New York Rangers have several solid prospects in NCAA and Europe

By Leslie Treff

Thomas Spelling - New York Rangers

Photo: Danish forward Thomas Spelling played the 2012-13 season in Sweden with Rogle, spending most of his time in the SuperElit league. (courtesy of Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

The New York Rangers have never been afraid to sign college free agents, having already signed one defenseman, Conor Allen, to an entry-level contract this spring. Over the past couple of seasons, the Rangers additionally invite two or three potential NCAA free agent signees to development camp in late June. Last summer, Kyle Jean was signed to an entry-level contract after just such a camp.

The Rangers have eight players on their reserve list that either spent the 2012-13 season in Europe or in the NCAA. Of those eight, four skated on clubs in Europe and four on college teams. Only two of the players discussed below, Jesper Fasth and Oscar Lindberg, are expected to compete for NHL roster positions this coming fall.  

NCAA

Conor Allen, D, UMass-Amherst Minutemen (Hockey East)
Signed as a free agent, March 29th, 2013

A star athlete and student, when Conor Allen decided to leave Umass-Amherst, he was in high demand. The 6'1, 203 pound blueliner was exactly the type of defenseman that would fit into the Rangers' mold, so New York was delighted to sign Allen to a two-year entry-level deal in late March. Expected to be a two-way defenseman, who has a good shot on the power play, can play a physical game, and loves to compete for the puck, Allen posted five goals, 14 assists in 33 games for the Minutemen this past season, while accumulating 14 penalty minutes and a plus-one rating. The 23-year old will get a good look in training camp next fall, but is likely to begin the season in Connecticut.
     
Steven Fogarty, C, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (CCHA)
Drafted 3rd round, 72nd overall in 2011

Steven Fogarty spent the 2012-13 season as a freshman center at the University of Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish play a more defensive game and work their players into the system slowly, so the unflashy Fogarty saw limited ice time this past season. In 41 games, he recorded 10 points including two goals on the power play and two game winners. Expected to be a good two-way forward at the professional level, Fogarty has excellent size, good playmaking skills, and has developed his play well in his own zone. Expect Fogarty to play at least two more seasons in the NCAA.

Cristoval Nieves, C, Michigan Wolverines (CCHA)
Drafted 2nd round, 59th overall, 2012

Cristoval "Boo" Nieves had an outstanding season at the University of Michigan in 2012-13, and if it was not for the amazing play of fellow rookie Jacob Trouba, he would have walked away with many team honors. Tied for second with Trouba for scoring among CCHA freshmen (29 points in 40 games), Nieves had a breakout season. With excellent skating and playmaking abilities, Nieves will be working on getting stronger to complement his big frame. Improving his upper body strength in particular will help him fight for pucks on the forecheck. Expect Nieves to spend at least one more season at Michigan before his status is revisited.
 
Brady Skjei, D, Minnesota Golden Gophers (WCHA)
Drafted 1st round, 28th overall, 2012

Brady Skjei is expected to become a defensive blueliner with a very heavy shot in the professional level. At Minnesota, young players get slowly integrated into the blue line, where meanness and toughness are expected. Not naturally Skjei's game, some adjustment is to be expected. In 36 games, Skjei posted three points (one goal on the power play, two assists), 14 penalty minutes, and a plus-11 rating. With the hardest shot of anyone among the Rangers' prospects, the Lakeville, Minnesota native is building up his physicality, increasing strength, and is expected to spend at least two more years with the Golden Gophers.

Europe

Calle Andersson, D, Farjestad (SEL/Junior)
Drafted 4th round, 119th overall, 2012

When the Rangers drafted Calle Andersson they saw a potential power play quarterback, a good puck distributor, excellent skater, and a mind that can see the ice well. One of the few offensive blueliners in the organization, Andersson spent most of the 2012-13 season with Farjestad's junior team. With 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) in 22 regular season games on the junior level this season, and three points in six games in the World Junior Championships this past December/January, he played very well against lower levels of competition this season. Andersson did play a few games at the Allsvenskan level, as well as in the SEL, where he is expected to begin the 2013-14 season. He remains eligible to participate in the 2014 WJCs and is expected to spend a few more years in Europe before coming to play hockey in North America.

Jesper Fasth, RW, HV71 (SEL)
Drafted 6th round, 157th overall, 2010

Signed to an entry-level contract by the Rangers in May of 2012, Fasth was loaned to HV71 to play this season. Fasth posted 35 points (18 goals, 17 assists) in 47 regular season games during the 2012-13 campaign, while accumulating four penalty minutes and a plus-13 rating. In his North American debut for the AHL Connecticut Whale last month, Fasth scored a pretty goal, and was the teams' third star in the game. However, Fasth tweaked his knee and did not play another AHL game. Having recently returned to Sweden's national team, expect Fast to play in the World Championships. The smooth skating, pure scorer is expected to return to North America and compete for an NHL roster spot next fall.

Oscar Lindberg, C, Skelleftea (SEL)
Trade with Phoenix Coyotes, May 8th, 2011  

Traded to the Rangers in exchange for Ethan Werek in 2011, the Rangers were expecting a two-way, playmaking center, who they were unsure would play hockey in North America. After Lindberg immediately attended development camp and indicated his desire to play for the Rangers, things began to change. Further changes were in the air when Lindberg began to show more offensive upside at the end of last season.

With that in mind, it should have been no surprise when the 2012-13 campaign was a breakout season for the young Swede. Lindberg posted 42 points (17 goals, 25 assists) in 55 regular season games, while amassing 54 penalty minutes and a plus-one rating. Voted playoff MVP, Lindberg recorded 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 13 post-season games. Currently, a member of Sweden's national team, Lindberg is expected to play in North America next year and to compete for an NHL roster spot in training camp this fall.

Thomas Spelling, LW/RW, Rogle (SEL/Junior)
Drafted 5th round, 142nd overall, 2012

Thomas Spelling is an offensively gifted forward from Denmark with an excellent release and good skating skills. He spent the 2012-13 season playing junior Swedish hockey, as well as learning how to speak both Swedish and English. Through 36 regular season games with Rogle J20, Spelling managed 19 goals and 30 assists. He was also an alternate captain on Denmark's World Junior team where he posted eight points in five games. The Rangers expect Spelling to take some time to develop and are not interested in rushing him to North America. The young Dane is expected to spend at least two more seasons playing hockey in Europe.