Over the last five years, the Rangers have been graduating prospects onto their NHL roster. This is a change from the earlier philosophy of the club, where it was rare for drafted prospects to take a long-term place on the team roster. Currently, 10 of the 23 players on New York’s roster are homegrown. This is most noticeable on defense, where five out of the seven roster players have come through the system.
With one prospect nearing graduation and two more nearing NHL-readiness, one would expect the cupboard to be getting bare. However, the Rangers have been drafting and trading extremely well over the last five years, and there remain quite a few prospects that are expected to emerge to take roles on the NHL team.
However, weaknesses in the organization remain. One of the reasons that the Blueshirts signed Brad Richards to a long-term contract before this season was because there have been no true first-line centers in their system for years. In addition, there is no potential successor to Henrik Lundqvist within the organization.
The Rangers have three excellent prospects at left wing, including Chris Kreider, who they hope will take a place on the first line alongside Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. With his size and speed, Kreider may be the power forward that has eluded New York for years.
Mats Zuccarello is another high skill winger (who plays on both the right and left sides). Likely more of a second line winger, Zuccarello has already had several stints in New York, showing excellent creativity and vision. He is still adjusting to the North American rink and the speed of the NHL, which combined make for less space within which to work than what is available on the larger European rink.
Carl Hagelin is another excellent prospect that the Rangers have on left wing. A rookie with the AHL Connecticut Whale this season, Hagelin is projected to be a second- to third-line player in the NHL. Combining outstanding speed with excellent hockey sense, Hagelin can play in all situations and has good leadership skills.
Tommy Grant is another winger in his first season of professional hockey. Signed as a free agent after he completed four years at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, Grant is most effective banging along the boards and making room for the more skilled forwards.
There are no potential top line centers within the Rangers’ organization. Ryan Bourque and Oscar Lindberg are potentially second- to third-line forwards, who are already playing professionally. Bourque, although a natural center, has been playing on the wing with the Connecticut Whale. Lindberg is expected to remain a center and has been playing in the SEL for the past three seasons. An attendee at the Rangers 2011 Development Camp last summer, Lindberg will likely stay in Europe for at least one more season prior to playing in North America.
Andrew Yogan and Michael St. Croix are both potential second- to third-line centers who currently play in the CHL. Yogan, who could have played professionally this season, was returned to the OHL for an overage year due an injury that kept him off the ice for the majority of the 2010-11 season. It remains to be seen if the Rangers will sign Yogan to an entry-level contract, which will depend on his dominating in his overage year.
St. Croix was just drafted this past summer, in the fourth round. As a fourth rounder, he is a long shot to make the NHL, but he has produced offensively in junior hockey, and if he gets stronger and more consistent with the puck, he may be able to reach his potential.
Stephen Fogarty was drafted in 2011 out of Minnesota high school hockey. As such, he is relatively raw and its very hard to predict where he may fit in the Rangers’ plans. With a big frame and good hands, Fogarty is likely to be converted to a winger prior to playing professionally, but his skating needs work, so he is likely to be three to five years away from professional hockey.
Danny Hobbs is in his final year of the University of Massachusetts and has been a rather unsung prospect. Selected in the seventh round of the 2007 entry draft, Hobbs was playing for a now defunct USHL team, and then went on to Massachusetts, where did not get much ice time. When that changed last season, he blossomed and led the Minutemen in scoring. The senior co-captain is off to a fast start this season and is expected to earn an entry-level contract from the Rangers this summer.
The Rangers have three excellent prospects that are expected to play right wing at the professional level. Christian Thomas is an undersized, highly skilled forward, with excellent speed and outstanding hands. He will need to get much stronger to be successful in the professional game, but the Rangers have hopes that eventually he will be a first line right winger for the NHL team.
J.T. Miller, New York’s first round selection in the 2011 Entry Draft, already has fans buzzing about his potential. Miller has excellent size and is very strong on the puck. Becoming a more offensive player in the CHL this season, Miller has the potential to be a first to second line power forward in the NHL. He is expected to play this one season of major junior hockey prior to becoming a professional next fall.
Jesper Fasth has the potential to be the most successful European draft picks the Rangers have had in recent years. Currently skating with HV 71 of the Swedish Elite League, Fasth has good vision, excellent skating abilities, and can finish. Expected to play in North America as early as next season, Fasth has the potential to play on the second-line in the NHL.
In addition to the three top prospects at right wing, the Rangers also have Andreas Thuresson, the injured Chad Kolarik, and recently acquired Francois Bouchard playing in Connecticut for the AHL Whale.
