It has been a long time since the Rangers have had so many of their younger top prospects in the NCAA. Two forwards, Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan, were recently part of the gold medal winning United States U-20 World Junior team. The third top prospect within the college ranks is blueliner, Ryan McDonagh, one of the tri-captains of the University of Wisconsin Badgers.
Ryan McDonagh, Age 20
Acquired: 6/30/09 Trade with Montreal (1st Round, 12th overall 2007)
On the top pairing for the University of Wisconsin with an Anaheim Ducks top prospect Jake Gardiner, junior blueliner McDonagh is a two-way defenseman who is not afraid to take the body and protect teammates. Named a tri-captain for the season, McDonagh has an excellent competitive fire and knows how to lead. In what is widely thought to be his final season as a Badger, McDonagh is second among defensemen in total points on the team with 12 (3 goals, 9 assists).
McDonagh is expected to compete for a Rangers roster spot out of camp next season, however, is more likely to spend the campaign in Hartford.
Derek Stepan, C, Age 19
Acquired: 2008 NHL Entry Draft (2nd Round, 51st overall)
Stepan has become well known over the past few weeks, as he was captain of the US U-20 World Junior Championship team that won gold in Saskatchewan earlier this month. Named to the media all-star team for the tournament, as well as one of the three best USA players by the coaches. Stepan was the scoring leader of the entire tournament (14 points in seven games, with a +9).
The Rangers second round pick from 2008 did not, however, have a very good start to his season at Wisconsin. The sophomore was expected to do great things and play in all situations, just as he had last spring, but his early games in the 2009-10 campaign were somewhat lackluster. He was not scoring, nor creating the plays that made him so exciting to watch last year. Things began to turn around when Stepan picked up his physical game, and currently, he is a more than a point-a-game pace. In 22 games, Stepan has recorded 29 points (6 goals, 23 assists), with a +6 plus/minus rating. This is made even more impressive by the fact that Stepan has been playing on the third line.
Not too long ago, it was almost certain that Stepan would return to Wisconsin for the 2010-11 season. Since his fine performance in the World Juniors, questions have arisen. Stepan still needs to get bigger and faster to be ready for professional play. Much will depend on the Minnesota native’s performance over the next two months on the ice. If he has nothing left to prove at this level, Stepan will move on, but it is more likely that he will spend one more year as a Badger.
Chris Kreider, C, Age 18
Acquired: 2009 NHL Entry Draft (1st Round, 19th overall)
The Rangers loved Kreider’s speed and size when they scouted him in high school last year. A junior at Philips Academy last season, it was uncertain at that point whether he would even play college hockey this season. But Kreider graduated early and started playing for Boston College this fall. With 10 freshmen on the team, not much was expected of either the Eagles or of Kreider. But he has made a large contribution, and while he is nowhere near the leading scorer on the team (he only has seven points in 19 games), the Massachusetts native is exciting to watch every time he touches the puck.
Almost as important to Kreider’s development was the somewhat unexpected opportunity to play in the U-20 World Junior Championships in Saskatoon. One of the younger members of the US team, Kreider’s six goals in seven games led the team, and was tied for sixth overall in the tournament. Kreider will still be eligible for next season’s U-20 team, and it will be very surprising if he is not named again.
There is still a lot to learn for the 18-year-old Boston College freshman. He is still being taught not to telegraph his intentions with the puck, and how to think the game. Expect Kreider to play a bigger role with the Eagles next season, and then possibly to make the decision to become a professional.
Carl Hagelin, LW, Age 21
Acquired: 2007 NHL Entry Draft (6th Round, 168th overall)
Hagelin is truly a student/athlete, and the university junior is currently alternate caption of the University of Michigan Wolverines. Named CCHA Player of the Week in early January, Hagelin is having a wonderful season, on pace for more than a point a game. Considered a Hobey Baker Memorial Award candidate, Hagelin is fourth overall in the CCHA in points (27 points in 26 games), currently leads the Wolverines in scoring, and is 28th overall in NCAA D-1 hockey.
Although it is still likely that Hagelin will finish his four years at Michigan, the Rangers are watching him closely. Whether he plays another season of collegiate hockey will largely depend on the next four weeks of play.
Greg Beller, LW, Age 23
Acquired: 2005 NHL Entry draft (6th Round, 178th overall)
In his second year with the University of Manitoba Bisons (CIS), Beller has eight points in 20 games. Not in the New York Rangers long-term plans, the big, strapping winger is fairly low on the depth chart in Manitoba. He is no longer considered a real NHL prospect.
Max Campbell, C, Age 21
Acquired: 2007 NHL Entry Draft (5th Round, # 138th overall)
Campbell is a member of the Western Michigan University Broncos — a team that has not won in nine straight games. Campbell is currently third overall in scoring on the team, with 13 points in 23 games. Now in his third season at Western Michigan, it is hard to say how he would have developed on a better team, however, Campbell has not progressed as the dynamic playmaker that the Rangers had hoped for when they drafted him close to three years ago. Campbell has put forth much effort, however, attending Rangers development camp at his own expense. It just does not seem that he has the skills to play in the NHL, and, absent a huge leap in development, it is not likely that the Rangers will sign Campbell after his collegiate career is completed.
Eric Hunter, LW, Age 23
Acquired: 2006 NHL Entry Draft (6th Round, 174th overall)
Hunter is in his third season at the University of Alberta (CIS). Now scoring at more than a point a game (25 points in 20 games), Hunter has been improving each season. Seventh overall among scorers in Canada West, on the best team in the conference, Hunter is likely to get another look over the coming year. Although he is not currently in the Rangers plans, if he continues to post the kind of numbers he has been over this season, that could change. The Blueshirts have one more year to make a decision as to whether or not they want to sign Hunter.
Danny Hobbs, LW, Age 20
Acquired: 2007 NHL Entry Draft (7th Round, 198th overall)
The last Rangers pick in 2007, Hobbs was a long shot from the time he was drafted. He did not get much playing time in his freshman 2008-09 season with the University of Massachusetts Minutemen, and it was hoped that with more ice time this season, Hobbs would find his game. He started the 2009-10 campaign playing on lines with some of the best forwards on a now very competitive team (the Minutemen are currently ranked second in Hockey East). Hobbs continues to play on either the first or second line, but neither his overall play nor his numbers are demonstrating NHL potential. He still has two more years to change the Rangers minds about this, but Hobbs is still a long shot to ever play in the NHL.