Rangers Top 20 prospects, Fall 2009

By Leslie Treff

Top 20 at a Glance

1. Evgeny Grachev, C/LW, 8.0C
2. Artem Anisimov, C, 7.5B
3. Ryan McDonagh, D, 8.0C
4. Derek Stepan, C, 8.0C
5. Michael Del Zotto, D, 7.5C
6. Bobby Sanguinetti, D, 7.5C
7. Chris Kreider, C/LW, 8.0D
8. Ilkka Heikkinen, D, 7.0B
9. Matt Gilroy , D, 7.0B
10. Michael Sauer, D, 7.0B
11. Nigel Williams, D, 7.0C
12. Tomas Kundratek, D, 7.0C
13. Dane Byers, LW, 6.5B
14. Ethan Werek, C, 7.0C
15. Ryan Bourque, C, 7.0D
16. Brian Boyle, C, 6.5B
17. Carl Hagelin, LW, 6.5C
18. Chris Doyle, C, 7.0D
19. Brodie Dupont, LW, 6.0B
20. David Kveton, RW, 6.5D

The Fall 2009 Rangers Top 20 contains many changes, as the Rangers successfully retool their system to add top prospects, particularly along the blueline. Since the end of the 2008-09 season, two top defensive prospects were signed as free agents, and two defensemen and one forward were obtained in off-season trades. In total, nine new players populate the fall 2009 Rangers Top 20.

With eight defensemen and 12 forwards on the list this fall, it is the first time in five years that no goaltenders were named to the Top 20. Matt Zaba, who competed the 2008-09 season as the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack’s No. 1 netminder, is no longer eligible for the list. Although the Rangers have Henrik Lundqvist in goal for the foreseeable future and Stephen Valiquette will return as backup netminder for the 2009-10 season, the Rangers are very happy with Zaba and are looking for him to compete for the backup NHL role for the 2010-11 season. Miika Wiikman, who lost his No. 1 spot on the AHL team to Zaba last season, is still an HF prospect, but has fallen off the Top 20.

The top position on the list has changed for the third time in the last year. This fall’s new No. 1 prospect, Evgeny Grachev, had an outstanding season with the OHL Brampton Battalion during the 2008-09 campaign. Always considered a top offensive threat, he showed incredible strength on the puck, good two-way coverage, as well as an excellent ability to finish during his North American debut season.  

1. (3) Evgeny Grachev, C/LW Grade: 8.0C
Acquired: Third Round, 75th overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 19

Grachev has continually risen in both the eyes of the Rangers management and HF since he was drafted in June of 2008. Although at times early in the 2008-09 OHL season, he seemed to give an inconsistent effort on the ice, after he adjusted to North American play, he was a standout for the OHL Brampton Battalion. Named OHL Rookie of the Year in April 2009, Grachev was the top first-year scorer in the league.

Although the Russian forward was drafted as a center, he spent much of the 2008-09 season playing on the left wing. At 6’3, 212 lbs, and the ability to make things happen in front of the net, Grachev is a prototypical power forward, who is now thought to become NHL-ready sooner than originally expected. He will get a good look in the Traverse City Rookie Tournament, and then later in the month at the Rangers’ main training camp. Although it is likely that he will start the season as a member of the Hartford Wolf Pack, an excellent showing this fall could lead to a spot on the Rangers roster this October.

2. (1) Artem Anisimov, C  Grade: 7.5B
Acquired: Second Round, 54th overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 21

Expected to center a line on the Rangers roster this fall, Anisimov had an outstanding regular season sophomore campaign with the Hartford Wolf Pack in 2008-09. Fifth overall in the AHL in scoring, Anisimov was the top point producer among all AHLers under the age of 25. A reliable contributor, he played in every regular season and playoff game in which the Wolf Pack participated last season. With good size, an excellent work ethic and solid two-way play, Anisimov has made an excellent adjustment to the North American game over the past two seasons.

At the present time, it is thought that Anisimov will become a second-line NHL center, however, if he is successful there, the Rangers may eventually try him on the first line. He has the hands, instincts, and vision to be a candidate to fill that role.

3. (NR) Ryan McDonagh, D  Grade: 8.0C
Acquired: 6/30/09 Trade w/Montreal (First Round, 12th overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft)
Age: 20

McDonagh was Minnesota’s reigning “Mr. Hockey” when he was selected first among the US defensemen available in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. A quick-skating offensive blueliner, McDonagh was selected 12th overall by the Montreal Canadiens. He entered the University of Wisconsin that fall, and did not get much ice time. However, he showed enough leadership skills so that after the season, the coaching staff named him an assistant captain for the 2008-09 season.

