward depth, with the likes of Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, and Mats Zuccarello all seeing some time on the NHL squad this season. The Rangers also have several other prospects who are close to making an impact in the NHL, including Christian Thomas, Jesper Fasth, and Dylan McIlrath.

Outside of the potential stars in the top of the ranking, the Rangers have decent depth at every position, however they are particularly deep on wing.

1. (1) Chris Kreider, LW, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 19th overall, 2009

Now in his first full season of professional hockey, Kreider is progressing, but not as quickly as some in the Rangers front office had hoped. With excellent hands, a lightning release and great speed, he has the potential to be a top line or even an elite player.

Raw when he was drafted out of prep hockey, Kreider spent three years at Boston College post-draft. He started slowly in his freshman year, but came on during the last two season, helping the Eagles to an NCAA championship in 2012. When Kreider joined the Rangers for the playoffs, he was very impressive aside from occasionally getting caught out of position, the young Massachusetts native showed quickness getting up the ice, as well as a willingness to play the physical game. He deftly used his stick to block passes and demonstrated soft hands, scoring five goals and adding two assists in 18 playoff games.

Penciled in to be an NHL regular this season, Kreider began the 2012-13 campaign as a member of the AHL Connecticut Whale due to the lockout. It was a rough adjustment to the professional game, which continued when he was called to New York after the lockout ended. Reassigned to the Whale in late February, Kreider spent about one month in the AHL, giving a hint of what he may produce in the NHL in the future in eight games, he potted seven goals and one assist, while playing a tough game. After another quick NHL recall showed Kreider was still not NHL-ready, he was returned to Connecticut for what will most likely be through the Whale's playoff run. Expect to see Kreider get another good luck next fall in training camp.
 
2. (2) J.T. Miller, LW, 7.5B
Drafted 1st round, 15th overall, 2011

A natural center, Miller is in his rookie professional season, and has been playing on the wing since becoming a pro. He started the season with the AHL Connecticut Whale and began to become an offensive threat in December when he left for the U20 World Championships in Russia. Tied for top scorer among the Americans in the tournament, Miller recorded two goals and seven assists for the Gold Medal winning U.S. team. He was tied for second among all players in assists in the tournament. In January, Miller returned to the Whale, but he was a different player. He was brimming with confidence and appeared ready for the NHL's physical play. In early February, Miller was called-up to the Rangers, and has impressed the coaches with his play. Although he is not giving the team much offensive production as yet, he has demonstrated the physical skills to play at this level.    

3. (3) Dylan McIlrath, D, 7.0B
Drafted 1st round, 10th overall, 2010

McIlrath endured a terrible knee injury last summer, which delayed his first appearance as a pro. Drafted with the highest pick the Rangers have had since 2004, McIlrath is a big, tough, in-your-face defenseman. He played in his first game in late December and recorded his first of 10 professional fights this season. Very raw when drafted, the Rangers saw in McIlrath a clear-the-crease defenseman that the team had not had in many years.

He has progressed nicely over the last three seasons, showing toughness and leadership, however, McIlrath needs continued work before being NHL-ready. The Rangers do not want to rush the big defenseman; expect him to spend most, if not all, of the 2013-14 season in the AHL.

4. (NR) Mats Zuccarello, LW, 7.0B
Signbed as free agent, March 28, 2013

Speedy, small, gritty, with great hands, Mats Zuccarello has brought an energizing presence to the Rangers since he re-signed with the organization in late March. Originally signed to a two-year contract in May of 2010, Zuccarello spent almost his entire two-year commitment with the AHL team. When it finally appeared that he adjusted to the smaller North American rink in the Spring of 2012, Zuccarello suffered a season-ending arm injury. This season Zuccarello signed a contract with Magnitogorsk of the KHL, where he posted 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists) in 44 regular season games. He inked a one-year deal with the Rangers following the KHL playoffs.

5. (4) Jesper Fasth, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 6th round, 157th overall, 2010

The Rangers recently announced the reassignment of Fasth to the AHL Connecticut Whale, where he has already played his first North American professional hockey game (and scored his first goal). Fasth has great hands and is a good skater, and although not big in stature, he has offensive moves that should make him difficult to shut down offensively. This past season, he skated for SEL's HV71 and posted 35 points (18 goals, 17 assists) in 47 games, after the Rangers signed him and loaned him to the team in the Spring of 2012. Expect Fasth to get a good look in Rangers' training camp next fall, but he most likely will begin the season in Connecticut.   

