Rangers Top 20 prospects

By HF Staff

The Rangers new top 20 looks entirely different as the organization has seen an unusual influx of new talent in the past several months through a combination of trades, a draft with several high picks, and an unrestricted free agent signing. Fedor Tjutin remains on top of the list while 2004 drafted Al Montoya is the highest ranked newcomer to the list at No. 2. At No. 3 is Jozef Balej, who was the only prospect previously ranked (inserted into the list after being dealt to the organization) to move up. Overall, 10 of the top 20 are new to the Rangers Top 20.

New York Rangers – Prospect Rankings at a Glance

1.Fedor Tjutin, D
2.Alvaro Montoya, G
3.Jozef Balej, RW
4.Hugh Jessiman, RW
5.Henrik Lundqvist, G
6.Lauri Korpikoski, LW
7.Thomas Pock, D
8.Garth Murray, C
9.Jarkko Immonen, C
10. Maxim Kondratiev, D
11. Nigel Dawes, LW
12. Bryce Lampman, D
13. Petr Prucha, C
14. Dwight Helminen, C
15. Marcus Jonasen, LW
16. David Liffiton, D
17. Darin Olver, C
18. Bruce Graham, C
19. Jake Taylor, D
20. Ivan Baranka, D

1. Fedor Tjutin, D, 21

Tjutin began the 2003-04 season playing with the Hartford Wolfpack (AHL), seeing time in 43 games, collecting 14 points. He made his debut with the Rangers towards the middle of February and stuck with the big team for the rest of the season, registering seven points in 25 games in the NHL. He scored his first NHL goal while killing a penalty against the Florida Panthers after approximately a month with the club. Tjutin is a very strong defenseman who is sound at all aspects of the game, and has no glaring weaknesses. He is all-around very sound, and his consistency for a 21-year-old is remarkable. He has NHL size and skill to be a top pairing defender for the Rangers, and only experience and a little fine-tuning of his positioning is keeping him from that. Tjutin would surely have played with the Rangers this fall if not for the lockout. As a result, he will play with the Wolfpack until the labor dispute is resolved.

2. Alvaro Montoya, G, 19

Al Montoya completed two years of high school in a single calendar year in order to finish early and be able to join University of Michigan for the 2002-03 season. He had an amazing freshman season, posting a 30-10-3 record with a 2.33 GAA and a .911 save percentage, while appearing in the most games among all Division 1 netminders. Montoya kept the ball rolling in 2003-04 with a 26-12-2 record, GAA of 2.23 and .917 save percentage with Michigan, and posted six shutouts to bring his two-year total to ten. He also was the starting goaltender for the 2004 gold medal winning US World Junior Championship team. His strong performance over the first two years of his collegiate career made him the sixth overall choice in the 2004 Entry Draft.

Montoya is a flashy goaltender that excels when he’s facing a lot of shots. He mostly plays in the butterfly style, but has very strong technical skills as well, particularly using his athleticism to get back into position. He is a strong puckhandler, but sometimes gets caught trying to play a puck too far away, or tries to do too much with a pass. He also loves to challenge shooters, and occasionally comes out too far and gets out of position. However, these are minor issues that will almost certainly evaporate as he gets more experienced. Montoya will return for his third year at Michigan this season. Because of the Rangers have numerous young goalies in their system, Montoya could spend all four years in college even though he probably will be ready for professional hockey by the end of this year. The Rangers may have learned from the Dan Blackburn experience not to rush young goaltenders. Montoya projects to be a starting goaltender in the future.

