Rangers Top 20 prospects, Spring 2010

By Leslie Treff

The Rangers Top 20 has gone through some reordering this spring, but with very little change in its composition. Artem Anisimov, who began the season with the NHL team, has now graduated. So has Brian Boyle. Still on the Top 20 are Michael Del Zotto and former Hobey Baker winner Matt Gilroy, who are both a few games short of graduation, and are expected to graduate within a few weeks.

Removed is David Kveton, who appears less likely to play in North America as time goes on. Although the Rangers still have hopes of Kveton’s return, they are unwilling to promise him an NHL spot, which, at this point, is Kveton’s requirement for signing a contract.

Currently, there are six defensemen in the top 10 prospects, and although the blueline is an issue at the NHL level, it is the system’s greatest strength. Also strong is the center position. It is no secret that one of the Rangers’ needs at the NHL level is in the middle. The recent acquisition of Olli Jokinen has alleviated some of that need.  However, playmaking is still needed, and there are six centers coming up in the Top 20.  Although at least three are expected to be converted to wing prior to making the NHL, Derek Stepan has the potential to step into a first line center role in the coming years.

The greatest weakness in the organization is the paucity of prospects at right wing. Although Marian Gaborik is expected to be the premier winger on the right side for many years, Dale Weise is the only player at that position in the current Top 20.

Top 20 at a glance

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

1. (1) Evgeny Grachev, C/LW Grade: 8.0C
Acquired: Third Round, 75th overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 20

After a standout 2008-09 season with the OHL Brampton Battalion in which he was named OHL Rookie of the Year, Grachev had a good training camp with the Rangers this fall. It was clear, however, that he needed some seasoning, and was sent to the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack to prepare for either a mid-season call-up or a roster position with the Rangers in the fall of 2010. His adjustment to the AHL, however, has not been as smooth as the organization had hoped, and he has not steadily improved either his offensive production or up and down effort.

However, Grachev is just 20 years old, brought up in the Russian system, and developing. He has not been helped by the poor team on the ice with him, or the expectations that were placed upon him to start the season. At this point, it is unclear whether Grachev will be ready for NHL next fall. However, he is still the top prospect in the Rangers system and with consistent effort, big things are expected down the road.

2. (5) Michael Del Zotto, D Grade: 8.0B
Acquired: First Round, 20th overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 19

Del Zotto’s excellent performance in training camp this past fall gained him a position on the Rangers blueline. A highly-talented puck mover and quarterback on the power play, there never was any question about Del Zotto’s talent offensively. It was his defensive weaknesses that allowed the Rangers to pick him up 20th overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

Del Zotto continues to work on the defensive side of his game, and is learning as he goes in the NHL. A top 10 in rookie scoring, Del Zotto loves to hit and be physical. He is still learning to pick his spots in doing that, as well as his gap control. On a flukey play last month, Del Zotto suffered a body laceration that has kept him off the ice for three weeks. However, he returned this week to play almost 19:00.

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

The University of Wisconsin sophomore has had an amazing season. After a slow start with the Badgers, he stepped up his physical play, which changed his intensity. Then came the beginning of the accolades. In early December, he was named the CCHA Player of the Week. Later in the month, he was named to the US U-20 World Junior Championship team. As captain of the gold medal-winning team, Stepan was the scoring leader of the entire tournament (14 points in seven games, with a +9).

Currently sixth in scoring in the WCHA, Stepan has a high hockey IQ, great instincts, and soft hands. His positioning, leadership ability, and coolness under pressure are also part of his repertoire. At this point, he is likely to leave the Badgers and become a professional next fall.

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

The runner up for February 2010’s Hockey East Rookie of the Month, Kreider is a speedy forward, who for the most part has been playing on left wing for Boston College. A prototypical power forward, Kreider has shown his speed, and scoring ability in his freshman year with the Eagles.

Drafted out of high school, as an excellent skater, with a high hockey IQ, Kreider had been playing against a fairly low level of opponent. A high-risk, high-reward selection by the Rangers last June, after his first collegiate season, Kreider looks to have been an excellent selection with the 19th overall pick.

A clutch player who has become very responsible on both ends of the ice, Kreider has developed very well in his first season of NCAA play, and as a member of the gold medal-winning 2010 U-20 US World Junior Championship team.

5. (6) Bobby Sanguinetti, D  Grade: 7.5C
Acquired: First Round, 21st overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 22

Sanguinetti had a very good rookie professional season for the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack during 2008-09. Although he was still learning the defensive side of the game, he was a top candidate for one of the open NHL roster spots this past fall. However, Sanguinetti was not impressive enough in training camp to win the spot.

After a blistering hot start with the Wolf Pack, Sanguinetti got two call-ups earlier this season. In neither of them did he take good advantage of the opportunity. Out-positioned often, at times, the game seemed too fast for him. He only appeared in five games and has not been recalled.

