The New York Rangers prospect pool took a bit of a hit this season, but despite the trades and graduations within the system, there are still solid prospects in Europe and the NCAA.
Among collegiate players, Brady Skjei appears ready for regular minutes in the NHL after a quality season with the University of Minnesota. The Rangers also have two developing forwards playing collegiately, as Notre Dame’s captain Steven Fogarty and Michigan’s newly-minted winger Cristoval Nieves used this season to take steps in the right direction.
Over in Europe, Calle Andersson and Petr Zamorsky both didn’t look out of place during their respective loan spells. Meanwhile, the Russian duo of Pavel Buchnevich and Igor Shestyorkin narrowly missed out on a gold medal at the World Junior Championships, but still managed to take major strides ahead in their development.
Steven Fogarty, C, University of Notre Dame (Hockey East)
Drafted 3rd round, 72nd overall, 2011
No one will accuse Fogarty of not working hard enough, as the blue-collar center has developed at a slow and steady incline for the last three years. Heading into his junior season with Notre Dame, Fogarty was named captain, a testament to his understanding and influence on the game and his teammates.
One part of Fogarty’s game that improved this season is his offensive production, matching the point total from both his underclassmen years combined. Fogarty tallied nine goals and 12 assists, enjoying six multi-point efforts. That included a three-game stretch against Massachusetts, where Fogarty scored once in each game to help the Irish advance to the Hockey East quarterfinals.
Cristoval Nieves, LW, University of Michigan (Big Ten)
Drafted 2nd round, 59th overall, 2012
One look at the Michigan depth chart will show you a solid group of centers, which bumped Nieves out to wing this season. After a frustrating sophomore season, Nieves returned to his usual self this year after being relieved of some defensive responsibilities.
The versatile, rangy forward put together a few highlight-reel quality rushes this year, silencing his critics who suggested that Nieves was lacking confidence. He finished fifth in scoring for the Wolverines, scoring seven times and assisting on 21 others. He strung together two five game point streaks, and finished strong with the season on the line. Nieves guided Michigan into the Big Ten Championship game, where they ultimately fell to fellow Rangers prospect and Minnesota defenseman Brady Skjei.
Brady Skjei, D, University of Minnesota (Big Ten)
Drafted 1st round, 28th overall, 2012
The University of Minnesota is regarded as a perennial powerhouse; so too is Skjei, who has been one of the best defenseman in college hockey. Not to be confused with an offensive dynamo, Skjei is relied upon as a shutdown defenseman, reliable in all situations.
It was a storybook season for Skjei, who stayed close to home throughout his collegiate career. He notched one goal and nine assists in 33 games, but more notable was his penchant for breaking up plays, blocking shots, and leading one of the top penalty kill units in the country. Minnesota finished the season as the Big Ten Champions, representing the conference in the NCAA Tournament—where they ultimately fell to the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Skjei’s season didn’t conclude there, however, as he signed with the Rangers and has been plying his trade with Hartford of the AHL.
Calle Andersson, D, Lugano (NLA)
Drafted 4th round, 119 overall, 2012
After signing with the Rangers and going out on loan to Zug of the NLA, Andersson started the season with an abysmal stretch of just three points in limited ice time through 18 games. Luckily, he was traded to Lugano, where his father, a former Ranger himself, is an assistant coach.
Things began to click for Andersson with Lugano, where an improved role and system resulted in a dramatic shift in production. An offensive defenseman, Andersson finished the season with five goals and 12 assists in 30 games. The Limhamn, Sweden native is playing in Switzerland on a player-license, therefore not counting against the foreign limit. It remains to be seen if Andersson will make the move to Hartford, but at this point, the NLA may no longer be a challenge.
Pavel Buchnevich, C/LW, Severstal Cherepovets (KHL)
Drafted 3rd round, 75th overall, 2013
In the KHL, Buchnevich has been a regular contributor in his second season in the league, a rare occurrence for a young player. The new prize of the Rangers prospect pool, Buchnevich has enjoyed success on multiple levels of competition this year.
Playing the majority of the season with Severstal, Buchnevich finished with 13 goals and 17 assists in 48 games, the second-best point total among all U20 players in KHL history, behind Evgeny Kuznetsov. He possesses tremendous offensive instincts, and put those to the test during a rogue appearance in the Russian junior league. There, he toyed with the opposition, racking up 20 points in just 11 games. He also featured for Russia at the WJC’s, winning a silver medal and posting six points in seven games.
Igor Shestyorkin, G, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
Drafted 4th round, 118th overall, 2014
Another talented but lesser-known Russian prospect of the Rangers is Igor Shestyorkin, who rose to prominence thanks to a tremendous WJC appearance, supplanting incumbent starter Ilya Sorokin midway through the tournament. Against the top players in the world, Shestyorkin appeared in five games to post a 1.98 goals-against average and a .938 save-percentage—including a shutout over Switzerland.
Shestyorkin also featured for SKA’s junior team this year, running up a .934 save-percentage in the regular season, followed by a long playoff run. As a testament to his true value, he made six appearances with the KHL team, an organization that usually favors veterans over developing players.
Petr Zamorsky, D, Espoo Blues (Liiga), Orebro (SHL)
Signed as a free agent, 2014
One of the more intriguing prospects in the Rangers system, Zamorsky was bounced around this season, one year after being named the Czech Extraliga’s Best Defenseman. Zamorsky split the season on loan between Espoo in Liiga, and Orebro in the SHL, where he finished the season.
At 5’11”, 190 pounds, Zamorsky has wrongly been labeled as another small, European defenseman. He possesses a booming shot, and does play with a bit of an edge, something that will prove valuable if he makes the transition to North America. He scored three times and assisted on three others in 25 Liiga games, playing big minutes for the Blues. Zamorsky’s willingness to drive play and be physical resulted in a pair of injuries this year, but ultimately he is rounding into a polished defenseman.