The Home Stretch: A Look at the Rangers Prospects

By Michael Theodore

Here’s a report on the Rangers prospects. Some continued to be pleasant surprises while others were disappointing, but all in all this is still a solid system despite some of the Rangers deadline dealings.

Jamie Lundmark has made great strides since the beginning of the year. His awareness on the ice is perhaps what has made the greatest improvment over the season, which allows him to better use his skills to his advantage. There’s whispers about him being a bust but it’s not fair to say just yet. While Lundmark would best be served to come to camp with the greatest physical and mental preparation possible, the Rangers understand he is a work in progress. Lundmark didn’t adjust immediately to his added bulk over the summer and at times it looked as if he added too much a la Christian Dube, however in time he seemingly made the necessary changes and has played a very encouraging second half of the season. Lundmark needs to concentrate better on his positioning with opponents so that they don’t steam role over him, and if he can make this necessary change he could be an effective two way center. If he doesn’t though, he’ll have a very difficult time making the jump to the NHL.

Garth Murray showed a bit more of a scoring touch then hoped for in his last junior season. Not a natural scorer, Murray topped the 30 goal plateau and averaged over a point per game for the Regina Pats. Murray is the ultimate team player and is a safe bet for becoming an NHL player. He likely needs a season in the AHL before challenging for a spot but he could show up in a camp and surprise people. His conditioning is top notch and he’s capable of doing anything asked of him. Need someone to stand up for a teammate? Need to cycle the puck and create forchecking? Murray does it all and bleeds the colors of him team. He’s in peak physical condition and is seen by some front office people as becoming the type of player Manny Malhotra was predicted as. He’s built very similarly to Malhotra, not quite as fast but a lot more aggressive. He won’t light the world on fire, but he could add some descent offensive figures to go along with his solid overall game. He was impressive, as was Matt Hubbauer, a smallish but feisty forward also playing for the Pats who went un-drafted last season.

If Ryan Hollweg was two inches taller he’d be mentioned in the same breath as Garth Murray, unfortunately for him he’s only 5’10, but you’d never guess by watching him play. This kid plays like sandpaper, he mucks, he grinds, heck he even had time to score 30 goals in only 58 games with Medicine Hat of the WHL. His style is similar to that of ex-Ranger Todd Harvey, only he appears to be in much better shape then Harvey ever was. His size is one issue that can’t overstated enough though, and it might be the difference in whether or not he makes the big show. Honestly if this kid was only two inches taller I’d say he’s a top prospect, but being a 5’10 power forward is a very difficult task. Hollweg has that extra something that makes smaller players even that much more enjoyable to watch, he has a ton of heart. He’d probably make a better left wing than center, but time will tell on that issue. Definitely keep an eye on this one.

Fedor Tjutin has more talent then anyone in the Rangers system right now, bar none. He’s big, he can skate and he can play an offensive style game. The only knock on him is that you want to see him use his size more. You want to see him take the body a little bit more, you wonder what it’d be like if he ever went a little crazy. That however is not Tjutin’s game and it’s the only element he lacks. In that regard his style is similar to that of recently acquired Tom Poti, but it’s not meant as a comparison between the two. In a sense he’s developing as quickly as Kloucek did a few years ago but their games are very different. Tjutin however might surprise some people with his play in camp and may or may not force the Rangers to make a move. He’s a rangy kid and will likely take a little longer to develop as he puts all the parts together, it should be noted he is a better player then Novak and has a higher ceiling.

Mike Mottau is the victim of a numbers game with the Rangers right now and is likely to be dealt. Having said that, there are some flaws in his game. First off, his size works heavily against him. He can be outpowered consistently and he hasn’t taken it to a new level this season. That’s not to say that he’s been awful but his skills may have peaked and this is about his top end in terms of development. He could be a number 5 defenseman in the NHL but he’s likely going to do it with another team. Mottau has a lot offensive talent but it’s not likely to add up to more then 25 or so points at the NHL level. He was sitting third on the Rangers depth chart at the time of Novak’s trade. Ideally he should have had the roster spot Bryan Berard operates and probably could have done more with it.

Rico Fata is caught in a bit of a dilemma at the moment. He’s made great strides at the AHL level this season, learning to control his speed and work within his abilities, but he just can’t seem to put up points at the NHL level. He deserves a legitimate shot at the NHL and could be a nice player if put in the right situation. Fata sadly will probably not get that shot with the Rangers. Despite playing solid in his recent call-up, Fata has learned that not putting up points simply isn’t good enough for the Rangers even if guys named Theo, Eric and Petr contributed exactly the same amount as you. He should get a long call-up and get some ice time but it’ll likely be with another team next season. He could open some eyes with an audition in training camp, but with the addition of Rem Murray that will be tough.