Randy McNaught, who is a 2010 NHL Draft selection, chose to play in the CIS (for the University of Alberta) rather than play lower level professional hockey and David Kveton, who at age 23 remains on the Rangers’ reserve list, continues to play in the Czech Republic.
The Rangers have been the strongest on defense for several years. Arguably the best organization in the NHL over that time for developing blueliners, the Rangers continue to produce high level defensemen every year. Despite graduating Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto and Michael Sauer in the last four years, the organization still has Ryan McDonagh, Tim Erixon, and Dylan McIlrath in the system.
With the injury to Staal, McDonagh has been playing regularly in the first pairing with Girardi. A solid two-way defenseman, with good offensive instincts and no fear of the physical game, McDonagh continues to develop more each game in which he plays.
Erixon, who was acquired from Calgary just before he went back into the draft this past June, had played three seasons in the SEL prior to coming over to North America this fall. Staal’s injury affected Erixon, in that he was kept with the NHL club at the beginning of the season rather than seeing ice time in Connecticut. After nine games with New York, he was reassigned to the AHL Whale, where he is playing very well. If he continues at this pace, Erixon is expected to be a mid-season call-up to the Rangers.
McIlrath, who was the Rangers first round selection in 2010, has suited up for the WHL Moose Jaw Warriors for the 2011-12 season. Now in his third year with the Warriors, McIlrath is big and strong, with toughness along the boards as well as on open ice. Now a decent skater for his size, the Rangers are hoping that McIlrath will be their crease-clearing, mean, hard-to-play-against blueliner of the future.
Pavel Valentenko and Stu Bickel are also prospects within the system that have a chance to see some duties on the NHL blueline in the future. Both are older prospects, who are borderline NHL players who have seen some chances and not taken advantage of them.
Also at the AHL level is Blake Parlett, who was signed as a free agent after splitting time between the WCHL and AHL last season. Parlett is a good two-way defenseman , with good offensive instincts, but he has yet to prove himself at the AHL level. With good AAA production this season, Parlett should get a good look in Rangers camp next fall for an open third pairing NHL spot.
Samuel Noreau was drafted by New York in the fifth round this past June. A long-shot to make the NHL, Noreau had skating and positioning issues. However, he is a big tough blueliner, who can fight, which is exactly the kind of defenseman the Rangers tend to draft in later rounds. At 6’5, 225 pounds, Noreau is developing slowly and may turn out to be an excellent discovery by the Blueshirts. He looked better than expected this fall at the Traverse City Rookie Tournament, and he continues to play well this fall in the QMJHL. It will be several years before the Rangers organization will know the outcome, but right now Noreau looks to be a diamond in the rough.
Also in the CHL, sixth round selection Peter Ceresnak, is adjusting well to the smaller North American ice surface. After an unimpressive Traverse City Rookie Tournament, Ceresnak took his place on the Peterborough Petes blue line, where he has played well thus far this season. Ceresnak is a long-shot to make the NHL, but he is very raw and will continue to work on skating and positioning.
Finally, it was hoped that Mikhail Pashnin would sign an NHL entry-level contract this past fall. However, he could not come to terms with the Rangers, and instead signed a two-year contract with CSKA Moscow of the KHL. At this point, there is some doubt as whether the now 22-year-old will ever play in New York.
The Rangers have four goaltenders in their organization, although none of them appears to be the heir apparent to current number one netminder, Henrik Lundqvist. Chad Johnson and Cam Talbot, both signed after several years of NCAA hockey, are sharing the goalie duties in Connecticut. Although Johnson was named Goalie of the Month for October, he has not played consistently, and does not appear to be a good candidate for an NHL back-up position next fall.
Twenty-four-year-old Talbot is in the second year of his ELC, and after being signed as a free agent in 2010, will likely be re-signed next season. However, Talbot also does not look ready for NHL backup duties, nor does he project to be a number one netminder. Expect him to serve as the veteran in the AHL next season.
The Rangers signed another, younger, free agent, Jason Missiaen, this past spring. After he toiled between the pipes for four years in the CHL (playing in both the OHL and the QMJHL). Missiaen joined the ECHL Greenville Road Warriors this fall. Currently serving in a backup role to former Philadelphia Flyers prospect Nic Riopel, Missiaen is expected to have a long development curve.
Scott Stajcer is the only goaltending prospect in the system that was drafted by the Rangers. Signed after he spent most of last season recovering from a hip injury that required surgery, in early October, the Rangers returned Stajcer to junior hockey for an overage year. Off to a good, but not great start this season, Stajcer is expected to compete for a spot on the AHL roster next fall.