This past season, McDonagh got much more ice time, became a steady presence along the blueline, and was voted the most competitive player on the squad by his teammates. A solid performer on defense for the United States in the 2009 U20 World Junior Championships, McDonagh was also named to the Big Ten Academic All-Conference team this past spring.

Recently named a tri-captain of the 2009-10 Badgers, McDonagh is the only junior among the three. This is particularly significant because the 2009-10 squad is considered an upperclassmen team. With the decision of Jamie McBain (CAR) to join the professional ranks, McDonagh will get the opportunity to show his offensive skills in the coming season. Should he do so, this will most likely be his last collegiate season.

4. (5) Derek Stepan, C  Grade: 8.0C
Acquired: Second Round, 51st overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 19

University of Wisconsin sophomore Stepan had a very good freshman season with the Badgers during 2008-09. After starting slowly, he became a go-to center as the season went along. He finished second on the Badgers in scoring, and was the top scorer on the team in the final 20 games of the season. The two-time WCHA Rookie of the Week was third among WCHA freshmen last season.

Stepan has a high hockey IQ, great instincts, and soft hands. His positioning and coolness under pressure are top notch. Invited to the US U20 World Junior Championships Tryouts in Lake Placid earlier this month, Stepan was one of the better players in the camp.

Likely to be selected to play for the United States in the 2010 U20 WJCs, Stepan is expected to be an offensive for the US team, and play a large amount of ice time in all situations for the Badgers during this coming season.

5. (2) Michael Del Zotto, D Grade: 7.5C
Acquired: First Round, 20th overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 19

Traded mid-season from the Oshawa Generals to the London Knights, Del Zotto anchored the Knights blueline with top prospect John Carlson. Del Zotto put up good numbers partnered with Carlson, but he continued to exhibit the holes in his game that had him drop to the Rangers in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

Bypassed for the second year to attend the World Junior Championship Development Camp for his native Canada, Del Zotto is a talented offensive blueliner, with a bit of an edge. However, he must continue to strengthen the defensive side of his game.

Del Zotto will suit up for the Rangers in his second rookie tournament in Traverse City, after which he will get a good look at the main training camp later in the month. There is an expectation that Del Zotto will lead the team in Traverse City this year, and it is hope that he will show more than he did at Development Camp this past summer.

If he does not make the Rangers lineup out of camp, Del Zotto will return to the OHL for a fourth season.

6. (4) Bobby Sanguinetti, D  Grade: 7.5C
Acquired: First Round, 21st overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 21

Sanguinetti had a very good rookie professional season for the Hartford Wolf Pack during 2008-09. Although he had somewhat of a difficult time adjusting to the defensive side of the professional game early in the regular season, during the last two and half months, he had a plus/minus rating of  +5, along with 16 points (2 goals, 14 assists).

The offensive blueliner will be competing for an NHL roster spot this fall, and with positioning and stick work an issue since he was younger, Sanguinetti has a lot to prove in training camp. If he plays well, one of the two open blueline roster spots will be his, but if not, Sanguinetti will return to Hartford and most likely be an injury call-up during the season. However, there are several capable defensive prospects coming up behind Sanguinetti, so this is a very important season for him.

7. (NA) Chris Kreider, C/LW  Grade: 8.0D
Acquired: First Round, 19th overall, 2009 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 18

A highly-touted offensively-minded physical forward, Kreider was selected in the first round by the Rangers in this past June’s NHL Entry Draft. The Rangers were ready to trade up to get the Phillips Andover grad, who was the highest ranked US high school player, but it turned out not to be necessary. Listed as a center/left wing, Kreider, who is now at Boston College, is expected to be converted into a winger full time as a member of the Eagles.

Krieder is an excellent skater and very good passer, with a high hockey IQ. He recently attended the 2010 U20 US World Junior Championships Tryouts, and while at 18, he was one of the younger attendees, he played steadily and remains a possible addition to the US roster.

8. (NA) Ilkka Heikkinen, D  Grade: 7.0B
Acquired: Fee Agent, Signed 5/20/09
Age: 24

Heikkinen, signed as a free agent this past summer, has very good on-ice vision, as well as an excellent shot and lateral movement along the blueline. An left-handed offensive defenseman, Heikkinen was signed by the Rangers after two years with HIFK Helsinki of the Finnish SM-liiga.

