The Rangers Top 20 has once again undergone a major revision. Additions to the fall 2007 list include two talented forwards, the highly skilled 2007 draft pick Alexei Cherepanov and the chippy and creative 2006 selection Ryan Hillier.
The organization is well-stocked with many quality prospects, and although Al Montoya and Marc Staal remain at the top of the rankings, several other prospects have risen within the organization in the past six months.
The fall 2007 HF Top 20 includes 14 forwards, five defensemen, and one goaltender.
Top 20 at a Glance
1. Al Montoya, G
2. Marc Staal, D
3. Alexei Cherepanov, RW
4. Alex Bourret, RW
5. Bobby Sanguinetti, D
6. Artem Anisimov, C
7. Brandon Dubinsky, C
8. Ryan Callahan, RW
9. Nigel Dawes, LW
10. Michael Sauer, D
11. Tom Pyatt, C
12. Lauri Korpikoski, LW
13. Daniel Girardi, D
14. Dane Byers, LW
15. Hugh Jessiman, RW
16. Ivan Baranka, D
17. Brodie Dupont, C
18. Tomas Zaborsky, LW
19. Ryan Hillier, LW
20. Greg Moore, RW
1. (1) Al Montoya G Grade: 8.5C
Acquired: 1st round, 6th overall, 2004
Montoya returned from shoulder surgery to have a good 2006-07 season. It was his second year as a professional, and his first as a relatively healthy player. With a 2.30 GAA and .914 save percentage during the regular season, Montoya was one of the best netminders in the league. However, he had some problems with consistency toward the end of the regular season, and his performance during the post-season was uneven at best.
At 22 years old, Montoya still needs to work on the mental part of his game — gaining consistency and mental toughness. However, he may spend at least a portion of the 2007-08 season in New York behind starter Henrik Lundqvist. If the Rangers feel that Montoya is a more competent backup to Lundqvist than any of their other options, the young goalie will most likely start the season in the NHL. In addition to providing Montoya with necessary NHL experience, this will showcase the young netminder for a possible future trade.
2. (2) Marc Staal, D Grade: 8.0B
Acquired: 1st round, 12th overall, 2005
After four years in the OHL, and a huge amount of anticipation, Marc Staal comes into his third Rangers training camp with a reasonable chance of making the NHL team. A character player who specializes in shutting down opponents in his own zone, Staal is intent on wearing Rangers blue this year.
He has the potential to be a top pair defenseman, and is stronger, faster, and more disciplined than he has been in previous years. However, given the Rangers’ roster situation, Staal may begin the 2007-08 season in Hartford. This would not harm the promising 20-year-old, who would get the chance to adapt to the speed of professional play out of New York’s spotlight. However, he may just be able to prove to management that he is ready now and grab one of the blue line roster spots.
3. (NR) Alexei Cherepanov, RW Grade: 8.0C
Acquired: 1st round, 17th overall, 2007
The Rangers were overjoyed when Cherepanov was still available at the 17th pick in this summer’s entry draft. The highly gifted winger then traveled to New York and showed some excellent offensive moves at the Rangers’ July Prospect Development Camp.
Cherepanov then returned to Russia to fulfill the two remaining years on his contract to Omsk Avangard. Called up to play for Russia in the Super Series with Canada last month, Cherepanov suffered a series-ending concussion in the second game. Still recovering, Cherepanov has returned to Russia.
Gifted with excellent on-ice vision, creativity, and soft hands, Cherepanov has first line potential. However, the Rangers will have to wait at least one more year to see whether the very talented winger can be lured to North America to play for the Blueshirts.
4. (3) Alex Bourret, RW Grade: 8.0C
Acquired: 2/27/07 Trade with Atlanta Thrashers (drafted 1st round, 16th overall, 2005)
Bourret is a highly talented playmaker who has blossomed since being traded to the Rangers last winter. Gritty, courageous, with excellent stickhandling skills and amazing creativity, Bourret plays a high-risk game. He has the potential to be a first-line forward, however, Bourret must concentrate on consistency and good decision-making to achieve that potential.
