Rangers Top 20 prospects, Spring 2009

By Leslie Treff

Top 20 at a Glance

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

1. (2) Artem Anisimov, C  Grade: 7.5B
Team: AHL Hartford Wolf Pack
Acquired: Second Round, 54th overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 20

With the tragic passing of Rangers former top prospect Alexei Cherepanov, Anisimov becomes the top prospect in the organization. Originally expected to be a first round draft selection, Anisimov fell to the second round because there was some hesitance among NHL teams as to whether Anisimov would come to play in North America. However, other NHL teams’ reluctance has proven to be the Rangers’ gain, as Anisimov is already well into his second season playing in North America.

A member of the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack, at 6’4, 194, Anisimov is a large physical presence on the ice. However, he plays his game quietly and steadily, working hard every game for a full 60 minutes. Currently seventh overall in league scoring, "Artie" is an excellent face-off man who can be counted on in all zones. The first-line center plays in all situations, and has already been called up to the NHL once this season.

With seven game-winning goals for the Wolf Pack, including two this month, Anisimov has nothing more to prove at this level. Expect Anisimov to get a very long look in training camp next fall and to join the Rangers as a regular roster player for the 2009-10 season. 

2. (4) Michael Del Zotto, D  Grade: 8.0C
Team: OHL London Knights
Acquired: First Round, 20th overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 18

The Rangers were delighted that Del Zotto was available at No. 20 overall in last summer’s NHL draft. An offensive defenseman with excellent vision and skating ability, Del Zotto plays with a bit of an edge. 

A leading OHL defenseman this season, Del Zotto was recently traded from the Oshawa Generals to a top CHL contender, the London Knights. The trade deadline deal, which sent Del Zotto and his three-year teammate John Tavares to the Knights, will give Del Zotto his best chance thus far to win the Memorial Cup. This kind of playoff/tournament experience will be excellent for the Ontario native, because Del Zotto was not chosen to compete in last summer’s Canadian U20 World Junior Championship selection camp.

Although it is true that the Rangers have weaknesses on defense that they would love Del Zotto to fill next season, it is not likely that Del Zotto will be ready to do so. Expected to fill a similar role on the NHL team as prospect Bobby Sanguinetti, the Rangers have the luxury of waiting another season to see how both blueliners develop. However, Del Zotto will be scrutinized heavily in Traverse City and the main camp, and, if he looks ready, he could be a surprise player on the NHL roster for the 2009-10 season.
3. (6) Evgeny Grachev, C/LW  Grade: 8.0C
Team: OHL Brampton Battalion
Acquired: Third Round, 75th overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 19

Grachev’s performance since joining the OHL Brampton Battalion last fall has been most impressive. Another player whose skill level far exceeded his place of selection in last summer’s NHL Entry Draft, Grachev was rated as the second overall European skater at the NHL Central Scouting’s 2008 mid-term rankings. He dropped to ninth overall at the final rankings, at least in part because of potential visa issues.

This was a huge advantage to the Rangers, who had seen Grachev play in Russia and were shocked that he was still available at 75th overall. The Rangers and the OHL Battalion then worked very hard to get the visa issues resolved, and Grachev was in North America by the early fall 2008.

Both New York and Brampton have benefited greatly from their hard work. Although Grachev needed to adjust to North American play, it was evident shortly after his arrival that the Russian native would be a force in the OHL. Additionally, it was determined that, although he had played center in Europe, he would be very effective in North America as a winger. Since then, Grachev has been playing left wing on one of the most productive top lines in the OHL.

Grachev completed the OHL regular season as the top-scoring rookie in the league. Currently the top power forward prospect in the Rangers organization, Grachev is expected to turn pro this summer. Although there is a possibility that the winger will become an NHL roster player next fall, it is more likely that he will start in Hartford. 

4. (3) Bobby Sanguinetti, D  Grade: 7.5C
Team: AHL Hartford Wolf Pack
Acquired: First Round, 21st overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 21

Sanguinetti is in his first professional season and has spent the entire 2008-09 campaign as a member of the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack. He has put up very good offensive numbers, but there was never a question that the highly-touted defenseman would continue to show his offensive prowess at this level. What was an issue at the time Sanguinetti was drafted in 2006, and continues to be three years later, is his positioning and stick work.

Thus, although Sanguinetti is one of the league’s leading scorers among rookie defensemen, he also has the worst plus/minus among all his teammates. Many of his junior defensive issues have not resolved in his first professional season. Lower offensive production this month has been combined with somewhat better play in his own zone, but Sanguinetti is expected to create offensive chances and play responsible defense when he is on the ice. 

