New York Rangers feature skilled group of forwards in newest Top 20 ranking

By Leslie Treff

Oscar Lindberg - New York Rangers

Photo: Forward Oscar Lindberg is expected to make his NHL debut in 2013-14. Lindberg was acquired in a trade with Phoenix in 2011. (courtesy of Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

The upper portion of the New York Rangers Top 20 has not changed for several cycles. Chris Kreider remains the premier player among a very talented group, while Danny Kristo, obtained in a July 2013 trade with Montreal, now occupies the number two position.

There is a drop-off in talent toward the bottom of the list, and with seven of the top 10 playing professionally in North America, it is likely that there will be several graduations in the coming season. The professional heavy aspect of the list is at least in part due to the Rangers recent tendency to draft college bound players who sign professional contracts early, as well as a willingness to sign high-end free agents, who graduate quickly.

The lack of a high-end goaltending prospect remains an organizational weakness that could become an issue as Henrik Lundqvist begins to age.

In total, the list contains six defensemen and 14 forwards. Fourteen of the players were drafted by the Rangers, two were obtained in trades, and four were signed as free agents. 

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

After watching Chris Kreider's performance during the 2011-12 playoffs, coaches and fans had very high expectations of him going into the 2012-13 season. However, Kreider did not step right back into a Rangers' uniform last fall, as the NHL lockout prevented him from carrying that confidence and swagger back to MSG for the first half of the season. Instead he played in Connecticut, at the AHL level, on a team where grit and two-way play is strongly emphasized. By the time Kreider returned to New York, he was a different player. Gone was the Kreider who was willing to take risks, who used his long reach and threw his body in the way of the puck. The combination of his poor decision-making and the former coach's lack of patience with him spelled a disappointing 2013-14 NHL campaign for Kreider.

The question that should be on everyone's mind is whether or not the expectations that were engendered by Kreider's 2012-13 playoff performance were realistic for the rookie pro, especially because he had a slow start in college before completing an outstanding three-year career at Boston College. Kreider continues to have great speed and size, combined with an excellent release. His potential to be a goal scoring top line winger has not changed. The coaching change and work he has done over the summer should give Kreider a real opportunity to move forward in development this year.

2. (NR) Danny Kristo, RW, 8.0D
Acquired in trade with Montreal Canadiens, July 2nd, 2013

Moving to the Rangers organization after a trade this summer that sent Christian Thomas to Montreal, Danny Kristo gets a needed new start in New York. A very talented puck handler, with excellent speed and hockey sense, Kristo is a player who is very hard to play against. The 22-year-old recently graduated from the University of North Dakota, finishing his career as a Hobey Baker Top 10 finalist, scoring 161 points in 157 games.

There is no question that Kristo has the potential skill of a top line NHL winger, however, previous off-ice issues and a tendency to take shifts off made a trade to the Rangers possible. The Rangers intend to forgive the past and give Kristo every opportunity to succeed. Likely to start his professional career in the AHL this fall, Kristo is a high risk, high reward player who, if he plays up to his potential, could be in New York very shortly.

3. (2) J.T. Miller, LW, 7.0B
Drafted 1st round, 15th overall, 2011

J.T. Miller was one of the younger players in the NHL last season, skating in 26 games for the Blueshirts and posting four points. The youngest to don a Rangers' uniform in quite a few years, Miller also impressed in the AHL prior to his NHL debut (23 points in 42 games). At times he looked like he should be a regular and at others Miller looked completely overmatched, but given his young age, that was to be expected.

A left wrist injury in March cut short his season, but what was clear from his short NHL stay last season is Miller's potential. Good along the boards and going to the net, Miller will be a very good two-way player, with fine speed. When his excellent work ethic is combined with some offensive upside, expect Miller to contribute to the Blueshirts' point totals in the coming years. Although he will be competing with many older, more experienced forwards for an NHL roster spot this fall, he will get a very long look in camp. Given the roster, he will likely begin the season in Hartford, but he should be one of the first call ups if he continues to produce this season.

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

Fast skated for SHL's HV71 and posted 35 points (18 goals, 17 assists) in 47 games last season, after the Rangers signed him and loaned him to the team in the spring of 2012. Fast came to North America last spring and played one game for the AHL Connecticut Whale, where he scored a goal. With great hands, vision, and good skating ability, Fast is very difficult to shut down offensively. He has a top-six skill set and is expected to get a good look in Rangers' training camp later this month. Although he will compete for an NHL roster spot, he most likely will begin the season in the AHL and become further acclimated to the smaller North American rink.

