Rangers Top 20 prospects, Spring 2008

By Leslie Treff

Five players from the fall 2007 Rangers Top 20 have graduated and become regular members of the NHL team. Additionally, Al Montoya, the Rangers’ former top prospect, was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes just prior to the February 2008 trade deadline. That opened up six new slots for young prospects in the Rangers organization, including two 2007 NHL Entry Draft selections, two 2007-08 free agents, one recent NCAA graduate, and one defenseman who has really stepped up his play this season.

Top 20 at a Glance

1. (3) Alexei Cherepanov, RW
2. (5) Bobby Sanguinetti, D
3. (6) Artem Anisimov, C
4. (4) Alex Bourret, RW
5. (10) Michael Sauer, D
6. (16) Ivan Baranka, D
7. (20) Greg Moore, RW
8.  (12) Lauri Korpikoski, LW
9. (14) Dane Byers, LW
10. (15) Hugh Jessiman, RW
11. (11) Tom Pyatt, C
12. (N/A) Matt Zaba, G
13. (17) Brodie Dupont, LW
14. (N/A) Corey Potter, D
15. (19) Ryan Hillier, LW
16. (N/A) Max Campbell, C
17. (18) Tomas Zaborsky, LW
18. (N/A) Carl Hagelin, LW
19. (N/A) Billy Ryan, C
20. (N/A) Justin Soryal, LW

1. (3) Alexei Cherepanov, RW, 8.0C
Age: 19
Acquired: First round, 17th overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft

Cherepanov is a high risk/high reward player who fell to the Rangers at 17th overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, at least in part because of the Russian transfer agreement issues. He is extremely creative with the puck — a finisher with a very fluid skating style. After coming to the Rangers 2007 training camp, Cherepanov returned to the Russian Super League Omsk Avanguard for the 2007-08 season, and in his second year playing for Omsk, Cherepanov put up good numbers. Questions about his health and work ethic arose. However, an excellent 2008 World Junior Championships, and Four Nations tournament last November have only increased the anticipation of his arrival in North America to ply his trade. Whether that happens next season or he plays one more year in Russia is still undetermined.

2. (5) Bobby Sanguinetti, D, 7.5C
Age: 20
Acquired: First round, 21st overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft

Sanguinetti is another of the Rangers’ high risk/high reward entry draft selections. The Rangers selected him 21st overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft after many teams passed up talented blueliner because of perceived deficiencies in his defensive play. Highly skilled offensively, Sanguinetti was not a physical player, and there were big questions about coverage in his own zone. Sanguinetti’s post-draft, 2006-07 OHL performance did nothing to quell such worries, however, the blueliner made quite a bit of progress post-season — while playing on an ATO with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack.  Sanguinetti would have benefited from remaining in the AHL, but as a 19-year-old, under the current rules, that was effectively impossible. Thus, he played for the OHL Brampton Battalion during the 2007-08 season, and became a force in both ends of the ice. As his professional career begins, Sanguinetti is still a work in progress, however, the future looks really bright for the best  offensive defenseman in the Rangers’ prospect group.  

3. (6) Artem Anisimov, C, 7.5C
Age: 19
Acquired: Second round, 54th overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft

Another player whose potential exceeded his place in the NHL Entry Draft, transfer agreement issues enabled the Rangers to select Anisimov in the second round in 2006. This was a good decision by the Blueshirts, as Anisimov was only one year away from playing in North America. The Russian center spent one more, post-NHL draft season in the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv organization before signing an entry-level NHL contract this past fall. The fleet-footed center has played really well for the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack during this first season, and plays on Hartford’s first or second lines with some of the Rangers best AHL prospects. With first- to second-line NHL potential, Anisimov has superb hands, excellent face-off skills, and very good on-ice vision. At least one more season away from NHL readiness, Anisimov is expected to pick up his production significantly during a 2008-09 campaign with the AHL team.