Whether or not he can do so remains to be seen, but Sanguinetti will get a shot at proving that he is ready for NHL play next fall. If he is not, he runs the risk of being replaceable in the organization, as Michael Del Zotto will be knocking on the door the following fall. As many of Del Zotto’s skills will duplicate Sanguinetti’s in the coming years, it is most likely that over the long run, the Rangers will only keep one of these players.

5. (11) Derek Stepan, C  Grade: 7.5C
Team: NCAA Wisconsin Badgers
Acquired: Second Round, 51st overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 18

Stepan is the third of the Rangers’ 2008 NHL Entry Draft selections in the top five prospects. This says as much about the ability of the organization to find prospects that will perform at a high level as it does about the depletion of the prospect ranks over the last two years.

Stepan was a very high-scoring forward at Shattuck-St Mary’s last season and a true freshman at the University of Wisconsin during 2008-09. His performance with the Badgers was excellent, finishing the season as the second leading scorer on the team. He played in all situations and had been promoted to the team’s top center during the last month of the season. 

Just 18 years old, Stepan is extremely creative with soft hands. His positioning and instincts are excellent, with the ability to finish when under pressure. A top Rangers prospect, Stepan will likely get an invite to the USA National Junior Evaluation Camp this summer, where he may very well show that he should be a member of the U.S. 2010 U20 WJC team. 

Stepan is expected to play at least one more season at Wisconsin.

6. (5) Lauri Korpikoski, LW  Grade: 7.0C
Team: NHL New York Rangers
Acquired: First Round, 19th overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 22

Korpikoski began the 2008-09 season as a member of the Rangers. With only a brief stint in Hartford during late October and early November, Korpikoski has been on the NHL  roster the entire season. Used mostly as an energy player, the winger is incredibly speedy, can take face-offs and has good hands. He has been tried in several roles this season, however, he has not been very successful as a top-six forward thus far. While he was an AHL player, Korpkoski was used extensively on the penalty kill, and he began to be used in this way by the NHL team as well.

Although Korpikoski was originally hoped to be a second line winger or center, it does not appear at this point that he will reach that potential.

7. (10) Michael Sauer, D  Grade: 7.0C
Team: AHL Hartford Wolf Pack
Acquired: Second Round, 40th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft
Age:  21

After a mediocre rookie professional season, Sauer has really blossomed this year. Considered a mostly defensive blueliner, with the ability to contribute to the offense when needed, Sauer has done just that this season. He currently ranks third among team defensemen in total points, while posting the best plus/minus rating on the Wolf Pack roster.

Injury issues marred Sauer’s junior career, but the St. Cloud, Minnesota native seems to have put most of that behind him. This year he has been able to play through most such issues, and has been a big contributor to the Wolf Pack’s success.

Sauer will get a close look at the Rangers training camp this fall. Although he is likely to spend one more year in the AHL, New York is very much in need of defensive help and Sauer may be ready for the 2009-10 season.

8. (8) Dane Byers, LW  Grade: 6.5B
Team: AHL Hartford Wolf Pack
Acquired: Second round, 48th overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 23

This was supposed to be the year that Byers would make the step up to the NHL. Last year, he got a one-game call-up and much was expected for the 2008-09 season. Unfortunately, just nine games into the season, Byers injured his knee, which required surgery and has kept him out of action since October.

Byers has shown unexpected offensive potential over the last two seasons. His size, strength, and willingness to drop the gloves were well-known when he was drafted. His offensive upside has been a surprise.

Absent the knee injury, Byers almost certainly would have gotten a call-up to the Rangers during this season. It is hoped that Byers will return shortly and contribute to the team during the post-season. Whether or not he can do so, he should get a very close look next fall at the Rangers training camp. 

9. (N/A) Tomas Kundratek, D  Grade: 7.0C
Team: WHL Medicine Hat Tigers
Acquired: Third Round, 90th overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 19

A big defensive blueliner, Kundratek is another European player who has come to North America to play his 2008-09 hockey. After missing  the first month of the season with a broken finger, Kundratek started to play with the WHL Medicine Hat Tigers in late October. He quickly became a force on the ice and has adjusted well to the North American style of play.

Defensively responsible, Kundratek is not afraid to drop the gloves. What was not expected, however, is that the young Czech can be an offensive weapon. A staple on the Medicine Hat power play, three of Kundratek’s four regular season goals were with the extra man.

Kundratek additionally was able to get some international tournament experience this winter. Although the Czech Republic did not make the medal round in the tournament, Kundratek made his mark. His six assists was the highest point total of defensemen on the team.

The Czech native is expected to play in Traverse City next fall and to return to the WHL for one more season.