In some of his most recent on-ice performances, Bourret has done just that. One of the best Hartford Wolf Pack players on the ice during the playoffs last year, he once again showed his skill at the 2007 Traverse City Prospects Tournament earlier this month. Bourret is expected to a first-line winger on the AHL team this year, and spend at least one more year in the AHL.
5. (8) Bobby Sanguinetti, D Grade: 8.0C
Acquired: 1st round, 21st overall, 2006
Sanguinetti was very impressive in his 12 games on the ice with the Hartford Wolf Pack last spring. After having a somewhat disappointing season with the OHL Owen Sound Attack, he joined the Wolf Pack toward the end of March and very quickly became a stable fixture on Hartford’s blue line. A reliable defenseman who has real offensive talent, he was used by the Wolf Pack at even strength and on the power play.
A potential No. 1 offensive defenseman, Sanguinetti will be returned to junior hockey later this fall. Born in 1988, he falls into that group of players that, despite being AHL-ready, must either stay in the NHL or be returned to the CHL for the 2007-08 season. Because there is no question that the 19-year-old is several years away from NHL-readiness, he will be playing for OHL Brampton Battalion this season.
6. (13) Artem Anisimov, C Grade: 7.5C
Acquired: 2nd round, 54th overall, 2006
Anisimov is a good skater, with a fine shot, excellent face-off skills and very good on-ice vision. He has spent the last two years in the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv organization, but decide this summer that he would spend the 2007-08 season in North America. The creative center signed a contract with the Rangers last month and is expected to play in the AHL during his acclimation period.
Anisimov has first- to second-line potential. Although it is expected that he will need a reasonable period of adjustment to North America (including operating within the smaller rink), the young Russian should prove to be an excellent offensive threat in the Rangers’ arsenal for years to come.
7. (6) Brandon Dubinsky, C Grade: 7.0 B
Acquired: 2nd round, 60th overall, 2004
After an excellent junior career, the young Alaska native made a splash in his late-season 2005-06 AHL debut. Although he did not put up the same impressive numbers in his first full professional campaign, Dubinsky recorded a respectable 43 points in 71 regular season games and was often the go-to guy in Hartford. He was a staple on the AHL team’s second line, and often was chosen to play when the team had the extra man.
Dubinsky’s defensive play is strong, he is unafraid to take the body, and his effort can never be questioned. A potential second-line center, he is expected to battle for one of the few open Rangers’ roster spots this fall. Should he be returned to Hartford, Dubinsky will center the team’s top line, and await a mid-season call-up.
8. (7) Ryan Callahan, RW Grade: 6.5A
Acquired: 4th round, 127th overall, 2004
Callahan was the spark of the Rangers’ third line late last season. After dominating in his freshman AHL season, the gritty winger was called-up to the NHL, where he played in 14 regular season and 10 playoff games. Recording 6 goals and 3 assists in that time span, his energy, soft hands, and fearless nature solidified a continuing NHL roster spot. Although the Rangers’ coaching staff did not guarantee Callahan a roster spot to begin the 2007-08 season, he entered training camp as a man on a mission and has continued to show that he belongs in New York with the NHL team. Callahan is expected to remain a fixture on the Rangers third-line for years to come, but may, in fact, grow into a second line offensive forward as some of the current Rangers’ stars retire.
9. (5) Nigel Dawes, LW Grade: 7.0 B
Acquired: 5th round, 149th overall, 2003
Dawes won a roster spot on with the NHL team to begin the 2006-07 season. Not given a lot of ice time and often scratched for Rangers’ games, Dawes was returned to Hartford in early November 2006. The lack of playing time and demotion were difficult obstacles for Dawes to overcome, but as the 2006-07 season went along, he regained confidence and finished as the Hartford Wolf Pack’s leading scorer (60 points in 65 games).