The Rangers had been watching Heikkinen for two years before signing him.

“He sort of came out of nowhere two years ago and played on the national team, moving the puck well, with a big shot, so we followed him,” explained Gordie Clark, the Ranger’s Director of Player Personnel.

“He got off to a bit of a slow start this past year, with a little bit of a knee problem, and then by the half way point, he was third or fourth in scoring in the league. He’s got good size and can play on both sides of the puck, so after making sure that he wanted to play in the NHL, we signed him, and are excited to have him.”

Heikkinen attended the Rangers’ Development Camp earlier this summer and is expected to compete for one of the two open defensive spots on the Rangers blueline this fall.

9. (NA) Matt Gilroy, D  Grade: 7.0B
Acquired: Free Agent, Signed 4/17/09
Age: 25

Gilroy was signed by the Rangers this past April after being named the 2008-09 Hobey Baker Award winner. The North Bellmore, New York native had patrolled the blueline for Boston University for four years, and during his senior year was the national championship team’s captain.

The signing was a coup for the Rangers, as there were several other teams that made offers to Gilroy that were quite enticing. A solid puck mover, with a heavy shot, and good patience with the puck, Gilroy was one of the standouts in the Rangers’ Development Camp this past summer.

There is an expectation that he will become an NHL roster member out of training camp. However, should he not be ready for the jump to the NHL, he will begin the season in Hartford and be a mid-season call-up to the NHL team.

10. (7) Michael Sauer, D  Grade: 7.0B
Acquired: Second Round, 40th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft
Age:  22
Sauer is a solid defensive blueliner, who had an excellent sophomore professional season as a member of the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack in 2008-09. His +29 was the best on the team, and he was able to contribute to the offense when needed.

A good positional player, who can move the puck well and instinctually see the ice, Sauer has been developing since being drafted. He will compete for one of the two open spots on the Rangers blueline this Fall, however, should he not be ready at the beginning of the season, Sauer will almost certainly be a mid-season call-up.

11. (NA) Nigel Williams, D  Grade: 7.0C
Acquired: 7/16/09 Trade w/Colorado (Second Round, 51st overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft)
Age: 21

The Rangers were able to obtain Williams this past summer in exchange for career minor leaguer Brian Fahey, after it became clear that Williams needed a change of scenery. The once highly-touted defenseman did not seem to be moving along in the Colorado organization, so a change was in order.

Williams will get his chance in Hartford this Fall, where he will most likely play in the top pairing. Considered a defenseman who plays well in both zones, Williams is big, can be physical, and passes well. He does need to improve his positioning and make certain to give a consistent effort on every shift, but the trade was a good one for both the Rangers and Williams, who will get a new start in Hartford.

12. (9) Tomas Kundratek, D Grade: 7.0C

Acquired: Third Round, 90th overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 19

Kundratek is an excellent defensive defenseman who can provide some offensive upside when needed. Tough and physical, the young Czech had a big adjustment to make to North American play last season. It was not easy for him, but he had a big incentive as previously he had played with Trinec in the Extraliga, "on a team with a lot of senior older guys. We didn’t get a lot of ice time there as juniors so it was one of the reasons I left for North America," according to Kundratek.

The young Czech did not speak much English, and then he sustained a hand injury, so his debut last season with the WHL Medicine Hat Tigers was delayed. But when he did finally get on the ice and start to play, his talent and excitement to be in Canada was obvious.

Kundratek completed the season second among Tigers rookies in scoring, and fourth among team defensemen, even though he appeared in 20 fewer games than most of his teammates. Kundratek also participated in the 2009 U20 WJCs, in which his six assists was the highest point total of defensemen on the Czech team.

For the 2009-10 season, Kundratek will return to the WHL, as well as play in the Traverse City Rookie Tournament. Additionally, it is likely he will once again be named to the Czech U20 WJC team.

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

Byers lost almost the entire 2008-09 hockey season, due to a knee injury sustained nine games into the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack schedule. The big winger had reasonable expectations of being called-up to the NHL, which were delayed. His knee is now strong and he is expected to compete for an NHL roster position this Fall.

Byers has somewhat surprisingly developed into a prototypical power forward at the AHL level, with size, good hands, and the ability to crash the net. Whether he can continue that role at the NHL level remains to be seen, but he will get that chance this season.

