Rangers Top 20 Prospects, Fall 2008

By Leslie Treff

Top 20 at a Glance

1. Alexei Cherepanov
2. Artem Anisimov
3. Bobby Sanguinetti
4. Michael Del Zotto
5. Lauri Korpikoski
6. Evgeny Grachev
7. Tomas Zaborsky
8. Dane Byers
9. Carl Hagelin
10. Michael Sauer
11. Derek Stepan
12. Miika Wiikman
13. Matt Zaba
14. Ryan Hillier
15. Dale Weise
16. Greg Moore
17. Max Campbell
18. Corey Potter
19. Brodie Dupont
20. David Skokan

1. (1) Alexei Cherepanov, RW, 8.0C

Age: 19
Acquired: First round, 17th overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft

Cherepanov continues to have the highest potential among all of the Rangers prospects. A flashy, creative player who is still growing into his game, Cherepanov had a good 2007-08 season with Omsk Avangard of the Russian Super League, as well as a successful 2008 World Junior Championships. Cherepanov has another year on his contract with Omsk Avangard (now in the KHL) and is not expected to become a Ranger for at least one more season. At that point, he may be ready for NHL play or have to spend at least part of the 2009-10 season in the AHL. This season, Cherepanov is teammates with former Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr in Omsk, a team with which the Rangers are in the process of creating a partnership. Questions remain as to whether Cherepanov will decide to play hockey in North America. However, with the ties that the Rangers have been forging with the team in Omsk, New York’s high-risk, high-reward strategy in drafting Cherepanov when other teams shied away may deliver a big pay off in the coming years.

2. (3) Artem Anisimov C, 7.5B

    Age: 20
    Acquired: Second round, 54th overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft

While other top Rangers prospects have either been traded away or made a big splash as they began their NHL careers, Anisimov has quietly become one of the best players in the Rangers system. Anisimov’s performance during the 2007-08 season, his first in North America, was excellent, as he adjusted to North American play extremely well. Last season’s top Hartford Wolf Pack rookie scorer will get an opportunity to make the Rangers out of camp, and, even if returned to the Wolf Pack, is expected to get a chance mid-season to prove his NHL-readiness. Good on face-offs, very reliable in his own zone and a big offensive threat, Anisimov is consistently good in all types of game situations.

3. (2) Bobby Sanguinetti, D, 7.5C

Age: 20
Acquired: First round, 21st overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft

Sanguinetti is a player with a huge amount of potential, whose successful NHL career will be dependent upon his demonstrating consistently solid play in his own zone. Exciting to watch when with the puck, Sanguinetti has excellent vision and skating ability. However, his defensive skills and physical play need significant improvement to make it likely that he will achieve his potential. Sanguinetti completed his junior career as one of the 2007-08 leading scorers on the OHL Brampton Battalion, where he played in all situations and generally looked very good in his own zone. Now a professional, Sanguinetti will be looked to for his power-play skills and offensive creativity this fall. Although there is a slight chance that he will make the Rangers roster, it is more likely that he will begin the season with the Wolf Pack.

4. (N/A) Michael Del Zotto, D, 7.5C

Acquired: First round, 20th overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft

The Rangers were not expecting Del Zotto to be available when the team was selecting in the 20th position in the 2008 NHL entry draft and were delighted that the offensive blueliner was available. A fabulous skater with great offensive skills who jumps into the rush with ease, Del Zotto will need to improve his reliability in his own zone, and play a more physical game as he moves toward the professional ranks. Expected to return to Oshawa this fall for his third junior season, the Rangers will be looking for Del Zotto to play a more rounded game. Although it will be possible for Del Zotto to join the NHL after this coming season, it is more likely that he will need two more season of junior hockey before he commences professional play.