3. Jozef Balej, RW, 22

Balej was acquired in March of 2004 from the Montreal Canadiens in the Alexei Kovalev deal, Balej is a man teetering on the edge of breaking into the NHL. He has taken an unconventional route to the NHL, gaining prominence initially by scoring 97 points way back in 1997-98 with Dukla-Trencin’s junior team in the Slovakian league. He then moved to North America the year after, spent a year in the USHL before jumping to the WHL where he played with the Portland Winter Hawks. After one season with the Hawks he was drafted in the third round, 78th overall by Montreal 2000. He finished his time in the WHL with two more seasons and then played a season struggling in the AHL. However, in 2003-04 he demonstrated that he had learned from his struggles and totaled 58 points in 55 games in the AHL, earning a call-up to the Canadiens. Near the trade deadline he was dealt to the Rangers, where he spent most of the rest of 2003-04, notching five points in 13 games played.

Balej is a prototypical sniper of a winger. He possesses great speed, especially through the neutral zone and the first stride in the offensive zone which allows him to leave defenders behind, and a great release. He loves to shoot the puck and he never pauses to pull the trigger when he feels he has a lane to the net. Like many players of his style, he often gets too excited in the offensive zone and neglects his defensive responsibilities, but this can be expected from a player with such strong offensive skills. Balej has a spot to lose on the Rangers when the league gets back underway. He has progressed enough to be an NHL-level talent, and at this point in appears the only question is if he will settle in as a first liner or a second line player.

4. Hugh Jessiman, RW, 21

Jessiman is an enormous prospect, standing at 6’5 and roughly 220 lbs already. The Rangers found him available at No. 12 overall in the 2003 Entry Draft. They selected him out of Dartmouth College, where he had scored 23 goals and totaled 47 points in just 34 games. He saw his point production decline in 2003-04, finishing with 33 points in 34 games, still a strong offensive season.
Jessiman’s stature obviously makes him a candidate for an NHL power forward, and he has the skill set to back up those sort of predictions. He has above average hands, both with his stick handling and passing abilities to complement his size and strength. He remains a bit rough around the edges despite his hope of being in the NHL within a year or two, needing to bring all his skills together to make him a more complete and consistent player. Coaches would like him to use his size to his advantage a bit more and to see his hockey sense improve a bit as his on-ice decision making needs work.

Jessiman will play his third season with Dartmouth in 2004-05 and hopes to put up the same kind of numbers he did in his freshman year to make him a first round selection. Jessiman is probably three seasons away from playing with the Rangers, although that number could be reduced to two if he has a strong junior year in Dartmouth. He continues to develop in the mold of an upper-tier second line power forward.

5. Henrik Lundqvist, G, 22

The second goaltender in the Ranger’s top ten, Lundqvist has played for Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League (SEL) since the 2000-01 season. Being a 19-year-old goaltender who saw some action in arguably the best league in the world beyond the NHL got him drafted by the Rangers in the seventh round, 205th overall. He got into more games the following season and then had a breakthrough year in 2002-03, playing in 28 games, with an amazing .948 save percentage and 1.45 GAA. Last year Lundqvist was finally able to assert himself as the No. 1 goalie in Frolunda, playing in 48 of the team’s 50 games and finishing with a .927 save percentage, 2.17 GAA, and seven shutouts.

Lundqvist is an exceptionally good goaltender positionally. He is one of the best goalie prospects at coming out and properly cutting down the angle on shooters. He makes shooters have to make a perfect shot, and has the reflexes and agility to make a highlight reel save when shooters are able to hit a corner. He is quick on his feet laterally, which allows him to be able to come out on shots and still get across the crease for cross-ice passes. Lundqvist continues to be brought along very slowly.

He will once again play in Europe this season, but 2004-05 may be his final year in Sweden. Once he comes across to North America he is going to need a season or two to get used to reading the play as it comes at him on the smaller ice surface, but Lundqvist has all the makings of another starting goalie for the Rangers. The only concern the Rangers may have is that Lundqvist and Montoya may be ready for the AHL at the same time, but that is a very, very good problem to have.

