Chris Kreider new top prospect for New York Rangers

By Leslie Treff
Photo: The tenth overall pick of the 2010 Entry Draft, Dylan McIlrath makes his Rangers debut at the sixth spot. (Photo courtesy of WHL)

The Rangers Top 20 has undergone many changes this fall, as there is a new number one, and six new players have been added to the list. Four of the Spring 2010 top 10 players are gone, with two (Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy) graduating, one traded and one not re-signed. Of the new players, one was signed as a free agent, three are 2010 draftees, and one a 2009 selection. One goaltender, seven defensemen, and twelve forwards are included.

Top 20 at a glance:

1. (4) Chris Kreider, LW, 8.5C
2. (1) Evgeny Grachev, C/LW, 8.0 B
3. (2) Derek Stepan, C, 8.0B
4. (NR) Mats Zuccarello-Aasen, LW, 7.0B
5. (8) Ryan McDonagh, D, 7.0B
6. (NR) Dylan McIlrath, D, 7.0C
7. (11) Ethan Werek, C, 7.0C
8. (9) Chad Johnson, G, 7.0C
9. (14) Carl Hagelin, LW, 6.5 B
10. (NR) Christian Thomas, RW, 7.0C
11. (10) Michael Sauer, D, 7.0C
12. (NR) Pavel Valentenko, D, 6.5B
13. (16) Ryan Bourque, C, 7.0C
14. (15) Dale Weise, RW, 6.0B
15. (12) Tomas Kundratek, D, 6.5C
16. (17) Roman Horak, C, 7.0C
17. (NR) Andrew Yogan, C, 7.0D
18. (NR) Mihail Pashnin, D, 6.5C
19. (19) Brodie Dupont, C, 6.0C
20. (20) Daniel Maggio, D, 6.0C

1. (4) Chris Kreider, LW, 19
Drafted 1st Round, 19th overall, 2009

Kreider is now the Rangers’ top prospect. A prototypical power forward, with excellent speed and a very high hockey IQ, Kreider’s game improved by leaps and bounds last season. Now a sophomore at Boston College, since last fall, Kreider has gone from playing in the prep school ranks to being a member of the 2010 World Junior Championships Gold Medal winning team and the 2010 NCAA Championship hockey team. He was also the youngest member of the US team at the 2010 men’s World Championships.

Expected to spend one last season with the Boston College Eagles before signing a professional contract, Kreider could compete for a spot on the Rangers roster next fall.

2. (1) Evgeny Grachev, C/LW, 20
Drafted 3rd round, 75th overall, 2008

There were high expectations for Grachev when he made the decision to become a professional last fall. He turned down the opportunity to return to the OHL Brampton Battalion because he felt ready to make the transition. But Grachev’s adjustment to the AHL was not as smooth as he had hoped. With the Hartford Wolf Pack last season, he was, at times, not strong enough on the puck nor was he fast enough to make plays that were easy for him in junior hockey. Grachev has gotten stronger and he seemed to have gained confidence when he was on the ice at development camp this summer.

He should get an opportunity to impress in the Rangers training camp later this month, but is likely to start the season in Hartford. If he does as well as is expected of him, he should get a mid-season call-up to the Rangers for his NHL debut.

3. (2) Derek Stepan, C, 20
Drafted 2nd round, 51st overall, 2008

Stepan signed an NHL contract this summer, leaving the University of Wisconsin after two seasons. After captaining the gold medal-winning US team in the 2010 World Junior Championships and achieving the tournament’s scoring title (14 points in seven games, with a plus-nine rating), Stepan went on to post more than a point a game with the Badgers last season.

After a very impressive development camp in July, Stepan will be given a close look in the Rangers’ main training camp this month. Although expected to begin the season in the AHL, if Stepan has a good camp, he may find himself on the NHL squad when the regular season begins.

4. (NR) Mats Zuccarello-Aasen, LW, 23
Signed as a free agent, May 2010

Zuccarello Aasen a speedy, winger with a nose for the net played for MODO of the Swedish Elite League in 2009-10. He also represented Norway at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, finishing third on the team in scoring with one goal and two assists in four games. Zuccarello Aasen was additionally a member of the Norwegian team at the 2010 World Championship in Germany. In six games, he posted three goals and an assist.