10. (13) Matt Zaba, G  Grade: 6.5B
Team: AHL Hartford Wolf Pack
Acquired: Free Agent, Signed 8/20/07
Age: 25

Zaba was signed to an entry-level contract after four years at Colorado College. After not getting sufficient playing time with the ECHL Charlotte Checkers last season, Zaba was loaned to another team in the league, the Idaho Steelheads. It was in Idaho that Zaba began to make his professional mark. In 19 games with the Steelheads, the Saskatchewan native went 12-4-1, including three shutouts.
His impressive training camp performance gained Zaba the backup role in Hartford for the 2008-09 season. After appearing in only one game in October, Zaba won in three out of four November starts. It was in January that Zaba became the Wolf Pack’s starting netminder, and since then, he has won 14 of his 19 starts. At one point earlier this month, Zaba had a seven-game win streak.

Just back from injury, Zaba will once again be the No. 1 netminder in Hartford. With solid technique, a good glove hand and excellent lateral movement, Zaba has many starting netminder qualities. Because he did not begin his professional career until age 24, Zaba is somewhat at a disadvantage, however, he will be competing for the backup spot in New York next season.

11. (9) Carl Hagelin, LW  Grade: 6.5C
Team: NCAA Michigan Wolverines
Acquired: Sixth Round, 168th overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 20

Hagelin, a sophomore at the University of Michigan, has recently been playing on the first line for the Wolverines. Expected to be a new breed third-line player in the NHL, Hagelin is a skater who can be physical and also offensively produce.

Bound for NCAA East Regional Semi-Final with his teammates, Hagelin has had an excellent sophomore season. Tied for 16th in scoring in the CCHA, Hagelin scored a shorthanded game-winning goal against Western Michigan last weekend to help propel the Wolverines into the CCHA Semi-Finals.

Hagelin has developed the skill and skating ability to be a solid collegiate two-way player. With his toughness and hockey smarts, Hagelin should continue to grow into the type of player that the Rangers were looking for when they selected him in 2007. He most likely will finish his four years at Michigan before beginning his professional career.

12. (7) Tomas Zaborsky, LW  Grade: 7.0D
Team: AHL Hartford Wolf Pack
Acquired: Fifth Round, 137th overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft

Zaborsky is one of the Rangers late-round boom or bust selections, and at various times over the past two years, the young Slovakian player has yo-yoed between the two. There is no question that Zaborsky has soft hands with a quick release, and can be very defensively responsible.

What the Rangers would like from him is to become a big-game player, a go-to offensive wizard. Zaborsky has incredible offensive instincts; the question is whether he will develop the mental and physical resilience to become a well-rounded player.

After a rocky beginning of the season with the ECHL Charlotte Checkers, Zaborsky was loaned to the Dayton Bombers. While at Dayton, Zaborsky was given the freedom to show his offensive talents, and he blossomed.  A promotion to Hartford followed, however, after just eight games, he was injured and has not returned to the lineup.

Zaborsky has one more season to show that he can consistently can produce and play a full 60 minutes at a high level. If he can do so, he has the potential to be a second-line player in the NHL.

13. (18) Corey Potter, D  Grade: 6.5C
Team: AHL Hartford Wolf Pack
Acquired: Fourth Round, 122nd overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft
Age:  25

Potter played four years at Michigan State prior to joining the ECHL Charlotte Checkers during the 2006-07 season. Expected to be a solid defensive blueliner, Potter showed that he could also play on the offensive side of the puck while with the Checkers. After a promotion to the Wolf Pack, Potter continued to develop. During his sophomore 2007-08 season, Potter carried the best plus/minus ratio on the AHL team (+30) and was seen as a possible Rangers seventh defenseman for this season.

Despite three call-ups this season, Potter has not stuck with the NHL team. A good skater who likes to jump into the play to create offensive chances, at this point, Potter is a borderline NHL player. He has cut down on his penalties in Hartford this season, but his plus/minus rating has also plummeted. Although some thought that he would be moved at the trade deadline, Potter is still with the organization.

It is an open question whether he will get a chance to show what he can do with the NHL team on an extended basis.

14. (12) Miika Wiikman, G  Grade: 6.5C
Team: AHL Hartford Wolf Pack
Acquired: Free Agent, Signed 4/24/08
Age: 24

Wiikman was signed to an entry-level contract after an excellent 2007-08 season with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack. He had been on an AHL contract and assigned to back up former Rangers top prospect Al Montoya for the 2007-08 season. However, after Montoya was traded to Phoenix in February 2008, Wiikman took over the No. 1 netminder duties in Hartford and did such a good job that the Rangers rewarded Wiikman with an entry-level contract.

Unfortunately, Wiikman did not repeat his excellent performance early this season and he has lost the No. 1 goaltending duties to Zaba. When Zaba was injured earlier this month, Wiikman was called upon to take over, and with consistent work he played very well. However, it is expected that Zaba will be the go-to netminder for Hartford until he shows not capable of doing the job.