6. Lauri Korpikoski, LW, 18

The young Finn emerged quickly last season as a first-round pick in the draft. While playing in the Finnish Junior league, Korpikoski put up 20 points in 36 games. He also got into four playoff games with TPS Turku (SM-Liiga) where he was able to compile two assists. However, it was his performance at the U18 tournament when he played with fellow first round selections Lauri Tukonen and Petteri Nokelainen to form one of the best lines of the event. Korpikoski also tied for the point total lead in the tournament with five goals and six assists for 11 points. The Rangers were enamored with him enough to trade a later first round pick and their compensatory second rounder from RJ Umberger to acquire him.

Korpikoski has a great attitude and shows tremendous hustle and enthusiasm each time he steps onto the ice. With solid size and great wheels, Korpikoski is an all-around offensive player, both being an aggressive shooter and able to pass. There are some questions about the extent of his skill development, but his desire to play the game cannot be questioned.
Korpikoski has started the season with the TPS Turku professional team, where he will most likely see limited action on a depth line. However, he will get more accustomed to playing against older and stronger opponents, and this should help his development. Korpikoski will spend at least another year after 2004-05 in Europe as he still needs some work.

7. Thomas Pock, D, 22

An Austrian defenseman who lives in the United States, Pock completed his college eligibility at the end of winter of 2004, just in time to allow him to jump straight into six games (two with the Rangers after signing as an unrestricted free agent. Pock put up good offensive numbers in his senior year, including 16 goals and 41 points in 37 games played and was named early in the season as a Hobey Baker candidate.

Pock is an offensive defenseman who readily jumps into the rush when he sees an opportunity. He is a mobile skater in all directions, possesses good hands and stick-handling abilities along with a shot that keeps goaltenders focused on him when he has the puck. He is defensively responsible as well, and killed penalties in college.
How Pock will spend his immediate future has been determined by the lockout, which will see him suiting up for the Wolfpack. Upon a new CBA being reached, Pock will contend for a roster spot on opening night with the Rangers, and begin working towards becoming a No. 3 NHL defender.

8. Garth Murray, C, 22

Drafted in the third round, 79th overall in the 2001 Entry Draft by the Rangers, Murray was considered a “sure-bet” to make the NHL almost immediately. After four full seasons with Regina (WHL) Murray graduated to the AHL, where he spent a full season in 2002-03. However, in 2003-04 he played well enough to earn 20 games with the Rangers, during which he was only able to score a single goal.
Murray plays a lot bigger and tougher than the 6’1, 205 lbs at which he is listed. He plays a hard-nosed game complemented by his good speed and good puck-handling skills. He is both a solid playmaker who always looking to setup his teammates as well as an opportunist who gets into positions to bang rebounds home and score goals in close to the crease. His blend of playing big and size make him a valuable prospect.

The depleted Rangers probably would have seen Murray start the 2004-05 season with them. Needless to say he’s on the verge of becoming a full-time NHL player, but he needs to start producing more offensively if he’s ever going to be the second-line power forward type the Rangers projected him to be upon his selection.

9. Jarkko Immonen, C, 22

Originally drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2002 (8th round, 254th overall), Immonen was acquired by the Rangers in the Brian Leetch trade late in the 2003-04 season. He spent the season playing for JYP (SM-Liiga), as he had the season before. Immonen experienced a true breakout year, scoring 23 goals and 26 assists for a total of 49 points in 52 games, leading his team in both goals and points.
Immonen’s most impressive single tool in his arsenal is his amazing hockey sense. He sees the ice incredibly well and is an elite playmaker as a result. Although he led his team in goals last season, he is more of a playmaker than goal scorer as many of his goals came on wrist shots from in close. He reads the game well and is able to avoid getting hit much of the time. A bit under-sized at 6’0, 187lbs, the biggest concern with Immonen is his skating ability. Although he is working hard to improve it he remains relatively slow for a top-line player and needs to improve his agility on his skates.

Because of his great season, JYP immediately signed Immonen to a contract extension for another year, which has made it almost for certain that he will spend another year in Finland regardless of the labor situation. While many fans may be eager to have their new playmaking prospect in a Rangers jersey, another year working on his skating and adding some more muscle could dramatically improve Immonen’s overall performance. If he is able to overcome his weaknesses, he should be a second line center.