5. (8) Lauri Korpikoski, LW, 7.0B

Age: 22
Acquired: First Round, 19th overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

Korpikoski followed his inconsistent 2006-07 North American debut with a lackluster NHL training camp in the fall of 2007. Although this did not bode well for the 2007-08 season, the former first-round pick played solidly throughout the season for the AHL Wolf Pack. Korpikoski was rewarded for his excellent season with a promotion to the Rangers during the playoffs. He did not disappoint, scoring a goal in his first NHL game. A reliable two-way forward, whose speed is unequaled among the Rangers’ prospects, Korpikoski can play in all situations and take face-offs.  He is expected to battle for a Rangers’ roster spot, and with his experience on the penalty kill, speed, and puckhandling skills, he is one of the rookies most likely to stick with the team. If he fails to crack the Rangers roster this fall, expect Korpikoski to be a mid-season call-up.

6. Evgeny Grachev, C, 7.5C

Age: 18
Acquired: Third round, 75th overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft

The Rangers have now had several years of good fortune in selecting Russian players in the NHL entry draft. Grachev is one of those players that other teams shied away from and he fell to the third round. But he is anxious to play in North America and with any visa issues resolved, Grachev will play for the OHL Brampton Battalion this season. With the excellent coaching of Stan Butler in Brampton, Grachev should be able to move his big game forward in the manner the Rangers are hoping for over the next season. He has excellent size as an 18-year-old, and has no problems using his strength to protect the puck and crash the net. In addition, Grachev has very good speed and agility for his height. Although he has played center for most of his career, he has the potential to become a first to second line power forward, so over the next season he will most likely be converted to wing. Grachev is at least one year from being NHL-ready.

7. (17) Tomas Zaborsky, LW, 7.0C

Age: 20
Acquired: Fifth Round, 137th overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft

The Rangers late-round 2006 selection of Zaborsky may turn out to be one of their better picks in recent years. Soft hands with a quick release, Zaborsky has incredible offensive instincts. Over the last two seasons, Zaborsky’s stature within the organization has risen, given his solid two-way play with the OHL Saginaw Spirit and his increasing comfort with the North American style of play. The Rangers are looking for Zaborsky to continue to develop into a big moment player — to become the go-to forward in a pressure situation. To do so, the Slovakian winger will have to toughen up mentally and physically as he begins his professional career in Hartford this fall. If he is able to do so, he could become a solid addition to the Rangers roster.

8. (9) Dane Byers, LW, 6.5B

Age: 22
Acquired: Second Round, 48th overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

When Byers was drafted in 2004, the Rangers believed that they were selecting a tough player, with some offensive upside, but more a forward who would protect his teammates and not be intimidated by anyone. Since he arrived in Hartford in 2006-07, however, Byers has shown surprising offensive abilities. Some of this could be explained in his rookie professional season, as Byers was on a line with arguably the Wolf Pack’s best players. This past season, however, Byers was playing with different linemates and continued to produce solid numbers. At 6’3, 195, Byers is big and strong, with soft hands and no fear of confrontation with some of the toughest players in opposition jerseys. Byers should get an opportunity to show the Rangers that he is worthy of roster spot. Should he not stick with the NHL team out of training camp, he will likely be called up sometime during the season.

9. (18) Carl Hagelin, LW, 7.0C

Age: 19
Acquired: Sixth Round, 168th overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft

Since Hagelin was drafted in 2007, he has shown that he has the potential to be an NHL second-line center. Now in his sophomore season with the University of Michigan, Hagelin is an outstanding student, he won academic honors for work freshman year, and had a more than respectable first year of collegiate hockey. Used in all situations, Hagelin is expected to get more ice time this season and increase his .5 pts/game freshman offensive production. Hagelin is a skill player, with quick feet, and a fearless attitude. He is not afraid to go into traffic and instinctively knows what to do with the puck when he gets it. Hagelin is several years away from a professional career, very possibly choosing to finish his four years at Michigan before signing with the Rangers.

10. (5) Michael Sauer, D, 7.0C

Age: 21
Acquired: Second Round, 40th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

A blueliner with all sorts of potential, Sauer has had trouble staying healthy for most of his career. Currently recovering from knee surgery that was necessitated by an injury sustained in the playoffs last spring, Sauer is expected to begin the season on the bench. A mostly defensive defenseman with some offensive upside, the Minnesota native did have a satisfactory rookie AHL season in 2007-08. With excellent size, instincts, and an excellent work ethic, Sauer has all the tools to develop into a second pair defenseman. It was hoped that he would continue to hone his skills this season and be NHL-ready in the fall of 2009, however, this latest injury could set him back in that quest. At this point, proving to the Rangers that he can stay healthy should be one of Sauer’s top goals.