14. (NA) Ethan Werek, C  Grade: 7.0C

Acquired: Second Round, 47th Overall, 2009 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 18

Werek had been projected by some to be a first round selection, so the Rangers were happy that he was available in the second round of this past summer’s draft. Despite being on one of the worst teams in major junior hockey, Werek was able to finish fifth in rookie OHL scoring and maintain a reasonable –5 plus/minus rating.

Big and powerful, Werek has an excellent physical game, which he uses well along the boards and in front of the net. In addition he is a scoring center, who has soft hands along with his big body. Werek has some work to do on his skating and must improve his positioning and two-way play, but he has at least two more major seasons to do so prior to becoming a professional.

Werek will be playing in his first Traverse City Rookie Tournament and then will return to the OHL.

15. (NA) Ryan Bourque, C  Grade: 7.0D
Acquired: Third Round, 80th Overall, 2009 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 18

Bourque is an exciting, flashy player, with excellent speed, and a quick release. Already playing pre-season games with the QMJHL Quebec Remparts, Bourque has had a busy summer. He played very well at the Rangers Development Camp in the week after the draft, showed flashy offensive moves at the U20 US World Junior Championships Tryouts earlier this month, and has been productive in the Remparts pre-season games.

Bourque plays bigger than his 5’9” frame, however, he will need to get stronger on the puck, and play a less flashy game to eventually move to the next level. He will be traveling with the team to the Traverse City Rookie Tournament and is expected to make a splash there.

16. (NA)  Brian Boyle, C  Grade: 6.5B

Acquired: 6/27/09 Trade w/Los Angeles (First Round, 26th Overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft)
Age: 24

At 6’7", Boyle is the tallest center in the Rangers system. For his size, he has good skating ability, but Boyle has performed unevenly in his previous opportunities at NHL ice time. Boyle is extremely hard to knock off his skates, but needs to give a consistent effort on every shift to make it and stay at the NHL level.

After a terribly disappointing season in 2008-09, Boyle needed a change of scenery, which the Rangers were glad to provide. Should he be able to return to his AHL production of 2007-08 at the next level, he will be a big asset to the Rangers.

He will be watched closely in training camp, and it is expected that Boyle will begin the season with the NHL team.

17. (11) Carl Hagelin, LW  Grade: 6.5C
Acquired: Sixth Round, 168th overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 21

Hagelin had begun his junior season at the University of Michigan, and is projected to be a second to third line NHLer after he completes his senior season next year.

He can skate, be physically intimidating, as well as be offensively productive. Expected to play on the first line for the Wolverines this season, Hagelin has developed the skill and skating ability to be a solid collegiate two-way player. With his toughness and hockey smarts, Hagelin should become a real asset to the Rangers when he completes his four years of eligibility.

18. (18) Chris Doyle, C  Grade: 7.0D
Acquired: Fifth Round, 141st overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 19

Doyle is known for his offensive prowess, and is expected to become of the QMJHL’s league leaders in points during the 2009-10 season. He has already shown that he can be an impact player in his pre-season games with the PEI Rocket. However, questions continue to surface regarding work ethic issues and his defensive positional play. It remains to be seen as to whether Doyle can change his habits sufficiently to fulfill his potential this season. This is without a doubt a very important year for Doyle, as the Rangers must make a decision regarding his contract status prior to June 1, 2010.

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

Dupont is a tough, gritty, supporting player, who has some offensive upside. Known for sticking up for his teammates, he is developing into a power forward at the AHL level. Expected to spend his third year with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack, this is a critical season for the Russell, Manitoba native.

Dupont will be given a bigger role, and will need to continue to improve on his offensive production and at the same time maintain his character player status to move to the NHL for the 2010-11 season.

20. (NR) David Kveton, RW  Grade: 6.5D
Acquired: Fourth Round, 104th overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 21

Kveton took a big step forward in his development last season, while playing with Trinec Ocelari of the Czech Extraliga. With almost a point per game during the 2008-09 season, Kveton has emerged as a force in the league.

Whether the Rangers will be able to convince Kveton to come to North America to play hockey remains to be seen, but there is no question that they have spoken to him often about doing so. As of the end of August, however, Kveton has returned to his Czech team and is expected to play in Europe this season.

Honorable mention
: Miika Wiikman, Tomas Zaborsky