Rangers Top 20 prospects

By HF Staff

Previously a team with one of the weakest prospect systems in the league, the New York Rangers have made tremendous strides in the past year and a half to boost a strong pipeline of future players. The improvement of the team’s organizational depth is certainly impressive and the Rangers have built a remarkably balanced group. A number of these prospects are poised to play at Madison Square Garden when the NHL resumes.

Top 20 at a Glance

1. Fedor Tjutin, D – 21 – St. Petersburg, RSL
2. Henrik Lundqvist, G – 23 – Frolunda, SEL
3. Al Montoya, G – 20 – Michigan, NCAA
4. Jozef Balej, RW – 23 – Hartford, AHL
5. Jarkko Immonen, C – 22 – JYP, SM-Liiga
6. Lauri Korpikoski, LW – 18 – TPS, SM-Liiga
7. Nigel Dawes, LW – 20 – Kootenay, WHL
8. Hugh Jessiman, RW – 21 – Dartmouth, NCAA
9. Thomas Pock, D – 23 – Hartford, AHL
10. Bruce Graham, C – 19 – Moncton, QMJHL
11. Maxim Kondratiev, D – 22 – Lada Togliatti, RSL
12. Darin Olver, C – 20 – Northern Michigan, NCAA
13. Garth Murray, C – 22 – Hartford, AHL
14. Bryce Lampman, D – 22 – Hartford, AHL
15. Alexandre Giroux, LW – 23 – Hartford, AHL
16. Petr Prucha, C – 22 – Pardubice, Czech
17. Dominic Moore, C – 24 – Hartford, AHL
18. Brandon Dubinsky, C – 18 – Portland, WHL
19. Dwight Helminen, C – 21 – Hartford, AHL
20. David Liffiton, D – 20 – Hartford, AHL

The Top 20 is based on long-term impact on the organization and is not a reflection of who is closest to making the NHL. Players are assigned a grade (HF Prospect Rating) based on the projections and comments from both inside and outside the organization. Other factors that help determine ranking order to varying degrees include: player age, draft position, current league and team quality, location (North America or Europe) and foreseeable opportunity. Players are removed from the prospect list when they no longer meet the HF Prospect Criteria.

Key: Current Rank, (previous rank), Name, (position), age, 2004-05 team (league)

Draft Position, Grade, Projection.
Prospects drafted by other teams are indicated.

1. (1) Fedor Tyutin, D – 21 – St. Petersburg, RSL
Drafted: 2nd Round (40th overall) in 2001, Grade: 8.5A, Projection: Top pairing two-way defenseman

Tyutin, a 6’3, 202-pound blueliner, continues his reign as the Rangers top prospect. Starting his season with New York’s farm team in Hartford, Tyutin played himself into an NHL roster spot by season’s end and was impressive in his 25 games with the Rangers. Everything seemed set for Tyutin to take another step and become a fixture on the Blueshirts defensive squad this year but, of course, the NHL lockout waylaid those plans. Instead Tyutin found himself once again with the Wolf Pack.

He wasn’t there for long, however. He played only 13 games in the AHL, tallying two goals and three points as well as ten penalty minutes. Tyutin was then given permission to leave North America and return to Russia to play for St. Petersburg SKA. A source within the Rangers organization described this move (and a similar one made by #11 prospect Maxim Kondratiev) to Hockey’s Future, saying “they were just as well off there developing as they would have been in North America. I think financially it was better opportunity for both those players to play there than in the AHL and I think the organization showed some good faith, especially with Tyutin, in letting him go back.”

Tyutin immediately took one of the top spots on the blueline for St. Petersburg and has not looked out of place playing both against and alongside of locked out NHL stars. In 35 games with St. Petersburg, Tyutin potted five goals and eight points and added 22 penalty minutes.

