Several New York Rangers prospects expected to have big seasons in 2013-14

By Leslie Treff

Calle Andersson - New York Rangers

Photo: Blueliner Calle Andersson is one of the only true offensive defensemen in the Rangers system. Andersson was selected in the fourth round of the 2012 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Of the 30 prospects in the New York Rangers' system, 19 are professional hockey players as of the beginning of the 2013-14 season. With only five prospects selected by New York in the 2013 NHL Draft and four in 2012, there are fewer younger players in the system than there have been in many years.

Given the Rangers' recent propensity to sign undrafted free agents (almost all of whom turn pro immediately), and the paucity of draft selections, there are few prospects in the CHL, NCAA, and in Europe.

Pro

Top Pro Offensive Prospect
Danny Kristo, RW, Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL)

Kristo has begun the 2013-14 season with the Rangers' AHL affiliate. A wizard with the puck, Kristo is a rookie pro, with uncanny hockey IQ, excellent vision, and a very quick release. After a very successful four-year NCAA career at the University of North Dakota, Kristo was traded from the Montreal Canadiens to the Rangers this past summer. Expected to light up training camp and the pre-season, he struggled to adjust to pro play.

That being said, Kristo has started his 2013-14 season well, managing over a point-per-game through four games. He is expected to spend the entire 2013-14 season with the Wolf Pack, but Kristo should compete for an NHL roster spot next fall.

Top Pro Defensive Prospect
Dylan McIlrath, D, Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL)

McIlrath has been in the Rangers system for three years, but it seems as though it has been longer. A tenth overall selection in 2010, McIlrath came with very high expectations, but was extremely raw when drafted. What he had was size and meanness, and the potential of being a great crease-clearing defenseman. The 2012-13 season was his first as a pro, and McIlrath had an up and down campaign, as there were times when he fought and looked fearsome, but more when he was totally invisible.

Early into the 2013-14 season, there is a noticeable difference. Paired with experienced veteran and team captain Aaron Johnson, McIlrath has played top-pairing minutes. His positioning has improved a great deal as has his heavy shot, which he is not afraid to use. When combined with his willingness to drop the gloves, McIlrath is beginning to look like the player the Rangers drafted him to be. He could get a look in New York later this season, but should be a regular in the NHL next season.   

Offensive Breakout
J.T. Miller, C, Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL)

Miller is in his second pro season, and is expected to really make a mark this year. After an excellent start in the AHL last season, he was promoted to the Rangers, where he was inconsistent before a wrist injury ended his season. Possessing top-six potential, the 20-year-old has started the 2013-14 season well. After making the NHL team out of camp, only to be demoted because the numbers required it, Miller has shown excellent offensive production in Hartford to start the 2013-14 campaign. Big, powerful, and with good skating skills, Miller is not afraid to go to the net or to bang along the boards. He is NHL-ready this season and should be an early call-up to New York.   

Bounce Back
Chris Kreider, LW, Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL)

A second year pro, Kreider has all the tools to be an NHL top-six forward. However, putting those tools together consistently has been a challenge. After bursting onto the scene with an excellent playoffs in 2011, Kreider played a lackluster game last season at the NHL level. Although he had bursts of brilliance while assigned to Connecticut in the AHL, Kreider often looked lost on the ice while a member of the Rangers, as he was frequently out of position and playing without confidence or swagger.

Kreider has started the 2013-14 season with a completely different attitude, both on and off the ice. Bigger, stronger, more confident, and using his speed much better, Kreider has been one of best players in Hartford early this year.

Junior

Top Junior Prospect
Anthony Duclair, LW, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)

Duclair had an outstanding rookie season in the CHL and much was expected of him during the 2012-13 season. When he did not deliver, his stock fell in the draft. Originally predicted to be a second rounder, the Rangers selected Duclair toward the end of the third round in 2013. Currently, one of the top goal-scorers in the QMJHL, Duclair is a potential top-six forward in the NHL. His speed and vision, as well as his handling of the puck, portend well for this Montreal native.

Amateur

Top Amateur Prospect
Christobal "Boo" Nieves, C, Michigan Wolverines (Big-10)

Cristobal "Boo" Nieves had a surprisingly successful freshman season at the University of Michigan in 2012-13 (29 points in 40 games). With excellent skating and playmaking abilities, good hands and the ability to crash the net, Nieves can do it all.

Expect the 19-year-old to play an even bigger role and see more ice time in his sophomore season at Michigan. If he puts up at least a point a game this year as a major contributor in the Big-Ten conference, it is possible that Nieves will consider turning pro for the 2014-15 season.

Breakout Defenseman
Brady Skjei, D, Minnesota Golden Gophers (Big-10)

Skjei has the potential to be a first or second pairing defenseman in the NHL. With a canon of a shot, he should be an excellent shutdown defenseman who can score from the blue line. A very good skater who distributes the puck well and displays excellent positioning and gap control, Skjei will take his time developing with the Golden Gophers. He is expected to get more ice time this season in Minnesota, and should contribute to the team's offense during that time.

Freshman to Watch
Adam Tambellini, C, North Dakota (NCHC)

The Rangers first selection in this year's draft, Tambellini was selected in the third round, 65th overall. With good size, skating skills, and puck abilities, he has an excellent hockey IQ and comes from good bloodlines. He has developed quickly over the last two seasons and is expected to continue on a trajectory to become a top-nine forward in the NHL. The 18-year-old has started well in his freshman season at North Dakota and should continue to get good ice time.

Europe

Top European Prospect
Pavel Buchnevich, LW, Severstal Chevepovets (KHL)

Buchnevich has incredible offensive instincts and was one of the purest scorers available in the 2013 NHL draft. With excellent speed and great hands, Buchnevich is easily the most talented of the three Rangers' prospects now playing in Europe. He is under contract in Russia for one more season after the 2013-14 campaign, so it is not likely he will come to play hockey in North America until at least the fall of 2015.

Offensive Breakout
Calle Andersson, D, Malmo (Allsvenskan)

In the last year of his contract with Malmo, Andersson is one of the few real offensive defensive prospects in the Rangers system. The 19-year-old has good skating skills and vision, and distributes the puck well. A potential future power play quarterback, Andersson has matured greatly over the last several months.