The signing of Zuccarello Aasen was a coup for the Rangers as he was highly sought after by several NHL teams. He is expected to compete for a spot on the NHL roster this season.

5. (8) Ryan McDonagh, D, 20

Acquired via trade with Montreal, June 2009

Drafted 12th overall in 2007 by Montreal, McDonagh signed a professional contract this summer, after spending three seasons on the blue line at the University of Wisconsin. The decision was a hard one for him, as he desired finishing his NCAA career. The Rangers, however, felt strongly that he was ready for professional play. Now that he has signed, the Rangers are going to give him a long look in training camp, as McDonagh has a good chance of making the NHL team this fall.

A two-way player in college, with a strong physical presence, he is expected to be more of a defensive blueliner in the profession
al ranks.

6. (NR) Dylan McIlrath, D, 18
Drafted 1st round, 10th overall, 2010

A big, tough right-hand shooting defenseman, who is not afraid to drop the gloves, McIlrath has good speed and some offensive upside to go along with incredible nastiness on the ice.

The Rangers were looking for a character player, who is hard to play against and they got it in McIlrath, who will return to the WHL Moose Jaw Warriors this season and most likely will spend two more years developing within the WHL.

7. (11) Ethan Werek, C, 19
Drafted 2nd round, 47th overall, 2009

Healthy after a difficult knee injury that prematurely ended Werek’s 2009-10 season, the hard-nosed center has come a long way since being drafted in the second round in 2009. Werek always liked to crash the net and has used his body well along the boards. But after last season, he has improved both his defensive play and his skating. Werek is expected to attend the Rangers training camp later this month and then return to the OHL Kingston Fronts. Expect him to spend one more year in Kingston and then begin his professional career with the AHL team in the fall of 2011.

8. (9) Chad Johnson, G, 24
Acquired via trade with Pittsburgh, June

Drafted 125th overall by Pittsburgh in 2006, Johnson was acquired from Pittsburgh in exchange for a fifth-round pick during the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. After an impressive fall last year, Johnson began the season with Hartford. By November 2009, he was one of the leading AHL goaltenders, and when the performance of NHL backup Steve Valiquette slipped, Johnson was called up to the NHL to back up Henrik Lundqvist. Johnson appeared in five NHL games.

With the signing of Marty Biron as the NHL backup for the 2010-11 season, Johnson is expected to spend the entire season in the AHL. This will give the Rangers a chance to see what he can do on a consistent basis as the number one netminder there.

9. (14) Carl Hagelin, LW, 22
Drafted 6th round, 168th overall, 2007

Hagelin has begun his fourth and final year at the University of Michigan. A Hobey Baker award candidate last season, he was named the Wolverines’ MVP, scoring leader and best in classroom, after a tremendous 2009-10 campaign. A true student/athlete, Hagelin has gone from a better than average to very good skater, who plays well in both ends of the ice. Used in all situations, Hagelin is an excellent shorthanded threat as well as playmaker when in that role.

The winger will continue to develop in the NCAA this season and is expected to begin his professional career in Hartford in the fall of 2011.

10. (NR) Christian Thomas, RW, 18
Drafted 2nd round, 40th overall, 2010

A winger with smooth, soft hands, an excellent shot, good speed, and a tremendous work ethic, Thomas is a member of the OHL Oshawa Generals. In 64 games during the 2009-10 season, he posted 66 points (41 goals, 25 assists), while accumulating 27 penalty minutes and a minus-10 rating. Despite his small size, Thomas has great speed and good hockey sense to go along with his great hands.

He is expected to spend two more seasons developing in junior hockey prior to becoming a professional.

11. (10) Michael Sauer, D, 23
Drafted 2nd round, 40th overall, 2005

Sauer is a solid stay-at-home blueliner, who spent the 2009-10 season with the Wolf Pack of the AHL. It was his third season in Hartford, and until he suffered a shoulder injury in late January 2010, Sauer was fairly reliable on a less than stellar defensive AHL team.

Recently re-signed to a one-year contract, Sauer will be given a long look in training camp and may win an NHL roster spot. If he does not, and does not get a call-up and stick with the NHL team this season, expectations are that he will move on.

12. (NR) Pavel Valentenko, D, 22
Acquired via trade with Montreal, June 2009

Acquired in the same deal that brought in Ryan McDonagh, Valentenko is a shut-down defenseman who is known to be hard to play against. After a season-and-a-half of playing in the KHL, the defenseman has opted to play in North America for the 2010-11 season. Invited to training camp, he intends to compete for an NHL roster spot this fall.