Wiikman’s position in the organization has slipped since the start of the 2008-09 season, and it will take a lot of hard consistent work for him to turn it around. He has been doing all he can of late, however, time will tell as to whether he has any future with the Rangers.  

15. (17) Max Campbell, C  Grade: 7.0D
Team: NCAA Western Michigan University Broncos
Acquired: Fifth Round, 138th overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 20

A playmaking center who is a real offensive threat on the power play, Campbell is a creative offensive wizard who now in his sophomore year at Western Michigan University.

Tied for 16th in scoring in the CCHA this season, the Rangers are looking for Campbell to make even more of an offensive contribution, pick up his speed, and fill out more over the next two years.

If he can develop along those lines, Campbell can be a top-six forward in the NHL, but thus far, he has not repeated the offensive prowess that caught the Rangers eye while he played Junior B hockey in the Western Ontario Hockey League.

Expect Campbell to require a full four years of NCAA play prior to becoming a professional hockey player.

16. (19) Brodie Dupont, LW  Grade: 6.0B
Team: AHL Hartford Wolf Pack
Acquired: Third Round, 66th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 22

Dupont is a character player, known for sticking up for his teammates. Now a second-year player in Hartford, Dupont can also put the puck in the net when given the opportunity to do so.

With the size and strength of a prototypical power forward, Dupont has been developing slowly in Hartford. Although last year was somewhat disappointing, this season Dupont has stepped into a bigger role.

Consistent play will be required to move to the next level, and the left winger will need at least one more season in Hartford before he is ready. With some more development in his hockey game and pugilistic skills, Dupont will do well in the role he is to play in the NHL.

17. (N/A) Tom Pyatt, C  Grade: 6.5C
Team: AHL Hartford Wolf Pack
Acquired: Fourth Round, 107th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 22

Pyatt was left off the Top 20 last fall because he had trouble adjusting to the professional level of play and spent most of the 2007-08 season as a member of the ECHL Charlotte Checkers. However, Pyatt has fought back and has spent the entire season playing for the Wolf Pack.

Work ethic is Pyatt’s biggest asset. He never gives up — either on himself or the play. He has the skills to be offensively dangerous and is very responsible in his own end. He is good on face-offs, and through sheer determination has made his way up to a half point per game scoring pace. Realistically not expected to become a second line NHL player, one should not be surprised if he overcomes the odds. He make take longer than some other players to become successful in the NHL, but he is sure that he will make it and when Pyatt sets his mind on hockey, it’s not wise to bet against him.

18. (N/A) Chris Doyle, C  Grade: 7.0D
Team: QMJHL PEI Rocket
Acquired: Fifth Round, 141st overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 19

Doyle had some issues that caused him to drop this far in the draft, however, there never were any questions about his offensive prowess.  Among the top 25 in scoring in the QMJHL this season, Doyle has continued to develop offensively and is expected to be a top producer in the Q next season.

The questions that have surrounded him for the past couple of years concern work ethic and a lack of two-way play. Doyle’s plus/minus rating remains low, however, he is working toward becoming more of a player in both zones. Additionally, he has been working all season on his conditioning.

It remains to be seen as to whether Doyle can change his habits sufficiently to fulfill his potential. Look for him to spend another year in the CHL prior to the Rangers considering giving Doyle an entry-level NHL contract.

19. (15) Dale Weise, RW  Grade: 6.0C
Team: AHL Hartford Wolf Pack
Acquired: Fourth Round, 111th overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 20

Weise was drafted by the Rangers at age 19, having been passed over by all NHL teams in his prior eligibility. A tough player who has offensive skill, Weise also has size and can intimidate his opponents, particularly goaltenders when he crashes opponents’ nets.

In his rookie professional season, Weise has had a rather unproductive year with the Wolf Pack, that is until recently. This month, he has seven points (four goals, three assists) in 11 games. If he can get close to his major junior pace of a point a game, Weise the agitator/fighter will be very useful indeed.

Expect Weise to spend at least one more season in the AHL.

20. (16) Greg Moore, RW  Grade 6.0C
Team: AHL Hartford Wolf Pack
Acquired: Trade with Calgary Flames, 3/6/04
Age: 24

Moore was recently named the Wolf Pack’s new captain. Expected to remain with the AHL team for some time, it appears that the likelihood of him playing for the Rangers is disappearing more and more as each day passes. He did skate in six games for the Rangers during the 2007-08 season, however, he was completely ineffective and did not get such a call-up this season.

Now a third year player for the Wolf Pack, Moore is a very good two-way player at this level — a defensive player with excellent hockey smarts. However, there are questions about his skating, which has created difficulties dealing with the speed of the NHL game.

At this point it is unlikely that Moore will fulfill his potential and become a permanent regular member of the NHL team.