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

McIlrath was drafted with the highest pick the Rangers have had since 2004, so the Blueshirts have a lot riding on his development. The organization has nurtured massive defender at every turn, hoping he will develop into a crease-clearing, in-your-face defenseman. Very raw when drafted. McIlrath has improved greatly since he was drafted. However, he suffered a devastating knee injury at development camp in the summer of 2012, which required reconstructive surgery. McIlrath did not play his first game until late December, so he lost close to half a year of his first pro season. Questions linger about his knee, which will only be dispelled with time.

Meanwhile, he is working on his positioning and learning to fight at the professional level, having engaged in 13 fights in 45 AHL games.

McIlrath will get a long look in training camp, however, he is likely not yet ready for NHL play to start the season. If he is healthy, expect him to see some NHL action this year, though it may take him another two to three years to fill out physically and for the Rangers to know preceily what they have in him.

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

Skjei has a canon of a shot, and if he achieves his potential will be an excellent shutdown defenseman in the NHL. With some offensive upside, but mostly just incredibly responsible in his own end, Skjei is a good skater who distributes the puck well and displays excellent positioning and gap control.

Now a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, Skjei recorded three points in 36 games (with a plus-11 rating) last season. He recently attended the 2014 US U20 team summer camp in August, and, assuming he remains healthy, is expected to make the team. Last season, Skjei was used in an almost exclusively shutdown role on the Gopher blue line. There is hope Skjei will get some more opportunities to jump into the play this season, and if he does, expect him to stay with the Golden Gophers at least one more season. If that does not happen, a change may be in order for him.

7. (9) Oscar Lindberg, C, 6.5B
Acquired in a trade with Phoenix Coyotes on May 8th, 2011

When Lindberg was traded to the Rangers in 2011 in exchange for former Rangers prospect Ethan Werek, neither player had developed along the lines that was expected. 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 SHL, Lindberg had an excellent season 42 points (15 goals, 25 assists) in 35 regular season games. Good on faceoffs, with good speed and hockey IQ, Lindberg was expected to be mostly a defensive forward with some offensive upside when the trade occurred. However, it appears that he has much more offensive skill than was originally thought.

The former SHL playoff MVP will be playing in North America this season and could compete for an NHL roster spot in training camp. Unless he actually plays his way onto the NHL team though, expect Lindberg to begin the season in the AHL.

8. (NR) Pavel Buchnevich, LW, 7.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 75th overall, 2013

The Rangers obtained the 75th overall selection as part of the Rick Nash trade, and with the pick, selected Buchnevich, a Russian forward who plays a similar game to the late Alexei Cherepanov. The Rangers had been watching Buchnevich for a couple of seasons in international play and believe that, if he had been playing in North America, he could have gone in the first round. With an outstanding shot, excellent hockey sense, and offensive gifts with the puck, Buchnevich showcased his skills in the U18 WJCs (five goals, six assists in seven games), where he tied for second in overall points. In the MHL last season, Buchnevich posted eight goals and 15 assists in 24 games and recorded two points in 12 KHL games. He has two more years on his contract in Europe.

9. (8) Cristoval Nieves, C, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 59th overall, 2012

Cristobal "Boo" Nieves had an outstanding season at the University of Michigan in 2012-13–tied for second for scoring among CCHA freshmen (29 points in 40 games). Nieves has excellent skating and playmaking abilities, good hands and the ability to crash the net. He is working on improving his upper-body strength, and continues to impress every time the Rangers look at him.

Expect Nieves to play an even bigger role and see more ice time in his sophomore season at Michigan. He is at least a year away from turning pro.

10. (12) Marek Hrivik, LW, 7.0D
Acquired as a free agent on May 30th, 2012

Hrivik is a player with high-end offensive skill. An excellent playmaker, he has good size and speed. However, the concern with as a prospect is not regarding his talent but his health. Hrivik battled a number of injuries during his rookie pro campaign, which kept him out of close to half of the Connecticut Whale's 2012-13 season. In the 40 AHL games in which Hrivik appeared, he posted seven goals and 19 assists. Expect the Slovakian forward to spend this season in Hartford, with the hope that he will be on the ice for most or all of the Wolf Pack's games.

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

St. Croix posted 92 points (37 goals, 55 assists) in 72 WHL games last season. It was the second season that he had outstanding offensive production for the Edmonton Oil Kings. Expected to be a two-way player at the professional level, St. Croix has plenty of offensive upside. The question is whether or not his game will convert to the professional level. He can be trusted in all situations, and continues to work on his skating, as well as strength and conditioning. This fall will begin his first season as a pro. Expect him to need two to three seasons of AHL play prior to being ready for the NHL.