6. (6) Christian Thomas, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 40th overall, 2010

While much of the prospect focus has been on Kreider and Miller, Thomas has quietly been having a very good rookie professional season. Very small and offensively gifted (a goal-scorer and a good puck distributor), there was some question whether Thomas's skills would translate well to the professional game, particularly since his offensive production leveled off in his last year of junior hockey. However, Thomas has shown that he may very well be able to perform as projected at this level. His play in mid-February particularly was dynamic (six points in three games) and earned him a one game call-up to the NHL. Currently in the top 20 in scoring among active rookies on an AHL roster, expect Thomas to get a look in training camp. He is likely, however, to spend at least one more season in the AHL.

7. (5) Brady Skjei, D, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 28th overall, 2012

Skjei, who has good size and excellent vision, spent the 2012-13 season as a member of the University of Minnesota Gophers' blue line (three points, 36 games, plus-11 rating). Currently a freshman, Skjei is likely to spend three more years at the collegiate level prior to turning pro. Expected to compete for a spot on the 2014 US U20 team this summer, Skjei is early in his development. He skated in 60 games with the USNTDP Under-18 Team prior to being drafted, recording 23 points (four goals and 19 assists) and 36 penalty minutes. Additionally, Skjei has international tournament experience at the World Under 17 Challenge in Winnipeg/Portage La Prairie, MN in 2011 (four points in six games) and in the U-18 WJCs in 2012, where the United States won the gold medal.
 
8. (8) Cristoval "Boo" Nieves, C, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 59th overall, 2012

Cristoval "Boo" Nieves began his collegiate career at the University of Michigan last fall and made an excellent impression, following a very good development camp in New York last summer. Nieves uses his body well and has excellent speed in the offensive zone. The Wolverines were not a very good team this season, so Nieves's excellent freshman season (29 points in 40 games) was particularly impressive. Nieves was tied for 11th in overall CCHA scoring and placed second among freshmen. Although a natural center, expect Nieves to be playing on the wing as he moves along in his hockey career, as he is very good at crashing the net and uses his size well. Nieves will play at least one to two more seasons of college hockey prior to becoming a professional hockey player.

9. (9) Oscar Lindberg, C, 6.5C
Trade with Phoenix Coyotes, May 8, 2011

Lindberg was traded to the Rangers in 2011 in exchange for former Rangers prospect Ethan Werek. Originally drafted by Phoenix in the second round (57th overall) of the 2010 entry draft, the Rangers signed Lindberg to an entry-level contract in the summer of 2012. Loaned back to Skelleftea of the SEL, Lindberg had an excellent season 42 points (15 goals, 25 assists) in 35 regular season games. Good on faceoffs, Lindberg is expected to be mostly a defensive forward with some offensive upside when he plays professionally in North America.

10. (7) Michael St. Croix, C, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 106th overall, 2011

St. Croix had incredible statistics for the 2011-12 with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL, and continued to post very good numbers this season as the Oil Kings' alternate captain. With six game winning goals during the regular season and continuing contributions in the WHL playoffs, it is unlikely that St. Croix will play in the AHL this spring, but he is expected to don a Whale uniform next fall. Expected to be a good two-way skater who can be trusted in all situations, St. Croix continues to work on his skating and adding strength to his frame.

11. (15) Cam Talbot, G, 6.5C
Signed as free agent, March 30, 2010

In his first season as the regular starter in Connecticut, Talbot has shown that he can not only handle the job, but is a realistic choice as the eventual backup to Henrik Lundqvist. After starting the 2011-12 campaign sharing the starting AHL netminding role with Chad Johnson, Talbot proved to be the more effective of the two goaltenders. Currently carrying a 2.57 goals against average and .920 save percentage, Talbot is 25-26-1 in 53 games thus far this season (including two shutouts). Recently re-signed to a two-year contract, Talbot will likely be given a shot to backup Lundqvist in the fall of 2014, after the expiration of Marty Biron's contract.

12. (14) Marek Hrivik, LW, 7.0D
Signed as free agent, May 30, 2012

Hrivik has had difficulty staying healthy in this his rookie professional season. An excellent offensive producer when on the ice, Hrivik was signed to an entry-level contract after an excellent showing late in the Connecticut Whale's 2011-12 season. A budding power forward, with outstanding size, good speed, and a quick release, if Hrivik stays healthy he projects to be an NHL top six forward.