4. (4) Alex Bourret, RW, 8.0D
Age: 21
Acquired: February 27, 2007 Trade With Atlanta Thrashers

Bourret became a property of the Rangers in a 2007 trade-deadline deal that sent Pascal Dupuis and a third round pick to the Thrashers. The former 2005 first-round (16th overall) NHL Entry Draft selection was having a difficult adjustment to professional play, and it was hoped that the change of scenery would help. Bourret’s play on a line with Nigel Dawes toward the end of the season was, at times, electrifying, and although he made some mental mistakes at crucial times, his creativity on the ice was astounding. Unfortunately, the highly-talented winger has had some injury problems this season, but even when healthy, his development has not been as quick as was hoped. Bourret’s creativity with the puck continues to be excellent, but decision-making remains a weakness. Next season will be a crucial one for this talented winger.

5. (10) Michael Sauer, D, 7.0C
Age: 20
Acquired: Second round, 40th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

Sauer is in his first professional season and has become a solid player on the blueline for the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack. More of a defensive player than an offensive threat, Sauer has become more and more responsible in his own end as the season has gone on. Often relied upon when the team is short-handed, Sauer is sure with the puck, with excellent vision.  He also has good hockey smarts, as well as the ability and desire to drop the gloves when necessary. The injury woes that plagued Sauer during his major junior career appear to be behind him, and the big solid defenseman is expected to become a regular NHL player within two or three years.

6. (16) Ivan Baranka, D, 6.5B
Age: 22
Acquired: Second Round, 50 overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft 

A highly-talented offensive-oriented blueliner, Baranka is exciting to watch — when he is on the ice. Injuries have hampered the 22-year-old’s development since he became a professional in the fall of 2005. Currently nursing a shoulder problem that has kept him out of recent games, Baranka has yet to play 60 games in any of his three professional seasons, or to be available for either playoff run. Hopefully, that will change this month, but he will need to show that he is resilient to move to the next level and stay there. Baranka did get a brief look with the Rangers this past winter, and managed one assist in the only NHL game in which he played. He is expected to get a good look this coming fall in Rangers training camp, as at least one roster spot should be available on the blueline. 

7. (20) Greg Moore, RW/C, 6.5B
Age: 24
Acquired: March 6, 2004 Trade With Calgary Flames

Originally drafted in the fifth round (153rd overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Moore has made huge strides this season toward becoming a regular NHL player. A solid defensive forward during the 2006-07 AHL campaign, he was overshadowed by some far more offensively-minded forwards on last year’s team. That coupled with the huge step up in play from the college ranks made Moore’s rookie season somewhat disappointing offensively. However, on an almost a point a game tear in the AHL this season, Moore has been called up to the Rangers eight times and played in six games for the NHL team (no points). Moore often serves as the top-line center in Hartford, and plays in all situations, as he is one of the most dependable forwards on the team. A player who has great hockey sense, a good shot, and excellent work ethic, this former Hobey Baker finalist is a top candidate to crack the Rangers roster next season.

8. (12) Lauri Korpikoski, LW, 7.0C
Age: 21
Acquired: First round, 19th overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

Now, in his second professional season, it is important to remember that Korpikoski is only 21 years old. After coming to North America in the fall of 2006 to begin his professional career at age 19, the speedy winger started out strongly and faded through the long season. During the 2007-08 season, management has seen no sign of those problems.  In fact, Korpikoski has produced offensively this season into February and March, in which he recorded 23 points in 27 games. Korpikoski plays in all situations and is one of the Hartford Wolf Pack’s most frequently used penalty killers. Top-notch skating abilities and a good shot are strengths of the young forward from Finland, while questionable plays in traffic are his biggest weakness. Not yet NHL ready, Korpikoski is long shot to make the Rangers roster next Fall, but if he continues to develop over the next year, he should be a solid addition to the Rangers’ roster for the 2009-10 season.

9. (14) Dane Byers, LW, 6.5B
Age: 22
Acquired: Second round, 48th overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

A big, tough winger, Byers has proven this season that his rookie 2006-07 AHL offensive production was not a fluke. Expected to be a gritty player who could knock players off the puck and protect his teammates when necessary out of major junior hockey, Byers surprised Rangers management when he showed good hands and a strong ability to finish from in front of the net after turning professional. The former WHL tough guy has continued to show excellent offensive skill this season, and, as a result, was called up for a brief stint with the Rangers during the 2007-08 season. Not yet NHL ready, Byers was returned to the Wolf Pack to complete this season. If he is not ready to play with the NHL team this fall, he will be close to doing so and should be a mid-season call-up during the 2008-09 season.