His strong play gained the attention of the Russian National Team and he represented his country in both the Rosno Cup (a goal and an assist along with 12 penalty minutes in three games) and the Sweden Games (held pointless in two games). He was thought to have a chance to play for Russia in the 2005 World Championships in Austria, but unfortunately a broken hand has ended his year.

Tyutin will get a long look by the Rangers whenever NHL play resumes and he has done nothing in this past year to lower his stock. He’s already proven that he can play solid hockey both in the NHL and in Russia.

2. (5) Henrik Lundqvist, G – 23 – Frolunda, SEL
Drafted: 7th Round (205th overall) in 2000, Grade: 7.5B, Projection: Starting goaltender

Lundqvist’s stock has been rising steadily since he was drafted. The top junior player in the SEL in 2001-02, Lundqvist moved on to become the top goaltender in the SEL during the 2002-03 season. He was even able to top that accomplishment last season, when his strong play at the World Championships led Sweden to a silver medal finish and he was named an All-Star of the tournament.

Lundqvist has been impressive again this season. He was the backbone for Frolunda, arguably one of the best teams in the world during the NHL lockout. His regular season stats were an improvement over the previous season, with 1.79 GAA and a .935 save percentage in 44 games along with six shutouts. Lundqvist actually raised his game to an even higher level during the playoffs. Leading Frolunda to the SEL championship, Lundqvist boasted a GAA of 1.06 and a .962 save percentages as well as six shutouts.

Lundqvist is considered a lock for the starting goaltender position for Team Sweden in the World Championships this year. A source within the Rangers organization also gave him the edge in challenging for an NHL position at the next training camp, though recognizing that Lundqvist may need some AHL experience.

3. (2) Al Montoya, G – 20 – Michigan, NCAA
Drafted: 1st Round (6th overall) in 2004, Grade: 8.0C, Projection: Starting goaltender

Montoya has had a hard time replicating his draft year exploits, after his huge coming out party leading Team USA to gold at the 2004 World Juniors, where he had an amazing .944 save percentage and a 1.33 goals against. In that season he was also named a finalist for CCHA Goaltender of the Year.

Again named as the starting goaltender for Team USA for the 2005 World Juniors, Montoya did not have the same performance — a 3.36 goals against and a .904 save percentage.

The focus he lacked in the tournament was also apparent during his NCAA play with the Michigan Wolverines. An alternate captain for the CCHA championship team, Montoya only had an average season statistically. Compared to his 2004 stats of a 2.23 goals against and a .917 save percentage, Montoya dropped to a 2.52 and a .895 respectively this season, although he was able to win four additional games.

Despite the bumps encountered in his 2004-05 year, Montoya’s potential has not dimmed greatly. He still has another season left of eligibility at the University of Michigan and he may require some additional time in the minors but, the Rangers still feel between Lundqvist and Montoya that the future is bright for New York as far as goaltending is concerned.

4. (3) Jozef Balej, RW – 23 – Hartford, AHL
Drafted: 3rd Round (78th overall) in 2000 (Montreal), Grade: 7.5A, Projection: Second line sniper

Balej was acquired in the trade that saw Alexei Kovalev become a Montreal Canadien. He soon found his way into the Rangers line-up and in 13 games in New York he potted a goal and added another four assists along with four penalty minutes. He was then assigned to Hartford to help in their playoff run, and worked at a point-per-game pace with nine goals and seven assists in 16 playoff games.

This year has been a bit of a different story for the Slovak sniper. After starting strong with nine points in his first nine games, Balej hit a huge slump that saw him add only eight points in his last 25 games. Thankfully his second half saw him rebound nicely to end with 20 goals and 42 points in 69 games along with 46 penalty minutes.

A source within the Rangers organization was not bothered by Balej’s slump and insists the Rangers still have high expectations for him, stating, “One of the reasons early was that he was too focused on scoring goals instead of doing the little things in between scoring goals and I think he started to cheat a little bit. He’s been a big contributor there, he’s killed penalties and he’s certainly one of the more skilled players in Hartford.”