Dominic Moore has a lot in common with former Ranger Mike York. He’s a smallish, but energetic player who is an evenly balanced player. He doesn’t have superstar potential but he has a shot at becoming a third line center who contributes defensively. Without forming an unfair comparison he reminds me a little of the Oilers Todd Marchant. He’s playing a little bigger then his 180 pound listing, but isn’t likely to get much higher then 190. His speed will back some teams off, but he just doesn’t have the hands to be a big time contributor to the scoreboard. He’s going to need at least a year or two in the minors and probably won’t be a factor till he’s closer to 24.

A foot injury cost Pat Aufiero the final part of his senior season and that could prove to be costly. For the second straight year he failed to reach the level that he achieved as a sophomore two seasons ago. The problem with Aufiero is that he’s solid but doesn’t do anything spectacular. His offensive game is minimal, and he’s not built as big as you’d like to see from a stay at home defenseman. He’s looking more and more like a minor league defenseman who might get a few cups of coffee. He turns pro this summer so it’ll be interesting to see whether the Rangers sign him.

David Inman is another player turning pro this season and as with Aufiero it will be interesting to see what happens to him. Inman is playing like he should have three seasons ago, which makes it hard to determine whether he’s turned the corner or if it’s just a mirage. On the one hand you have a very fast, 6’1, 200-pound center who has a very, very high skill level. On the other hand you have a player with limited hockey sense who can look lost out on the ice. Inman’s skating and skills always leave you wanting more from him. You want him to dominate and just take over a game but it’s not there. Likely he is a player who might carve out a solid AHL career, but he’s always going to tempt you into thinking that maybe he could be more.

Nathan Martz still hasn’t turned the corner and likely never will. Neil Smith and company saw him as a sleeper a few years back but he just hasn’t put it together yet in his second season of college hockey. Next year will be crucial in determining whether he put the whole package together and plays up to his capabilities. He has the talent, he has the size, but sometimes the connection isn’t always made.

Bryce Lampman is one of the Rangers more underrated prospects at the moment. He isn’t a scorer and he doesn’t play a flashy game but he does all the small things to help a team. He plays a stable and calm game in his own end and could be used to steady a more offensive minded partner. He has nice size and finishes his checks, but is also very smart at out maneuvering players as well. He’s a very smart player, who might have a shot in a few more years.

Brandon Snee has been his teams saving grace the past couple of seasons, literally. The goaltender is having another solid, but unspectacular season for Union. He’s a good goaltender on an average team. If he was in a better program he’d be grabbing a few more headlines, but he’ll likely finish college before joining the Rangers farm system. He’s still a bit of a long-shot to play in the NHL but he might be a valuable depth player in the future.

Shawn Collymore was a bit of a disappointment this season. While he was playing on a poor team, he should have more goals this season. He’s got a smooth but necessarily fast stride (think Marc Savard), but his hands aren’t those of a gifted scorer. Shawn’s greatest asset is his creativity with the puck, he finds the open man consistently. He looks like a poor man’s version of Shane Willis, and is built along similar lines. He needs another year of junior and likely a few seasons in the minors.

Questions from readers:

What type of player do you see Garth Murray as? Projections?

It’s a little hard to project junior players, but Murray has a shot to be a power forward who anchors the third line and is the ultimate team player. Whether that’s as left wing or a center has yet to be determined. He might be good for 15-20 goals a season and triple digit penalty minutes.

Ryan Hollweg has some impressive numbers, can he be a player?

He’s got a shot that’s for sure, but his size is going to be an issue. He has a lot of heart and might form a nice third line with Murray somewhere down the line.

What are your thoughts on the Malhotra deal?

Unlike the other Ranger trades which you can debate either way and make valid points, this one was a no brainer. Rucinsky was an okay player 5 years ago but has done nothing lately. Trading him straight up for Malhotra would be a mistake, without including Heisten. Malhotra needed to be traded, he simply wasn’t going to make on this team and it was beyond his control. Muckler cracked his paint and Ron Low simply peeled it off. When given the ice time he proved capable, but that was the problem, it was never good enough for this team. He could score at least 15 goals at this level and be a solid checking forward.

Who do you like so far in the draft?

Well having dropped down a few picks it becomes a slightly different ballgame. There aren’t any stars outside the top few picks, but I think there’s a lot of “nice” players. Having said that I like Eric Nystrom a lot as a sleeper in this draft. Forgetting who is father was I think he’s the type player who, not so much now, but in a few years might have developed quite nicely. It’s hard to tell right now where to rank players though. I’d like to see the Rangers move up, but that’s not likely. They will have one of the first picks of the second round so if there is a player they really like, you might see them move up a few spots to grab him.