Since his return to Hartford, Sanguinetti has been lackluster, at best. Injured in late January, Sanguinetti has not looked like a hungry player since his return to the ice.

6. (8) Ilkka Heikkinen, D  Grade: 7.0B
Acquired: Fee Agent, Signed 5/20/09
Age: 25

Heikkinen was signed by the Rangers to a one-year contract last spring. An excellent puck-moving defenseman, he has very good on-ice vision, as well as a heavy shot. He did not look very impressive in the Rangers training camp last fall and began the season with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack.

Off to a slow start, Heikkinen gained confidence early and put up excellent numbers in October and November. An early December call-up to the Rangers followed, and although he at times played very well in the seven games in which he appeared, he was not productive offensively and was demoted in mid December.

Since Heikkinen’s return to Hartford, he has not been anywhere near as productive as he was before the call-up, nor has he looked anywhere as confident on the ice. There have been more positional issues and some questionable decisions. Whether this is the result of a team on the decline or his own personal situation is not clear. However, Heikkinen’s second season in North America is in doubt.

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

The former Hobey Baker Award winner has been a member of the NHL roster since the start of the season. A highly-touted signing, there were a lot of expectations surrounding the Long Island native, which only grew when he was one of the most fit players in training camp.

Expected to be an offensive defenseman, a solid puck mover, with a heavy shot, Gilroy has been solid but unspectacular this season. He has not yet become the offensive threat that was hoped for, and given his age, may never become that player. However, Gilroy is a very responsible two-way blueliner who has been an asset to the Rangers.

8. (3) Ryan McDonagh, D  Grade: 7.5C
Acquired: 6/30/09 Trade w/Montreal (First Round, 12th overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft)
Age: 20

No longer considered a prospect at the highest level, McDonagh was traded to the Rangers as part of the deal with Montreal that sent Scott Gomez to the Canadiens. Although there was some disagreement about his development, McDonagh’s first two seasons at the University of Wisconsin showed him to be more of a two-way player than the offensive blueliner that had been hoped for. 

A tri-captain of the 2009-10 Badgers, McDonagh is a natural leader, who brings intensity to every shift. Not afraid to take the body and protect teammates when he can, McDonagh is expected to join the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack next fall.

9. (NR) Chad Johnson, G  Grade: 7.0B
Acquired: Trade with Pittsburgh Penguins, 6/27/09
Age: 23

Johnson was acquired from Pittsburgh in exchange for a fifth-round pick during the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Signed to an entry-level contract by the Rangers in July, Johnson was the CCHA Player of the Year and Goaltender of the Year for the 2008-09 season. Very impressive in the Traverse City Rookie Tournament and in training camp, Johnson had an up and down start to his 2009-10 season with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack. By November he was one of the best goalies in the AHL, and when the performance of NHL backup, Steve Valiquette, slipped, Johnson was called up to back up Henrik Lundqvist.

Since he was first called up in November, Johnson has appeared in five NHL games, and although he played well considering the circumstances, it is very uncertain whether or not Johnson is ready for that role on a permanent basis. With the recent addition of Alex Auld to the NHL roster, it is likely that Johnson will spend the rest of the season in Hartford. This is a positive development for Johnson, who has not been playing well for the Wolf Pack of late. Consistent play at the AHL level for the rest of this season is the best thing for Johnson’s development.

10. (10) 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 2008-09 campaign with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack. His quick call-up last season and excellent play led to an expectation that he would compete for a roster spot this season. However, Sauer’s strictly stay-at-home game was not what the NHL coaching staff was looking for to begin the season.

The young Minnesota native began his third season in Hartford. Until he was injured last month, Sauer was fairly reliable on a team where being scored upon has become a regular event. With the shoulder injury he sustained, Sauer is not expected back this season. A restricted free agent this summer, Sauer’s future is uncertain.

11. (14) Ethan Werek, C  Grade: 7.0C
Acquired: Second Round, 47th Overall, 2009 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 18

Recently returned to the OHL Kingston Frontenacs lineup from a leg injury, Werek is one of the big reasons that his team will be in the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. A prolific scorer who crashes the net and can use his body well along the boards, the reason Werek fell to the Rangers in the second round were questions about his play in his own zone.

This season, Werek has stepped up his defensive game and now plays a solid two-way game. Much better positionally and with improved skating, Werek is developing very nicely. Additionally, this season the young Ontario native is an alternate captain of the Fronts.

The Rangers are very happy with Werek’s development and expect him to spend one more season in the OHL. He should be ready for professional play in the fall of 2011.

12. (12) Tomas Kundratek, D Grade: 7.0C
Acquired: Third Round, 90th overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 20

A physical defensive defenseman who is a very good puck mover, Kundratek is in his second season of North American play. After a very successful WHL rookie season during 2008-09, the young Czech was anxious to be a professional. However, his play in the Traverse City Rookie Tournament, training camp and in the Hartford pre-season indicated that he wasn’t ready. Tall, but not yet filled out, the then 19-year-old was pushed off the puck too often to be effective.