12. (NR) Adam Tambellini, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 65th overall, 2013

With good size, soft hands, and the ability to skate, Tambellini is the prototype of the Rangers' first selections in recent drafts. In 2013, New York's first pick came in the third round, with a selection obtained from the Nashville Predators in 2012. Projecting as a power forward with a very high hockey IQ, Tambellini spent last season as a member of the BCHL Vernon Vipers and Surrey Eagles, where he managed a combined 36 goals and 30 assists in 52 games. This fall, he is a freshman at the University of North Dakota. He is expected to develop for at least three years in collegiate hockey before beginning his professional career.

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

This will be a very important year for the 21-year-old center. Yogan has had an up and down few years within the Rangers' organization. His 2012-13 rookie professional season included spending more than a month (15 games) in the ECHL after being assigned to Greenville on November 29th, 2012. He played well with the ECHL Road Warriors (12 points) and had a good month of March back in the AHL (10 points in 13 games).

Expect Yogan to begin the season in the AHL. The young Floridian did miss a year of development due to injury, so although it would seem as if his time has passed, he may just surprise during the 2013-14 season.

14. (15) Conor Allen, D, 6.5C
Acquired as a free agent, March 29th, 2013

A talented puck-mover, Allen is expected to play a two-way game in the pros. Likely to begin the 2013-14 season in the AHL, the Rangers signed Allen after his junior season with the University of Massachusetts Minutemen. The 6'1, 210 pound defenseman posted five goals and 14 assists for 19 points in 33 games during the 2012-13 season, leading his team in assists and points. A good positional blueliner, who is skilled at blocking shots, Allen will be a big part of Hartford's blue line this next season.

15. (14) Kyle Jean, C, 7.0D
Acquired as a free agent, July 5th, 2012

Jean was signed before last season after a very impressive development camp. He then started very strong in Hartford last season before completely falling apart. In total, he posted 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) in 73 games, which were more skewed toward the beginning of the season. Jean came from Lake Superior State after the 2011-12 season, and he seemed to only last through as many games as he was used to. If he can build up the stamina to play as he did early last season, he could be a very valuable asset to the Rangers. Expect Jean to begin the season with the AHL affiliate Wolf Pack.

16. (NR) Anthony Duclair, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 80th overall, 2013

Duclair has the talent to be a top-six forward, however, he did not consistently show that during his last season with QMJHL Quebec Remparts. Slowed by an early injury last season, Duclair had come off a stellar rookie 2011-12 CHL season. Much was expected of the him during the 2012-13 campaign, but the season was a disappointing one for the young winger, which dropped his draft stock. A good skater with above average puck skills, he was able to post a plus-23 rating during the regular season, as well as very decent numbers (50 points in 55 games).

Now healthy, Duclair is a high risk, high reward player who may take a little longer to develop, but could be something special if his game matures as he does.

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

The only real offensive defensive prospect in the Rangers' system, Calle Andersson continues to mature in Europe. A puck-moving defenseman who has the potential to post decent offensive numbers, Andersson has good skating skills and vision. He was a member of Farjestad of the SHL for 34 games (two points) during the 2012-13 season, He was on loan to Malmo in the next tier Allsvenskan during the year (two assists in nine games).

Andersson has one more year on his contract and is expected to begin the 2013-14 season with Malmo this year

18. (13) Steven Fogarty, C, 6.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 72nd overall, 2011

Fogarty has good offensive skills, excellent size, and is improving his defensive positioning. As a member of the Fighting Irish during the 2012-13 season, Fogarty posted 10 points (five goals and five assists) in 41 games. He is returning to Notre Dame this fall and will almost certainly be given more ice time in his sophomore season. Expected to be a winger in the pros, Fogarty is about three years away from turning pro.

19. (NR) Samuel Noreau, D, 6.0C
Drafted 5th round, 136th overall, 2011

Noreau improved his play as a blueliner for the Baie-Comeau Drakkar last season. He posted 32 points in 66 games, as well as 66 penalty minutes. A big man at 6'5 and 223 pounds, Noreau will begin his professional career this fall. If he wants to be a force at the NHL level, he will need to work on positioning, balance, and skating.

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

A mostly defensive minded blueliner, Hughes was an alternate captain for the OHL London Knights last 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 has very good size, and is very responsible in his own zone.

Hughes is expected to join the Hartford Wolfpack for the 2013-14 season.