The Rangers see him as the possible agitating stay-at-home blueliner that they have been missing the last few years. A hard worker, who is strong on his skates, a solid puck possession player and a character player, Valentenko should be a second to third pairing defenseman.

12. (16) Ryan Bourque, C, 19
Drafted 3rd round, 80th overall, 2009

Bourque decided to forego college and instead joined the QMJHL Quebec Remparts. An exciting, flashy player with lightning speed and a quick release, Bourque finished among the top scoring rookies in the Q last season with 19 goals and 24 assists in 44 games. He is an excellent complementary player, seeing the ice well, but whether his lack of size and strength can transfer to an NHL career is still in question.

14. (15) Dale Weise, RW, 22
Drafted 4th round, 111th overall, 2008

Weise is one of the gems of the Rangers 2008 draft. The 2009-10 season was his second in Hartford, and although Weise was previously thought of as purely an energy player who could grind and give the team a maximum effort on every shift, he became a scoring threat on every AHL shift he was on the ice.

It was originally thought that he would be almost assured an NHL roster spot this fall, however, with all the free agent acquisitions this off-season, his roster spot is in doubt. If he is sent back to Hartford to begin the season, look for Weise to be one of the first forwards called up during the season.

15. (12) Tomas Kundratek, D, 20
Drafted 3rd round, 90th overall, 2008

A physical defensive defenseman, a good puck mover with a heavy shot, Kundratek has spent two seasons with the WHL Medicine Hat Tigers since being drafted. This fall he begins his professional career and although he will attend the Rangers training camp, he is expected to begin the season in Hartford. At least a year away from being NHL-ready, whether Kundratek remains in North America to develop enough to crack the roster remains to be seen.

16. (17) Roman Horak, C, 19
Drafted 5th round, 127th overall, 2009

Horak was a great asset to the WHL Chilliwack Bruins last season. With speed and good hockey sense, Horak is a natural center, who is excellent on face-offs. But he can be used on the wing, which is where he played during most of the 2009-10 season.

Horak will return to the Bruins for the 2010-11 season and is not expected to be ready for professional play until the fall of 2011.

17. (NR) Andrew Yogan, C, 18
Drafted 4th Round, 100th overall, 2010

Yogan has size, physicality, and skating skills, as well as excellent offensive potential. Thought at one point to have first round offensive talent, Yogan continues to refine his game. Expected to be a professional power forward, the Rangers will be patient with him, as he is converted over time to the wing.

Yogan will return from Traverse City to the OHL Erie Otters for his third CHL season later this month. It is possible that he will play an overage year prior to signing a professional contract.

18. (NR) Mihail Pashnin, D, 21
Drafted 7th round, 200th overall, 2009

With their final pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, the Rangers selected Pashnin, who is a reliable two-way defenseman. Drafted first overall in the KHL draft, the Rangers had an inkling he was interested in playing in North America before his selection. For the first time, Pashnin attended the Rangers’ development camp this summer and was quite impressive.

He has one more year on his two-year deal with CSKA Moscow, but, after the contract expires, it is very possible that he will play at least one year in North America.

19. (19) Brodie Dupont, C, 23
Drafted 3rd round, 66th overall, 2005

Dupont is a gritty, supporting player, who, after several years of playing on the wing, spent most of last season at his natural position-as a center. After three years as a member of the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack, this is a make it or break it year for Dupont, who recently re-signed with the Rangers for the 20010-11 season.

20. (20) Daniel Maggio, D, 19
Drafted 6th round, 170th overall, 2009

A strong, physical defenseman, Maggio was a late-round pick due to injuries. In addition to throwing his weight around, Maggio also has some offensive upside. After three seasons with the OHL Sudbury Wolves, Maggio requested a trade this summer. In August the Wolves obliged, sending Maggio to Guelph. Upon his return from Traverse City, Maggio will join the Storm. Expect him to spend at least this season and perhaps an overage year in junior hockey.

Honorable Mention: Jesper Fasth. The Rangers sixth-round 2010 NHL entry draft selection is offensively talented, showing good potential during both the Lake Placid contest between Sweden and the US prospects in Lake Placid, as well as the 2010 SEL pre-season.