10. Maxim Kondratiev, D, 21

Selected in 2001 (6th round, 168 overall) by the Leafs, Kondratiev also came to the Rangers in the Leetch deal. He started the previous season in the opening night lineup for the Leafs, but was sent back to the minors have only seven games. After skating in 18 contests with the Leafs AHL affiliate (St. John’s), Kondratiev returned to Russia where he played 29 games with Tolyatti Lada (RSL).
Kondratiev is an offensive defenseman with good speed and puck-handling abilities. He has a good shot and never hesitates to use it. As a result of his coaching in Russia (Petr Vorobiev) you will very rarely catch Kondratiev leaving the blueline to pinch to keep a puck in or to gather an errant pass. Although he is primarily an offensive player, Kondratiev is not a liability defensively. He is passive in his own zone, letting the play come to him, and rarely gets involved in post-whistle scrums. At 6’1, 183 lbs, the major concern with Kondratiev is his size and strength.

It has been announced that Kondratiev will be in the starting lineup for the Hartford Wolfpack, possibly playing alongside fellow Russian Tjutin. It’s difficult to project when he will hit and stick in the NHL. After impressing in the preseason of the 2003-04 schedule, he started with the Leafs but was quickly demoted upon nearly vanishing on the ice. If he is able to re-attain and maintain that level of play Kondratiev will be wearing a Ranger sweater very soon. Kondratiev is likely to peak out as a No. 4 defenseman who plays with a stay-at-home type of partner.

11. Nigel Dawes, LW, 19

Dawes has very significant offensive skills and intangibles despite his diminutive stature. At only 5’8, Dawes is obviously very small, but he had an excellent overall 2003-04 season. He was fourth in Western Hockey League scoring 47 goals in 56 games, and was named to the Western Conference’s First All Star Team. Dawes also played for Canada at the 2004 World Junior Championships, where he helped Canada win a silver medal. He has excellent hockey sense and knowledge of the game, but he can still use some extra work to tighten up the defensive aspect of his game. Dawes has been named captain of his junior team, the Kootenay Ice, where he will play this year despite signing a contract with the Rangers. Dawes is expected to put up monster numbers in the WHL this season, and also should represent Canada at the 2005 World Junior Championships.

12. Bryce Lampman, D, 21

Lampman is a strong, solid puck moving defenseman who should make a good run at a roster spot for the Rangers in the upcoming season. Originally drafted by the Rangers in the fourth round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Lampman can be described by one word: solid. He isn’t a dazzling or superstar level player, but he makes the smart play, and rarely makes big mistakes. He played 58 games of last season with the AHL Hartford Wolfpack, and eight with the Rangers. Lampman is a legitimate contender for a spot on the Rangers opening day roster this season.

13. Petr Prucha, C, 21

Prucha has improved every season while playing for Paradubice HC in the Czech junior Extraleague. The Rangers drafted him in 240th round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, and they may have found a gem. He is still only 21 years old, and given his steady improvement, he should be competing for a job in Rangers training camp in the next few years. Prucha is known for his finesse style, and for his excellent speed. Last season he reached career highs in points and goals in the Extraleague with 11 goals and 24 total points in 48 games played. Prucha will continue to play for Paradubice in 2004-05 in the Czech league.

14. Dwight Helminen, C, 21

Helminen signed a professional contract with the Rangers on August 3, 2004. The 21-year-old center that played for the University of Michigan Wolverines of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association last season where scored 17 goals, 11 assists for 28 points in 41 games. Making his debut in the Rangers top 20 after being acquired from the Edmonton Oilers in the Nedved deal, Helminen’s greatest tool is his blazing speed. He is known as an excellent defensive player and a superb penalty killer. Helminen is expected to make the Wolfpack roster and play there all season in his first experience as a pro.