10. (15) Hugh Jessiman, RW, 7.0C
Age: 24
Acquired: First round, 12th overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

At 24 years old, Jessiman is still very much a work in progress. Although balance issues, questionable hockey decisions, and sluggish movement marked his play during his first two professional seasons, Jessiman made a decision last summer to make every effort to become what the Rangers wanted — a north-south winger who would drop the gloves to protect his teammates. After he trained rigorously and took boxing lessons to help remedy issues in his play, Jessiman’s strength on the puck and increased energy on the ice were immediately noticeable. But an embarrassing loss to Philadelphia’s Steve Downie in a pre-season tousle made it obvious that Jessiman still had a lot to learn about fighting. Over the course of the season, his ability to take on the AHL tough guys has greatly improved, and his AHL offensive production has more than doubled over the 2006-07 campaign. Now a steady contributor to the Wolf Pack offense and well respected by his teammates, so it is likely that Jessiman will get a contract extension this summer.

11. (11) Tom Pyatt, C, 7.0C
Age: 20
Acquired: Fourth Round, 107 Overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

Pyatt began his professional season in the fall of 2007 the same way he did his junior career, with high hopes and an excellent work ethic. Just as he was not immediately successful with the OHL Saginaw Spirit during his 2003-04 rookie major junior season, Pyatt has had a rocky professional debut. Assigned to the AHL out of training camp, Pyatt struggled with the bigger, stronger professional players and often lost the battles. Generally considered a defensive forward, he was often losing battles for the puck and along the boards, and he was not very offensively productive through most of the season. Since being reassigned to the ECHL Charlotte Checkers toward the end of February, he has found his scoring touch and Pyatt’s play is stronger on and off the puck. Pyatt still has a lot of work to do strength-wise to be successful in the professional game, however, with his hockey family behind him and an incredibly strong work ethic going for him, don’t count Pyatt out just yet. 

12. (N/A) Matt Zaba, G, 7.0C
Age: 24
Acquired: Free Agent

Zaba was signed as a free agent this past summer after a very good four-year career at Colorado College. Originally drafted by Los Angeles in the eighth round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft (231st overall), he went unsigned. The Rangers picked him up this past August, and he immediately impressed in training camp. Sent to the Rangers’ ECHL Charlotte affiliate to begin the 2007-08 season, Zaba did not play well in a Checkers uniform. After he was loaned to the Idaho Steelheads, however, it was a new season for the rookie netminder. In 19 games, he has recorded three shutouts, 12 wins (including a six-game win streak in January and February), and 16 games in which he allowed three goals or less. An average sized netminder with excellent lateral movement and a good glove hand, Zaba could turn out to be one of the best off-season signings in a year when some top forwards joined the NHL team.
13. (17) Brodie Dupont, LW, 6.0B
Age: 21
Acquired: Third round, 66th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

Dupont is completing his first professional season and, although currently sidelined with post-concussion symptoms, has been a regular on the Wolf Pack’s third and fourth lines. A big winger who knows how to take the body and fight if necessary, Dupont’s offensive production has been uneven during the 2007-08 season. However, he is a physical force on the ice, with excellent balance, and a very good work ethic. It is expected that Dupont will need at least one more year in the AHL to find his game at this level. He is projected to be a third-line player at the NHL level in two to three seasons, but he will have to improve his offensive production to make it to the “show.”

14. Corey Potter, D, 6.5C
Age: 24
Acquired: Fourth round, 122nd overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

A University of Michigan standout along the blueline, Potter began his 2006-07 rookie professional season as a member of the Checkers. After playing extremely well at that level (19 points in 43 games), he was promoted to the AHL. As a member of the Wolf Pack, Potter was particularly effective in the playoffs, when he registered five points in seven games. This year, Potter carries the best plus/minus ratio on the AHL team (+30) and has continued to produce offensively, particularly lately, to help the team win games.  A good skater, who likes to jump into the play to create offensive chances, Potter plays in all situations for the AHL team. It is possible that Potter will get a close look from the Rangers next season, however, it is likely that he will begin the season in the AHL.

