Rangers prospects strong in goal, weak elsewhere

By Leslie Treff

Photo: Ryan Graves will join the Hartford Wolf Pack as a professional rookie this fall, but not before he gets a long look in training camp. (Courtesy of Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire)

Photo: Ryan Graves will join the Hartford Wolf Pack as a professional rookie this fall, but not before he gets a long look in training camp. (Courtesy of Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire)


10. (5) Dylan McIlrath, D, 6.0 B
Drafted 1st round, 10th overall, 2010 

This fall is McIlrath’s final chance to make the Rangers roster. Should he be assigned to Hartford for his fourth professional season, he will have to clear waivers. Thus far McIlrath has failed to prove that he has the skating ability and positioning to play at the NHL level, however, he did make great strides last season as a member of the Wolf Pack (17 points in 73 regular season games, with 165 PIMs). McIlrath is really not on the ice to score points, what he needs to be is effective in his own zone, intimidating and not a defensive liability. Likely to be the seventh defenceman for the Rangers this season, he has been a prospect so long that he will graduate after the spring 2016 rankings, whether or not he plays another NHL game.

9. (4) Oscar Lindberg, C, 6.0 B
Traded May 9, 2011 from Arizona Coyotes

Lindberg’s road to the NHL has been long and winding since being drafted by the Coyotes in 2010, but this season may be his best chance to fulfill his dream. In 2011, Arizona swapped Lindberg, a player they were not really sure would ever come over to North America, for Ethan Werek, a player that the Rangers felt was having development issues. Lindberg, who was seen as a potential third-line center, remained in Sweden for two more seasons after the trade, and for the last two seasons, Lindberg skated in Hartford, with just one NHL appearance. He was arguably the best player on the Wolf Pack last season (56 points in 75 regular season games; 16 points in 15 postseason contests), and is expected to be a serious candidate for one of the open forward roster spots this season.

8. (NR) Robin Kovacs, LW, 7.0 C
Drafted 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2015

Experienced in international competition, Kovacs has high-end skill, as well as an edge to his game. Signed in Sweden for two more seasons, Kovacs begins the 2015-16 campaign loaned to AIK in the Allsvenskan. Last season, he spent the majority of his games in the same league, recording 28 points (17 goals, 11 assists) in 52 regular season games. Despite his contract in Sweden, Kovacs was selected in the CHL Import Draft by the North Bay Battalion. The young Swede will need to gain upper body strength prior to becoming a North American professional, but he can pass the puck well, has excellent vision, and is dangerous on every shift.

7. (NR) Magnus Hellberg, G, 7.0 C
Rights traded by Nashville on July 1, 2015; Signed as restricted free agent on July 10, 2015

Drafted by the Predators in the second round of the 2011 draft, Hellberg became a restricted free agent on July 1, 2015. The Rangers traded a sixth round selection in the 2017 draft for his rights, so that Hellberg could compete for the NHL backup job this season. Hellberg is huge and has all the physical and technical attributes of an elite NHL goaltender. Last season, his third in North America, Hellberg toiled with the AHL Milwaukee Admirals, appearing in 38 games and recording a 2.33 GAA and a .913 save percentage.

6. (NR) Ryan Gropp, LW, 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall, 2015

Projected to be a power forward in the NHL, the 6-foot-2 Gropp has excellent skating speed and a very quick release. Originally committed to the University of North Dakota, Gropp joined the WHL Seattle Thunderbirds in the fall of 2013. In his second season, he skated in 67 regular season games with Seattle, posting 58 points (30 G, 28 A) and 44 PIMs. The Rangers will be looking for more production from Gropp in the coming years, as they expect him to be an offensive force as a professional. However, the main goal for the 2015-16 season will be consistency in the young Kamloops native’s play.

5. (14) Ryan Graves, D, 7.0 C
Drafted 4th round, 110th overall, 2013

Over the last two years, Graves has quietly moved up the organizational depth chart. About to begin his professional career, Graves is still expected to be a mostly defensive blueliner, with a bit of offensive upside. Last season, he did show more offense (15 goals, 24 assists in 50 regular season games; 11 points in 21 playoff games including the Memorial Cup). The Rangers are looking to have Graves spend at least one year in Hartford, adjusting to the pace of the professional game before giving him a look in New York.

4. (3) Brandon Halverson, G, 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 59th overall, 2014

Despite the fact that Halverson has moved down one slot in the rankings, he is still a top prospect in the organization. With a big 6-foot-4 frame, great rebound control, and athletic movement, Halverson is one of three very good goaltending prospects. Last season, Halverson’s second with the OHL Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, was up and down. However, he played well in the one U20 World Junior Championships game in which he appeared and is expected to be selected once again for the United States team in 2016. Signed to an NHL entry-level contract this summer, the Rangers think that Halverson has a bright future with the organization. Expect him to play one more season of major junior hockey prior to beginning his professional career in the fall of 2016.

3. (7) Igor Shestyorkin, G, 8.0 D
Drafted 4th round, 118th overall, 2014

A (very) late 1995 prospect, drafted in the fourth round, may turn out to be the best goaltending prospect available in the 2014 draft. With excellent lateral movement, good instincts, and good coverage down low, Shestyorkin could be the steal of the draft. His play in international competition (silver medal in the 2015 U20 WJCs), as well as in the KHL, has been exceptional. The question is, and always has been, will he come over? Shestyorkin recently signed a two-year extension with SKA St. Petersburg, and he intends to honor it. That means that the earliest that he will play in North America is the fall of 2017. It is hard to believe, given all that he has accomplished already, but at that point, he will not yet be 22 years old.

2. (2) Brady Skjei, D, 7.5 C
Drafted 1st round, 28th overall, 2012

After three years at the University of Minnesota, Skjei signed an NHL entry-level contract last April. He played for Hartford in the AHL on an ATO at the end of the regular season and through the AHL playoffs, adjusting to the pro game. In his final season as a Golden Gopher, Skjei posted 10 points (one goal, nine assists) in 33 games.

During his collegiate career, Skjei helped Minnesota win three regular-season conference titles and three NCAA tournament appearances, including a runner-up to the national champion Union in 2014. He was expected to be mostly a defensive blueliner when he was drafted, but Skjei has developed into more of a two-way player. Although expected to start in Hartford this season, if he plays well, Skjei could be an injury call up to New York as a first-year pro.

1. (1) Pavel Buchnevich, LW, 8.0 C
Drafted 3rd round, 75th overall, 2013

Already a top player in the KHL, the 20-year-old Buchnevich has started the 2015-16 season on fire. He has dominated offensively in international play, generally creating plays that others can only dream of. Buchnevich’s release is elite and his skating is outstanding. His performances in Rangers development camps have been far above all other players on the ice. He does need to learn to be more responsible in his own end though, as occasionally his failure to get back on defense leads to very effective scoring chances against. Although he was expected to come to North America to play this season, Buchnevich signed a one-year extension with the KHL’s Severstal Cherepovets in May 2015. It is hoped that he will arrive in the fall of 2016.

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