It took quite a bit of convincing to get him to return to Medicine Hat for an overage season, but it has been worth it. His vision and decision-making are better, and he is quicker with the puck. He is expected to play for the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack next fall.

13. (13) Dane Byers, LW  Grade: 6.5B
Acquired: Second round, 48th overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 24

Byers lost almost the entire 2008-09 season due to a knee injury sustained nine games into the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack schedule. This year, he was named captain of the Wolf Pack and has taken on a big leadership role on a team that seems to lack direction and AHL-level players.

Byers has continued developing within his abilities. He is an excellent complementary player, crashing the net and getting dirty goals. With good size and decent hands, Byers could have been a fourth-line energy player in the NHL this season. A restricted free agent after this season, he is well liked within the organization and is likely to remain within the Rangers system.

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

Currently fourth overall in scoring in the CCHA, Hagelin is considered to be an early Hobey Baker Award candidate. A junior at the University of Michigan, he is the Wolverines alternate captain and the team leader in points and plus/minus rating. A true student/athlete, Hagelin is a better than average skater who plays well in both ends of the ice. Originally expected to complete his education prior to becoming a professional, after this season, he has nothing left to prove at this level, and so it is possible that Hagelin may be in the Rangers training camp next fall.

15. (NR) Dale Weise, RW  Grade: 6.0B
Acquired: Fourth Round, 111th overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 21

Weise is a second-year pro, who has taken big leaps in development since he was drafted in the summer of 2008. His offensive production this season as a member of the Hartford Wolf Pack has been a pleasant surprise. Previously thought of as purely an energy player who could grind and give the team a maximum effort on every shift, Weise has begun to show real offensive upside to his game.

Expected to compete for an NHL roster spot next fall, Weise is a leader in the locker room and has captain potential at the next level.

16. (15) Ryan Bourque, C  Grade: 7.0D
Acquired: Third Round, 80th Overall, 2009 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 19

Bourque is in his first season playing for the QMJHL Quebec Remparts and having an excellent debut. An exciting, flashy player with lightning speed and a quick release, Bourque is within the top 10 scoring rookies in the Q.

Bourque’s size is an issue for professional play. But if he can continue to develop (physically and hockeywise), get stronger on the puck, and gain more international experience (he was a member of the gold medal winning U-20 US World Junior Championships team at age 18), he has a good chance to be successful as a pro.

17. (NR) Roman Horak, LW  Grade: 7.0D
Acquired: Fifth Round, 127th overall, 2009 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 18

Horak had a terrific Traverse City Rookie Tournament this past September, and has gone on to be a big asset to his WHL Chilliwack Bruins. A natural center, Horak has been moved to left wing, however, he is excellent on face-offs and can be used in the middle when necessary. Although he began the season on a tear offensively, since his return from the U-20 World Junior Championships for the Czechs, Horak has not been as offensively productive. He is not expected to be ready for professional play until the fall of 2011.

18. (11) Nigel Williams, D  Grade: 6.5C
Acquired: 7/16/09 Trade w/Colorado (Second Round, 51st overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft)
Age: 21

Colorado and Williams were not a good match, and when the Rangers obtained Williams last summer, both the team and the player were hoping for a fresh start. Assigned to the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack, it took quite a bit of time for Williams to adjust to how the Rangers wanted him to play. Early in the season, his positioning was terrible, his passes in players’ skates, and he was often scratched.

It was a long way from Williams being a highly-touted junior in the OHL. Williams is big and can be physical. His strength is his offensive play, which has improved greatly over the last two months. He still has some significant defensive deficits, and needs to give a consistent effort over 60 minutes, but he has come a long way since the fall. He is expected to spend at least one more season in Hartford before getting a shot in the NHL.

19. (19) Brodie Dupont, C/LW  Grade: 6.0C
Acquired: Third Round, 66th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 23

Dupont is a gritty, supporting player, who over the years had switched from center to left wing. Less of a playmaker and more of a scoring forward, this seemed to be in the best interests of everyone. This year, the lack of centers at this level has necessitated Dupont’s expanded role. Although he has had an up and down season, for the last month, Dupont has produced more offensively and looked better on the ice. He is in the last year of his entry-level contract, and his future with the Rangers is in question.

20. (NR) Daniel Maggio, D  Grade: 6.0C
Acquired: Sixth Round, 170th overall, 2009 NHL Entry Draft
Age: 19

Maggio was a late-round pick due to injuries, but the Rangers had seen him play a strong, physical game. At 6’3", 202, Maggio has size and is not afraid to fight, but in addition, he has quite a bit of offensive upside. He is currently the OHL Sudbury Wolves leading defenseman in scoring and has a relatively decent plus/minus rating on a team that is 10 games under .500. Maggio plays well in all situations and could be a surprise addition to the Rangers stable of contracted blueliners in the coming years.