15. Marcus Jonasen, LW, 20

Jonasen is still a long-term project, but the Rangers knew that when they drafted him in the third round of 2002 NHL Entry Draft. He is a large power forward who still needs work on his skating and offensive consistency, but he has adapted very well to the North American style of game. He has very good hands and scoring touch from in close around the net, and he is a strong leader. Last year, as a 19-year-old European rookie, Jonasen made such a strong impression in Tri-City of the WHL that he was named team captain, a position he will once again hold in 2004-05. He missed nearly half the season due to an ankle injury, but still posted 26 points in 43 games. Jonasen will be relied on this year to both provide leadership and factor in more on the scoresheet.

16. David Liffiton, D, 19

Liffiton came to the Rangers in a trade from the Colorado Avalanche organization in a late season trade in 2003-04. He is known for being a stay at home defenseman who can play a physical style of game as well. He has no problem at all dropping the gloves when the time calls for it, and has the raw talent to one day be a power play quarterback, but his offensive skills need a lot of refinement. He has long-shot potential as a No. 3 defenseman in the NHL, but he will not be a superstar. In 2003-04 he notched 11 points in just 44 games played due to injury with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL. Signed to a pro contract at the end of July, Liffiton appears set to debut with the Wolfpack this season.

17. Darin Olver, C, 19

Olver possesses excellent scoring ability and offensive skills. He also has shown a knack for scoring some timely goals as well. Olver can play the point on the power play, and he also does a lot of the little things well like driving to the net without the puck and blocking shots. He needs to bulk up a little bit, but he definitely has a strong future in the Rangers system. Olver spent 2003-04 in the NCAA playing with Northern Michigan University where he led the team’s freshmen with 13 goals, 21 assists in 41 games. Olver will play as a sophomore at Northern Michigan this year and the Rangers hope he can build on the first-year success that made him a second round draft pick in 2004.

18. Bruce Graham, C, 18

Graham stands at a huge 6’6 and 220 lbs and has a good scoring touch to go with his monster size. He went from 28 points in his rookie season with the Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL) to 57 points in his sophomore season. He has improved his skating and his defensive play, but definitely still needs to vastly improve on both. Even though he has huge size, a lot of the time he doesn’t play a physical game. Graham needs to develop more offensive consistency, and to quicken his footwork for better skating ability. He will once again play with Moncton in 2004-05, where he plays on the team’s second line alongside Boston Bruins prospect Martin Karsums.

19. Jake Taylor, D, 21

Taylor was selected by the Rangers in the sixth round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, and has progressed very nicely. Last year, while playing for the University of Minnesota, Taylor tallied eight points and 60 penalty minutes in 38 games. On August 4, 2004, after just one season of collegiate hockey, the Rangers signed Taylor to a professional contract. Good enough for pro hockey, but still needing some seasoning, Taylor will fight for time in the AHL with the Wolfpack. Taylor has decent puck moving skills, but he really excels in his own zone. He plays a very tough physical style of game, and he will continue to improve his offensive output. Taylor is closer to being a Ranger than even they thought he would have been at this age.

20. Ivan Baranka, D, 19

Hailing from Slovakia, Baranka is known as a stay at home defenseman who loves to take out the lower body of opposing players with hits. He is also pretty good with the puck, and possesses good passing skills. Baranka protects his own zone first, but won’t hesitate to jump into the rush to try to make something happen offensively. Baranka played his first North American hockey during 2003-04 with the expansion Everett Silvertips (WHL). Statistically he managed to accumulate 15 points and 69 PIM in 58 games, but it was his play without the puck that got him noticed. He also played for Slovakia in the WJC, scoring a goal and an assist in the tournament. Although some feel Baranka is almost ready for NHL action, he will be playing for Everett again in 2004-05. It is a safe bet to expect him to be with the Wolfpack in 2005-06.

Matt MacInnis, George Bachul, Ken Meraglia, Brendan Fitzpatrick, DJ Powers and Pekka Lampinen contributed to this article. Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.