Balej and the Hartford Wolfpack will face the Lowell Lock Monsters in AHL first round playoff action.

5. (9) Jarkko Immonen, C – 22 – JYP, SM-Liiga
Drafted: 8th Round (254th overall) in 2002 (Toronto), Grade: 7.0B, Projection: Two-way forward

Immonen enjoyed a strong season in the top Finnish league. Despite the additional talent in the league due to the NHL lockout, Immonen was one of SM-Liiga’s scoring leaders at almost a point-per-game pace. In 54 games, he potted 19 goals and finished with 47 points and 24 penalty minutes.

Acquired alongside Maxim Kondratiev in the Brian Leetch trade, Immonen excels at faceoffs and he’s solid at both ends of the ice. One of the top players for JYP, Immonen attended the training camp for Team Finland in the 2005 World Championships, but did not make the final roster.

After such an impressive year, it should not be long before Immonen gets some serious looks from the Rangers. He should even be able to step directly into the NHL lineup, thanks to his SM-Liiga experience.

6. (6) Lauri Korpikoski, LW – 18 – TPS, SM-Liiga
Drafted: 1st Round (19th overall) in 2004, Grade: 7.0A, Projection: Second line forward

A fellow countryman of No. 5 prospect, Immonen, Korpikoski wasn’t as productive, but as an 18-year-old in one of the top men’s leagues in the world, he held his own. The Rangers’ second first round choice in 2004, Korpikoski has a promising future and is just beginning to tap into his potential.

In 41 games with TPS Turku, Korpikoski tallied six points, all of them assists and 12 penalty minutes, in limited time as the team brought the rookie along slowly. He showed his ability among his peers at the 2005 World Juniors, where he was tied for team lead in goals after scoring two on a young Finnish team.

The Rangers can afford to take it slow with Korpikoski and allow him to develop in the Finnish leagues. As it stands, his game is well-rounded and the experience he gains with TPS will help him realize his potential.

7. (11) Nigel Dawes, LW – 20 – Kootenay, WHL
Drafted: 5th Round (149th overall) in 2003, Grade: 7.0C, Projection: Second line forward

Dawes had another productive year in the WHL. After scoring 47 goals in his previous two seasons, he broke the 50-goal mark this season and was named a finalist for WHL player of the year. The captain of the Kootenay Ice this year, Dawes finished the year with 76 points and 30 penalty minutes. He also answered the call for Canada’s Under-20 World Junior team for the second year in a row, scoring two goals and six points in six games in a gold-medal winning effort.

Signed by the Rangers before 2004-05 season, Dawes will look to join the Hartford Wolfpack. Just 5’8 and 180 pounds, Dawes’ offensive potential overcomes his small stature and it will be crucial that he continues to produce despite his shortcomings as he moves to the next level. Currently, the Kootenay Ice are preparing to face the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL Western Conference final. Dawes has scored three times and has eight points in eight games.

8. (4) Hugh Jessiman, RW – 21 – Dartmouth, NCAA
Drafted: 1st Round (12th overall) in 2003, Grade: 7.5C, Projection: Power forward

Jessiman’s 2004-05 season was basically a lost cause. The Rangers had tried to sign the 6’5, 220-pounder before the season began but he elected to return to Dartmouth. Unfortunately for Jessiman, early in the season he suffered an ankle injury that had him missing almost the entire season. In the 12 games that he was able to play, he scored just a goal and added an assist. He was able to return to end the season with Dartmouth, but after missing so much time, he was ineffective.

While it might be unfair to call this year a step backwards for Jessiman, it definitely did not go as planned. It remains to be seen how he’ll be able to come back and contribute after missing so much time. Jessiman has another year at Dartmouth if he chooses to return, however he just as easily could find himself in Hartford with the Wolf Pack. How he rebounds will be telling.