A diminutive winger with a nose for the net, Dawes benefited greatly by the addition of Alex Bourret to the Hartford line-up last season. Bourret served as a perfect set-up man for the winger in the last two months of the AHL season (during that time Dawes recorded 24 points in 21 games).
Dawes has second-line NHL potential and there is a strong possibility that he will once again begin the season with the NHL team. However, with potentially only one open NHL roster spot for a forward, Dawes will have some tough competition for the spot.
10. (16) Michael Sauer, D Grade: 7.0B
Acquired: 2nd round, 40th overall, 2005
Finally healthy for a lengthy period, the big defenseman has started to show that he can be dominant in his team’s defensive zone. Sauer uses his impressive size (6’3, 205) to his best advantage, hitting and using his stick to make it difficult for his opponents. When his size and physicality are combine with his good hockey sense, Sauer is a formidable prospect.
The Rangers signed Sauer to an NHL entry-level contract in August 2006, after which the 20-year-old returned to the WHL to complete his final junior season. Now a professional, Sauer is expected to play for the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack this coming season.
Expected to have the potential to be a second-pairing blueliner, Sauer is an excellent Rangers prospect. Assuming that he remains healthy, Sauer needs at least one to two years of minor league play in Hartford before he will be ready for a promotion to the NHL.
11. (12) Tom Pyatt, C Grade: 7.0C
Acquired: 4th round, 107th overall, 2005
Pyatt has excelled against players his own age. Whether it be in the OHL, at the World Juniors or in Traverse City, Pyatt has stood out as being a very solid two-way player. Always willing to harder than what is expected, Pyatt has a single-minded focus that is rarely seen among young prospects.
Creative and smart, both with and without the puck, the questions surrounding Pyatt have always been his size (5’11, 181) and strength, and whether he will be able to withstand the punishment meted out at the next level.
Pyatt will get his chance to prove once again that he is more than what is expected this season, his first as a professional. He will almost certainly begin the 2007-08 season with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack.
12. (10) Lauri Korpikoski, LW Grade: 7.0C
Acquired: 1st round, 19th overall, 2004
Korpikoski is one of the fastest skaters among the Rangers prospects. When his speed is combined with his wizardry with the puck, Korpikoski should be a top forward within the Rangers organization. However, his adjustment to the grueling North American schedule was not favorable last year, and both his offensive production and two-way play suffered from the grind.
Additionally, because Korpikoski has not shown that he can effectively play his offensive game well in the limited space of the smaller North American rink, he was assigned a more defensive role in Hartford last season.
The creative, speedy winger begins this season with lots of questions surrounding his game. If he can develop the stamina to play a 70-80 game season, and play creatively in the smaller rink without getting knocked off the puck, his future with the Rangers is very bright. If he cannot do so, his stay within the organization will be short.
13. (11) Daniel Girardi, D Grade: 6.5A
Acquired: Free Agency
Girardi plays a smart, uncomplicated, effective game. Not selected in either the 2004 or 2005 NHL entry draft, he signed an AHL contract with Hartford prior to the 2005-06 season. After an outstanding freshman professional season, the Rangers rewarded Girardi with an NHL contract during the summer of 2006.
Since then, he was selected an AHL all-star and played regularly with the NHL team after a January 2007 call-up to the Rangers. Most often playing 15-20 minutes a night on the Rangers blue line, Girardi is not fancy, but gets the job done. He is expected to play with the Rangers again this season, probably as a member of the second or third defensive pairing.
14. (9) Dane Byers, LW Grade: 7.0C
Acquired: 2nd round, 48th overall, 2004
Byers had an outstanding freshman professional campaign this past season. A regular on Hartford’s second line, centered by Brandon Dubinsky, Byers impressed all who watched him crash the net and play a physical game along the boards. Additionally, Byers showed good hockey sense and soft hands, in that he regularly made beautiful passes to linemates within five feet of the net. If Byers can continue to develop a consistent scoring touch in Hartford and learns how to better carry the puck on his stick, he has the potential to become a second-line power forward.