11. (N/A) Derek Stepan, C, 7.5D

Age: 18
Acquired: Second Round, 51st overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft

A boom or bust prospect, Stepan was a major force at Shattuck St. Mary’s during the 2007-08 season. His 44 goals and 111 points led the team last year. Now a freshman at the University of Wisconsin, Stepan is a very good skater, with excellent hands, and a fast release. A natural playmaker, Stepan has a knack for making the right pass, and the speed to make things happen. Stepan will be looking to take his game to the next level on one of the best teams in collegiate hockey. Unlike some other hockey players, who take an extra year before beginning college, Stepan was extremely anxious to join the Wisconsin Badgers at age 18, and currently is one of the youngest players on the team. It is hard to predict at this point how long it will be before Stepan is ready for a professional hockey career. There is no question that he has a lot of potential, but it will be awhile before the Rangers know whether Stepan will be boom or bust.

12. (N/A) Miika Wiikman, G, 7.0C

Age: 24
Acquired: Free Agent

Last season, Wiikman played in Hartford, on an AHL contract signed during the summer of 2007. After attending the Rangers training camp last fall and playing very well, Wiikman was assigned to back up former Rangers top prospect Al Montoya in Hartford. However, after Montoya was traded to Phoenix in February 2008, Wiikman took over the No. 1 netminder duties for the Wolf Pack. On April 24, 2008, after the AHL season had ended for Hartford, the Rangers signed Wiikman to his first NHL contract. Although the Swede is expected to give NHL backup netminder Steve Valiquette some competition in Rangers training camp, Wiikman is all but assured to be returned to Hartford to begin the season. However, should injuries arise in goal during the season, Wiikman is the most likely candidate to be called upon to help the NHL team. If he is not ready for the NHL backup role this season, he will surely be ready to fill that role in 2009.  

13. (12) Matt Zaba, G, 7.0C

Age: 25
Acquired: Free Agent

Zaba will get a very close look this fall, as the Rangers are hoping they have something very special in him — a late-blooming netminder with the potential to become a No. 1 netminder. Zaba had a very good, but not outstanding, career during his four years at Colorado College, but he was resilient and the Rangers saw potential in him. After signing Zaba as a free agent on August 20, 2007, he played very well in Rangers training camp last fall. However, with Montoya, Wiikman, and Chris Holt ahead of Zaba, it was difficult for the Saskatchewan native to get time between the pipes. After a dismal start with the ECHL Charlotte Checkers, Zaba was loaned to the Idaho Steelheads. In 29 games with Idaho, Zaba had three shutouts, and a 12-4-1 record. It created a buzz in the Rangers organization, and they will be watching closely as Zaba is set to be the primary netminder for the team in the Traverse City Rookie Tournament later this month.

14. (15) Ryan Hillier, LW, 7.0C

Age: 20
Acquired: Third Round 84th overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft

Hillier made major improvements to his game this past season, showing that he can play the team game and be responsible defensively. Halifax rewarded him by playing him in all situations, giving Hillier the freedom to use his creativity to the team’s best advantage. Hillier has vastly improved his on-ice decision making, which should make him an interesting prospect to watch as he begins his professional career. Still recovering from injury, Hillier will not be participating in the Traverse City Rookie Tournament this year, however, he will be attending the main training camp later this month. Once he is healthy, Hillier will be joining either Hartford or Charlotte for the 2008-09 season.  He will need to continue to work on his decision-making this season, in the hopes that he will become NHL-ready within one to two years. 

15. (N/A) Dale Weise, RW, 6.5C

Age: 20
Acquired: Fourth Round, 11th overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft

Weise, a winger who has spent the last three seasons playing for the WHL Swift Current Broncos, was drafted two years behind others his age. Not selected in the first year he entered the draft, the Rangers were happy to get the big power forward in the fourth round in Ottawa this summer. Out during the 2007-08 season for several weeks due to a hand injury, and then serving several game suspensions, Weise only played in 53 regular season games for the Broncos. But in that time, he posted almost a point a game. Weise can finish, and, in addition, is strong, tough, and not afraid to get into traffic. In other words, Weise is exactly the kind of player that the Rangers like. There is an overage spot awaiting him in Swift Current for the 2008-09 season, however, Weise is also eligible to play in the AHL this season. Don’t expect a decision to be made prior to the Rangers’ training camp. 