15. (19) Ryan Hillier, LW, 7.0D
Age: 20
Acquired: Third Round, 84 overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft

Signed last week to an NHL entry-level contract, Hillier has been a top scorer for the QMJHL Halifax Mooseheads over the past four seasons. With excellent speed and great creativity with the puck, Hillier has offensive skills that make him a top prospect. However, questionable decision-making on the ice, defensive issues, as well as lack of team play, were holding the winger back in the past. Hillier has, however, made great strides in those areas over the course of the 2007-08 season, which led to his recent signing. With the Mooseheads in the playoffs and expected to continue into the next round, it is doubtful that Hillier will be available to begin his professional career with the Wolf Pack this spring. However, he should be assigned to the AHL to begin the 2008-09 season.  

16. (N/A) Max Campbell, C, 7.0D
Age: 19
Acquired: Fifth Round, 138 Overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft

The former 2006-07 Western Ontario Junior Hockey League MVP had an excellent freshman season with the University of Western Michigan Broncos. Second on the team in scoring, his 22 total points placed Campbell 15th among freshmen in the CCHA. The first player ever to be drafted directly from Western Ontario Junior “B”, Campbell is a highly offensive-minded center.  He is an excellent playmaker, with good stickhandling skills and great hands. Somewhat weak on his defensive play, the Strathroy, Ontario standout will continue to work on his two-way skills next season at Western Michigan.

17. (18) Tomas Zaborsky, LW, 7.0D
Age: 20
Acquired: Fifth round, 137th overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft

Zaborsky just completed his overage year with the OHL Saginaw Spirit and this past week was signed to an ATO by the Wolf Pack. The winger has an excellent shot, with a lighting-fast release, as well as good on-ice vision and speed. However, he needs to develop more strength on the puck and defensive skills, as his lack of two-way play will hurt him on the professional level. A top line player in major junior hockey, Zaborsky has the potential to be a second-liner in the NHL. The Rangers have until June to sign the Slovakian offensive wizard to an entry-level contract or he will become a free agent. If signed, Zaborsky will have to become stronger and continue to work hard defensively to become an NHL player.

18. (N/A) Carl Hagelin, LW, 7.0D
Age: 19
Acquired: Sixth round, 168th overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft

Hagelin is a freshman at the University of Michigan and had 20 points in 40 games with the Wolverines this season. This was a very good result as he acclimated himself to both University life and North American hockey on a team with several top NHL prospects.  Hagelin was also a member of Sweden’s 2008 World Junior Championship team that won the silver medal this past winter. Prior to coming to North America, Hagelin spent three years as a member of the Swedish Junior Elite League. A good two-way player, Hagelin has speed and good hockey sense. He must continue working on his strength on the puck, as well as discipline. The winger is expected to spend at least one more season in the NCAA.

19. (N/A) Billy Ryan, C, 6.5D
Age:  24
Acquired: Third Round, 80 Overall, 2004

After fours year at the University of Maine, Ryan will soon be ready to join the professional ranks. A big contributor to Maine’s success for his entire collegiate career, Ryan was named alternate captain for his senior 2007-08 season. However, he missed nine games due to a hip injury, which has not as yet healed. Despite his continuing problem, Ryan did not want to abandon his teammates and returned to the active roster in February to play in the final push toward the NCAA playoffs. Even with his long absence, Ryan was fifth in scoring on the Black Bears. His desire to return to play for Maine, rather than get season-ending surgery, has delayed the start of his professional career. However, there is no question that the Milton, Massachusetts center is a character player and likely to be signed before the Rangers’ rights to him expire in August.   

20. (N/A) Justin Soryal, LW, 6.0C
Age: 20
Acquired: Free Agent

Soryal was signed to an entry-level contract in March, after playing for four years with the OHL Peterborough Petes. Not selected in either one of his draft-eligible years, the 6’2, 200lb winger is a good two-way player who is tough on the ice and very strong on the puck. Not afraid to drop the gloves when necessary, Soryal adds grit and hard-nosed effort to the stable of Rangers prospects. The former Petes alternate captain has good leadership qualities and is an excellent team player. Soryal is expected to join either the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack or the ECHL Charlotte Checkers next fall.