Rangers 2008-09 NCAA/CIS prospects update

By Leslie Treff

Six of the Rangers recent draft picks are currently playing collegiate hockey. All of the players are forwards, with four skating for NCAA teams and two playing CIS hockey.

Derek Stepan, C
Freshman, University of Wisconsin
Acquired: Second Round, 51st overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft

Stepan stood out Shattuck-St. Mary’s prior to the Rangers drafting him last year. The leading scorer on a top prep team, what was particularly impressive to the Rangers was Stepan’s hockey sense and hands. According to Director of Player Personnel, Gordie Clark, “we really saw that in Derek prior to the draft. And then after the draft, he came into our Rookie Camp and scored one of the prettiest goals. He has all kinds of shots.”

Only 18 years old, and four months into his collegiate hockey career, Stepan is already centering the Badgers second line and playing in all situations. In addition, he will often be called upon to take crucial face-offs when the game is on the line.

There is no question that Stepan has made some mistakes in his collegiate debut season, but, Clark is very happy that the Hastings, Minnesota native “learns very well and has little problem making corrections.”

Stepan’s performance has been rewarded by the WCHA, who named him Rookie of the Week last month and nominated him for the honor again two weeks ago. Currently second on the Badgers in total points, Stepan is tied for fifth in scoring among freshmen in the conference. 

The Rangers see Stepan’s potential as a top-six forward, but will wait at least another two years before he becomes a professional.     

Max Campbell, C
Sophomore, Western Michigan University
Acquired: Fifth Round, 138th overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft

Drafted out of the Strathroy Rockets of the Western Ontario Hockey League, Campbell is a former Ontario Junior "B" Player of the Year. According to Clark, when the Rangers drafted him, they saw a specialty player.

“He is a playmaking center, who could really shine on the power play,” he said.

Campbell had a solid, but not exceptional, freshman year during the 2007-08 season, and it was hoped that after adjusting to playing at this higher level, he would follow it up with big offensive production this year. The Broncos have not been very competitive this season, which has hindered Campbell’s progress, but he also has not completely adjusted to the quickness of the game at this level.

Currently third overall on the team in total points, the Rangers are looking for Campbell to make more of an offensive contribution, pick up his speed, and fill out more before becoming a professional hockey player.

Carl Hagelin, LW
Sophomore, University of Michigan
Acquired: Sixth Round, 168th overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft

Unlike Max Campbell above, who is only playing with two other (late-round) NHL prospects, Hagelin is one of 13 NHL draftees on the Wolverines roster. Currently, ranked third in the country, Michigan is a top collegiate program, so it’s impressive that Hagelin is first on the team in shots taken and tied for fourth in total points. He is tied for the lead in game-winning goals on the team, and is a solid, reliable two-way player who plays in all situations.

According to Clark, the Rangers loved Hagelin’s speed when they first saw him. “Now he’s getting even better. We don’t expect him to be a prolific scorer as a professional, but he brings speed and tenacity, and will be able to be a very good penalty killer.”

Always smart, on and off the ice (Hagelin won an academic achievement award last year), the Rangers hope that the Swedish native will become a third-line professional, who can provide both checking and scoring in New York two to three years down the road.

Danny Hobbs, RW
Freshman, University of Massachusetts
Acquired: Seventh Road, 198th overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft

After Hobbs graduated from Stansford College Prep in Quebec, he joined the USHL Ohio Jr. Blue Jackets for the 2006-07 season. In 60 regular season games, the young Shawville, Quebec native accumulated 21 points, 36 PIM, and a -24 rating. In his second year, he was even more productive on a team that was in turmoil (it later ceased operations). This fall, Hobbs entered the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He has not gotten much ice time, but the Rangers see him as a late bloomer and will be watching his next season very closely.

“Danny is a character player, who is very fit. Next year is a big year for him. He will be getting the puck much more and we expect him to really develop,” commented Clark.

A long-shot to make the NHL, Hobbs is expected to spend four full years in the NCAA.

Greg Beller, LW
Junior, University of Manitoba
Acquired: Sixth Round, 178th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

Beller’s journey since being drafted by the Rangers in 2005 has been a long and winding one.

A high school player at draft time, Beller spent the 2005-06 season as a member of the USHL Green Bay Gamblers. However, he only played in three games, due to an injured collarbone. In the fall of 2006, Beller joined the Yale Bulldogs. He had a mediocre, but promising, freshman season, but then, in his sophomore year, left the program due to problems with a new coach appointed to lead the New Haven team.

Beller spent the rest of last season as a member of the BCHL Vernon Vipers, where he played very well and his offensive production went way up, however, he was one of the oldest members of the league. 

After sitting out the required year from his last game at Yale, Beller joined the University of Manitoba Bisons toward the end of November. In nine regular season games since then, he posted three points (one goal, two assists).

Clark had high praise for Beller’s hockey smarts.

“Greg is a very determined hockey player, a late bloomer with some size," Clark said. "He has always needed to work on his skating and will have to continue to do so to have a professional career.”

A long-shot to make the NHL, Beller has one more year on the Rangers’ reserve list to earn an entry-level contract.

Eric Hunter, LW
Sophomore, University of Alberta
Acquired: Sixth Round, 174th overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft

The Rangers were the second team to draft Hunter, who was first eligible in 2004. After the Chicago Blackhawks failed to sign him, Hunter went back into the 2006 draft and became a Rangers property. During the 2005-06 season, Hunter posted 72 points in 71 WHL games for the Prince George Cougars. He returned to the Cougars for an overage season, but his production declined, after which Hunter was not offered an entry-level contract.

After a stellar rookie season at the University of Alberta, Hunter’s production has declined once again, this time on a top-notch Golden Bears team. While the Rangers are still watching, time is running out for the Oakbank, Manitoba native.