13. (10) Steven Fogarty, C, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 72nd overall, 2011

As a freshman at Notre Dame this season, Fogarty was able to get a glimpse of the NCCA post-season. A member of the CCHA Conference winning Fighting Irish team, Fogarty posted 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 41 games. Playing center in college, it is expected that Fogarty will be a winger in the pros.

Fogarty, who has good offensive skills, will continue working hard on his defensive game, while developing his skating over the next few seasons. He will likely complete all four years of his college eligibility prior to beginning his professional career.

14. (19) Kyle Jean, C, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, July 5, 2012

Jean was signed by the Rangers after he impressed the Rangers' coaching staff at least summer's development camp. The hard hitting, offensively oriented center had completed two years at Lake Superior State University when he signed his entry-level contract (which because of Jean's age is for two years). Jean was assigned to the AHL Connecticut Whale and had an outstanding beginning to the 2012-13 season. However, he seemed to run out of gas, as the everyday grind of professional play set in. Expected to begin season in the AHL next fall, the Rangers are hoping that Jean will regain his early season scoring touch next year.

15. (NR) Conor Allen, D, 6.5C
Signed as free agent, March 29, 2013

The Rangers signed Allen after his junior season with the University of Massachusetts Minutemen. The 6'1, 210 pound two-way defenseman posted five goals and 14 assists for 19 points in 33 games this season. He led his team in assists and points among Minutemen defensemen. A good positional blueliner, who is skilled at blocking shots, Allen was signed to an ATO by the AHL Connecticut Whale on April 3, 2013. He has appeared in one AHL game so far, managing no points and a minus-one rating.

16. (16) Shane McColgan, RW, 6.0C
Drafted Fifth round, 134th overall, 2011

Shane McColgan is a smaller winger with good offensive upside who likes to get under the skin of opposing players. Just completing his fourth junior season in the WHL, McColgan spent the 2012-13 season with the Saskatoon Blades, showing more discipline than he did in the past, and slightly improving his offensive production (66 points in 69 regular season games). The issue with McColgan continues to be his decision-making. Because Saskatoon is hosting the 2013 Memorial Cup, the Rangers will get another look at him before they have to decide whether or not to sign him to an entry-level contract.

17. (NR) Tommy Hughes, D, 6.5D
Signed as a free agent, April 1, 2013

Recently signed to an entry-level deal, Tommy Hughes is an alternate captain for the London Knights, has very good size, and is very responsible in his own zone. This season, he posted one goal (a game winner) and 15 assists, and recorded 66 penalty minutes in 67 regular season games with London. In addition, Hughes posted plus-17 rating during that time. At 6'2, 215 pounds, the 21-year-old is currently is expected to join the AHL Connecticut Whale next fall.

18. (11) Calle Andersson, D, 6.5D
Drafted 4th round, 119th overall, 2012

Andersson is a puck-moving defenseman who has the potential to post decent offensive numbers. However, he did not show any of those offensive abilities this season as a rookie and fulltime member of SEL's Farjestad. Andersson has good skating skills and vision. It is not likely, however, that he will come to North America until he posts better numbers in the SEL.

19. (12) Andrew Yogan, C, 6.5D
Drafted 4th round, 100th overall, 2010

Yogan was signed to an entry-level contract in the Spring of 2012 after spending an overage season in the OHL due to injury. The 2012-13 rookie professional season has also been up and down for Yogan, who spent more than a month (15 games) in the ECHL after being assigned to Greenville on November 29th. Yogan played well with the ECHL Road Warriors (12 points) and had a good month of March. Yogan's future within the Rangers' organization is far from secure, but he has some time to prove that he can be consistently productive for his team.  

20. (20) Scott Stajcer, G, 6.0C
Drafted 5th round, 140th overall, 2009

A favorite within the organization, the Rangers are high on Stajcer, who has spent almost his entire rookie professional season with the ECHL Greenville Road Warriors. A project, Stajcer has decent size and a good glove. He has also improved his work on staying square to the shooter and his lateral movement. Although Stajcer has been in the Rangers system for close to four years, he is in the first year of his entry level contract and will be given at least two more years to develop.