15. (14) Hugh Jessiman, RW Grade: 7.5D
Acquired: 1st round, 12th overall, 2003
It is no secret that Jessiman has not developed as quickly as the Rangers had hoped. After signing a professional contract during the summer of 2005, Jessiman had two difficult seasons bouncing back and forth between the Hartford Wolf Pack and the Rangers’ ECHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers.
He began to change his play last season to become a more north-south physical player. Often involved in protecting teammates, Jessiman was instructed to use his size to his best advantage. When he did so, he was very effective, but there were also times when Jessiman’s play was lackluster and he seemed focused elsewhere.
This season is his last under contract with the Rangers, and coming into training camp there appears to be a difference in his play. The intensity that the Rangers saw when Jessiman was a collegian has returned and he seems fully focused on his play. The results are obvious on the ice, but questions remain as to whether he can sustain this energy level over an entire season. If he can, he has the potential to be a first- or second-line power forward.
16. (16) Ivan Baranka, D Grade: 6.5 B
Acquired: 2nd round, 50th overall, 2003
Baranka suffered injuries in each of his first two professional seasons, putting him far behind his draft year in development. However, Baranka is just a 22-year-old blueliner, and is still a good defensive prospect for this organization. Unfortunately, his injuries have allowed other blueliners to move ahead of Baranka in the eyes of the organization. But if he stays healthy this season and provides some offense in addition to solid blueline coverage, Baranka can still become a big asset. Baranka projects to be a second- to third-line pairing NHL defenseman, and will begin the season in Hartford.
17. (18) Brodie Dupont, C Grade: 6.5C
Acquired: 3rd round, 66th overall, 2005
Dupont becomes a professional player this fall and will take his physical style of play to the AHL. Always giving the extra effort, Dupont had an outstanding season offensively for the WHL Calgary Hitmen (70 points in 70 games) last season. Not expected to duplicate that production in professional play, Dupont is an aggressive, excellent player along the boards, with good hockey sense, and good balance. He has the potential to be a third-line center in the NHL.
18. (19) Tomas Zaborsky, LW Grade: 7.0D
Acquired: 5th round, 137th overall, 2006
A late-round selection in last year’s entry draft, the Rangers’ Zaborsky came to the NHL team highly recommended. With an outstanding shot and excellent vision, Zaborsky impressed the Rangers at the 2006 Traverse City Prospects Tournament with 3 goals and 2 assists. He went on to play on a very talented Saginaw Spirit OHL team and, in the 2006-07 regular season, he registered 43 points in 59 games.
With second-line NHL potential, Zaborsky is eligible to play professionally this season. He has not been offered an NHL contract, however, and has chosen to return to junior hockey to play an overage year. The Rangers have until this coming summer to sign the winger or he will become a free agent.
19. (NR) Ryan Hillier, LW Grade: 7.0D
Acquired: 3rd round, 84th overall, 2006
Hillier is a speedy winger who currently plays for the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. Although consistent play has been Hillier’s nemesis for some time, there are signs that he has overcome some of those issues over the last six to eight months. For Hillier to achieve his second-line potential, he will need to be responsible defensively, play a disciplined game, and bring a high degree of energy to the game every night.
20. (20) Greg Moore, RW Grade: 6.0B
Acquired: 3/6/04 Trade with Calgary (5th round, 143rd overall, 2003)
Moore began his 2006-07 rookie professional season very well. However, he was unable to sustain offensive production throughout the entire AHL season, and was relegated to the Hartford third-line for most of last season. The former Hobey Baker finalist played quite a bit when the team was shorthanded and may become strictly a defensive forward should he not improve his offensive game over the next year. Moore does have third-line NHL potential, but in the new NHL, players on that line need to be able to record points to be effective. This will be a critical year for Moore’s career in the Rangers organization.
No longer eligible due to age is 25-year-old Jarkko Immonen, who remains Rangers property, but has returned to Finland for the 2007-08 season. He is not expected take the ice for the Rangers organization in the foreseeable future.
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.