16. (7) Greg Moore, RW, 6.5C

Age: 24
Acquired: March 6, 2004 Trade with Calgary Flames

Although Moore was the best player in Hartford last season, when he was called up to the Rangers he was unable to put any points on the board. A defensive forward who has good hockey smarts, and a great work ethic, Moore should be ready for NHL play, if ever. However, questions remain as to whether he will be effective on this level. Moore will get the opportunity to make the team out of training camp, and if he does not do so, then as a mid-season call-up. However, if he is unable to crack the NHL lineup by the end of the coming season, there will be major questions about his future within the organization.

17. (16) Max Campbell, C, 7.0D

Age: 19
Acquired: Fifth Round, 138th overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft

Campbell had an excellent 2007-08 season as a freshman at the Western Michigan University. He played in every game and posted 22 total points (which placed him 15th among freshmen his conference). An excellent playmaker, Campbell is unselfish in his offensive play, and is quick to show his top-notch stickhandling skills and soft hands. He will need to work on his two-way game over the next few years or he will not be successful in transitioning to the professional game, but Campbell has the offensive gifts to become a top-six forward on an NHL team. It is likely that the work he has ahead of him will require a full four years of NCAA play, however, it will be exciting to watch him make progress toward his professional career.

18. (14) Corey Potter, D, 6.5C

Age: 24
Acquired: Fourth Round, 122nd overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

After an excellent career at Michigan State, in 2006-07, Potter joined the Charlotte Checkers to start his professional career. He played extremely well for the ECHL team, and was promoted to Hartford, where he continued to improve his game. During his sophomore 2007-08 season, Potter carried the best plus/minus ratio on the AHL team (+30) and continued to produce offensively. A good skater, who likes to jump into the play to create offensive chances, if Potter played consistently shift in and out, he would have already been called up to the NHL team. However, his penchant to take penalties at critical moments hurt the Wolf Pack last season. It is likely that Potter will get a close look from the Rangers in training camp this month, but begin the season in the AHL.

19. (13) Brodie Dupont, LW, 6.5C

Age: 21
Acquired: Third Round, 66th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

Dupont is a prototypical power forward, with size and grit, as well as the ability to play in traffic. After three successful seasons with the WHL Calgary Hitmen, Dupont began his professional career last season in Hartford. Regularly playing on the AHL team’s third and fourth lines, Dupont was a physical force on the ice. As effective short handed as he is at even strength, Dupont can surprise opposition with his quick release on his shot. With his 2007-08 post-season shortened by a concussion, it was hard to fully evaluate Dupont’s adjustment to the rigors of post-season play, but his regular season play indicated that Dupont is right on target to become a second to third line winger in the NHL in two to three years. Expect Dupont to see more ice time in Hartford this season. 

20. (N/A) David Skokan, C, 6.0C

Age: 19
Acquired: Seventh Round, 193rd overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft

Skokan recently decided to begin his professional career and forgo another year of major junior hockey. Signed to an AHL contract, he is expected to play in Hartford this season, but the Rangers will retain his rights until next summer. Skokan had an excellent WJC tournament in 2008, recording eight points in six games for his native Slovakia. He is an excellent playmaker who has a great work ethic and a fondness for playing in traffic. Not always given the ice time in Rimouski to adequately demonstrate his skill set, Skokan will get that opportunity this winter in the AHL. Projected to be a third line center, Skokan will need at least one, and more likely two, years of AHL play prior to being ready to challenge for a Rangers roster position.

Note: Ivan Baranka, who was ranked sixth overall in the spring 2008 Rangers Top 20, remains a Rangers’ prospect. However, because Baranka has returned to Europe, against the wishes of the Rangers, and is now a member of Moscow Spartek of the KHL, he did not make the fall 2008 Rangers Top 20.