9. (7) Thomas Pock, D – 23 – Hartford, AHL
Drafted: Undrafted, Signed as Free Agent, Grade: 7.0C, Projection: Offensive defenseman

Thomas Pock exploded onto the scene when the Rangers signed him as an undrafted college star late in the 2003-04 season. In six games with New York, Pock tallied two goals and added another two assists and he impressed many that he could come in and contribute so quickly.

An encore has been a difficult thing for the 6’1, 200-pound Austrian this season. He struggled with injuries during the first half as an abdominal strain prevented him from participating in almost all of training camp and the first part of the AHL season. After returning, a high ankle sprain put him out of the line-up again.

In the 50 games that he did play for Hartford, Pock tallied a goal and five assists as well as 55 penalty minutes. During his conditioning stint in Charlotte of the ECHL, Pock had two assists in three games along with two penalty minutes.

It appeared that Pock was a lock for an NHL spot at the beginning of this season, but his troubles this season have placed that line of thought into question. Pock suffered greatly by missing training camp and when he pushed himself to get back into game shape, he unfortunately had another set back. He should get consideration at the next Rangers training camp, but may find himself in the AHL again.

A source within the Rangers organization had this to say about Pock: “Thomas has an awful lot of skill. I think he was a bit disappointing for the organization this year in that he played so well at the end of last year in the NHL and really handled himself well. He got off to start the year with a bit of an injury problem and never really got into stride. He’s probably a guy down the road though that the Rangers will look to for creating offense and being an offensive upside guy in the NHL, but he’ll certainly going to have to pick up the pace from what happened this year. Right now I think he’s more of a role player with top two line potential. Having played in Europe and then in US college, he’s never really have a sense of a grind for an 80-game schedule so he had a lot to learn this year.”

10. (18) Bruce Graham, C – 19 – Moncton, QMJHL
Drafted: 2nd Round (51st overall) in 2004, Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Second line forward

Graham was well on his way to breaking out in his third season with Moncton in the QMJHL. He had tallied 39 points in 41 games, with an impressive 22 goals when his leg was broken on January 6th, in a game versus the Gatineau Olympiques. Graham has returned in time to finish the season and join the team in their short playoff run. In 12 playoff games, he scored four goals and totaled nine points in addition to 19 penalty minutes. Meanwhile, his regular season statistics were 23 goals and 42 points in 47 games along with 56 penalty minutes.

Although he always possessed impressive size, it was only this season where Graham began to even scratch the surface of using it to his advantage. At 6’6 and 235 pounds, when Graham wishes to get involved, he is hard to stop. He still needs to be able to deliver a more consistent effort and improve his defensive play to live up to his potential.

11. (10) Maxim Kondratiev, D – 22 – Lada Togliatti, RSL
Drafted: 6th Round (168th overall) in 2001 (Toronto), Grade: 7.0B, Projection: Top four defenseman

Acquired from Toronto as part of the Leetch trade last year, Kondratiev, like Tyutin, returned to play in his home country after he found himself in the AHL to start the year. He played 13 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack, tallying a goal and four assists, along with eight penalty minutes and then returned to Lada Togliatti, the organization he has played and developed with throughout his career in Russia. In 32 games with Lada, Kondratiev scored two goals and six points in addition to 65 penalty minutes. He was also an impressive +12.

A source within the Rangers organization had commented that they would have preferred if Kondratiev stayed in North America to get used to the game and the culture, but in the end, Kondratiev had the final say. During the 2003-04 season as well, he returned to Russia after playing seven games with the Toronto Maple Leafs and another 18 with the Leafs’ farm team in St. John’s.

Playing in Russia has allowed for Kondratiev to represent his country in the Rosno Cup and the Sweden Games. Kondratiev was held pointless in both competitions, but the experience served him well.

One of the top defensive prospects out of Russia, Kondratiev may be able to get a chance at an NHL roster spot when play resumes. However, he is still quite new to the North American game, so he may require additional work in the AHL.

12. (17) Darin Olver, C – 20 – Northern Michigan, NCAA
Drafted: 2nd Round (36th overall) in 2004, Grade: 7.0C, Projection: Third line forward

A playmaker, Olver has been nothing short of impressive in both his seasons with Northern Michigan. Olver has led his team in scoring as a freshman and as a sophomore, this season with nine goals and 43 points in 40 games along with 30 penalty minutes.

Olver is entering his junior year and there’s no reason to expect him not to finish out his NCAA career. He’s a slim 175 pounds and will need to keep improving to make it to the NHL, but the potential is there.

13. (8) Garth Murray, C – 22 – Hartford, AHL
Drafted: 3rd Round (79th overall) in 2001, Grade: 6.5B, Projection: Character forward

A character player in the making for the Rangers, Murray saw 20 games of NHL action last year after the numerous trades. He scored just one goal in the time, but the Rangers still think he’ll be a worthy addition to the team. This season in Hartford, Murray has scored four goals and added five assists for nine points in 55 games along with 182 penalty minutes. He broke his wrist in training and missed the first three months of the season, which made things difficult even when he was coming back from the injury.

A source within the Rangers organization describes Murray as a big, strong, up and down player who plays hard, finishes his checks and has the ability to fight. He also notes that Murray is probably disappointed with his own play this year, because of the injuries that he has constantly battled for a large part of his career.

14. (12) Bryce Lampman, D – 22 – Hartford, AHL
Drafted: 4th Round (113th overall) in 2001, Grade: 6.0B, Projection: Third pairing defender

Lampman is another player who was able to get some time in the NHL to finish off the 2003-04 season. He saw eight games worth of play with the Rangers and was held pointless with seven penalty minutes. That taste of NHL hockey has seemed to motivate him in the 2004-05 season, where he scored seven goals and 25 points in 74 games with Hartford and had 88 penalty minutes. That’s an improvement of ten points over last season for the smooth-skating blueliner.

A solid defender, Lampman could find a way into the Rangers lineup whenever play resumes. He plays a smart game at both ends of the ice, but could add some strength to his slim frame.

15. (NR) Alexandre Giroux, LW – 23 – Hartford, AHL
Drafted: 7th Round (213th overall) in 1998 (Ottawa), Grade: 6C, Projection: Depth forward

Acquired from Ottawa in the Greg de Vries trade, Giroux has been a bright spot in his first full season as a member of the Hartford Wolf Pack. He led the team in goals with 32 and points with 54 and also posted 128 penalty minutes. A speedy skilled player, Giroux has worked hard to improve his play since he was drafted. This season marked another step forward in terms of consistency and defensive play as well.

Although Giroux still requires further development, he could see an NHL call-up when play resumes if he continues to produce the way he has. He has the potential to become a regular forward in the NHL if he can put all the pieces together.

16. (13) Petr Prucha, C – 22 – Pardubice, Czech
Drafted: 8th Round (240th overall) in 2002, Grade: 6.0B, Projection:

Prucha struggled to begin the season after NHL players took some of his minutes and he was stuck playing a smaller role on Pardubice. He rebounded nicely to finish with seven goals and 17 points, along with 24 penalty minutes. That is slightly less than his previous year’s output, but not an indication of his play. Meanwhile in playoff competition, Prucha scored five goals and had eleven points in 14 games as Pardubice captured the Czech Republic’s Extra League Championship.

Prucha is a scoring forward who relies on his skating and hockey sense to get results. His real coming out party was during the 2004 World Championships when he potted three goals and an assist playing alongside of and against NHL stars. He’s expected to play for the Czech Republic again this season and could find his way over to North America and into the Rangers lineup as soon as the NHL resumes.

17. (NR) Dominic Moore, C – 24 – Hartford, AHL
Drafted: 3rd Round (95th overall) in 2000, Grade: 6.0C, Projection: Third line center

Yet another player who had a cup of coffee in the NHL last season for the Rangers, Moore was only the second player in franchise history to assist on three goals on his first night in the NHL. This season he’s been one of the top offensive threats for the Wolf Pack scoring 19 times and putting up a total of 49 points in 78 games to go with his 78 penalty minutes.

A Harvard grad, Moore is a two-way center who plays a very complete game. He’s sound defensively and creative offensively and with a few more adjustments in the minors, he could make some noise at the NHL level very soon.

18. (NR) Brandon Dubinsky, C – 18 – Portland, WHL
Drafted: 2nd Round (60th overall) in 2004, Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Third line forward

Dubinsky has the makings of a textbook agitator with some added skills on offense to boot. In 68 games he’s scored 23 goals and totaled 59 points for the Winter Hawks along with 160 penalty minutes. He’s worked hard to overcome issues with his size and is one of the key players for Portland. He even raised his game to another level during playoffs, scoring four goals and tallying nine points in seven games with eight penalty minutes.

Dubinsky is the player everyone hates to play against but loves to have on their team. He takes hit and gives hits, wins faceoffs, leads the team and plays strong at both ends of the ice. He still has some time left in the WHL and will probably require some AHL seasoning before he can make the jump.

19. (14) Dwight Helminen, C – 21 – Hartford, AHL
Drafted: 8th Round (244th overall) in 2002 (Edmonton), Grade: 5.5C, Projection: Fourth line forward

Helminen has bounced between the ECHL and the AHL in his first professional season. A top defensive player with the University of Michigan, Helminen’s offensive skills are there as well. In 41 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack, he scored twice and totaled nine points and ten penalty minutes. Meanwhile, in 28 games with the Charlotte Checkers of the ECHL, he scored five times and has 21 points along with 10 penalty minutes. Not on Hartford’s clear day roster, Helminen would be a call-up in case of injury. In five games in the ECHL playoffs, Helminen has two goals and two assists.

A source within the Rangers organization describes him as “maybe a fourth or third line guy who is going to be a good penalty killer, possibly a little bit more but I don’t think he has the offensive ability to go beyond that. He’s one of those guys that skates very well and I think he has a bit of development to do in terms of strength. Down the road there’s some real upside to him. He has a real sense of how to play without the puck.”

20. (16) David Liffiton, D – 20 – Hartford, AHL
Drafted: 2nd Round (63rd overall) in 2003 (Colorado), Grade: 6.5B, Projection: Depth defenseman

After three seasons in the OHL with the Plymouth Whalers, Liffiton has split his first professional year between the Hartford Wolf Pack and the Charlotte Checkers. In 33 games with the Wolf Pack, Liffiton had one assist and 74 penalty minutes. In 16 regular season games for the Checkers, he had two assists and 18 penalty minutes. Not on Hartford’s clear day roster, like Helminen, Liffiton will likely remain with Charlotte until their run is complete.

A hard-nosed defensive blueline, Liffiton benefited from Tyutin and Kondratiev’s decision to return to Russia. He was called up immediately, only to suffer a separated shoulder which put him out of the lineup for a significant amount of time.

He’s displayed poise both in the AHL and the ECHL and his next step would be to solidify full time duty with the Wolf Pack. Liffiton could become a solid stay at home defenseman.

Honorable Mentions

Ivan Baranka, RW – 19 – Everett, WHL
Drafted: 2nd Round (50th overall) in 2003, Grade: 6.0C, Projection: Defensive defenseman

Jonathan Paiement, D – 20 – Lewiston, QMJHL
Drafted: 8th Round (247th overall) in 2004, Projection: Two way defenseman

Jakub Petruzalek, RW – 19 – Ottawa, OHL
Drafted: 9th Round (266th overall) in 2004, Projection: Scoring forward

Kevin Forbes and Glen Jackson contributed to this article. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.