Rangers Top 20 prospects

By Kevin Forbes

The New York Rangers have continued to make significant progress in boasting one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL. Since the lockout held back a number of the Rangers top prospects from graduating to the big club, this edition of the Hockey’s Future New York Rangers Top 20 could potentially be one of the deepest ever seen for the organization. As many as half the players listed here could be in the NHL by the end of the 2005-06 season.

This issue of the New York Rangers Top 20 features three newly drafted players and a total of 15 players drafted and developed by the Rangers. The remaining five were acquired either through trades or in the case of Thomas Pock, signed as a free agent.

Top 20 at a Glance

1. Fedor Tyutin, D
2. Henrik Lundqvist, G
3. Alvaro Montoya, G
4. Marc Staal, D
5. Jarkko Immonen, C
6. Hugh Jessiman, RW
7. Lauri Korpikoski, LW
8. Nigel Dawes, LW
9. Maxim Kondratiev, D
10. Jozef Balej, RW
11. Michael Sauer, D
12. Bruce Graham, C
13. Dominic Moore, C
14. Ivan Baranka, D
15. Petr Prucha, C
16. Thomas Pock, D
17. Darin Olver, C
18. Brandon Dubinsky, C
19. Bryce Lampman, D
20. Brodie Dupont, C

The Top 20 ranking is based on long-term impact on the hockey club and is not a reflection of who is closest to making the NHL. Players are assigned a grade per HF Criteria. 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.

Key: Rank (former rank), name, position – age

1. (1), Fedor Tyutin, D – 22
Grade: 8.0A, Projection: Top pairing defenseman
Simply put, Fedor Tyutin is an NHL player. If the lockout had not happened, he would have been on the blue line at Madison Square Garden. As it stands, he continues to be the Rangers top prospect and he’ll be in New York’s top four on opening night.

Tyutin had a strong season last year, starting in Hartford before leaving the AHL for Russia. With St. Petersburg, he played against top competition and scored five goals, with eight points in total. He did nothing to look out of place in what was considered one of the strongest leagues in the world during the lockout. In fact, his strong play allowed rumors of a spot on Russia’s World Championship squad to propagate. Only a late season injury prevented the honor of playing for your country to come true for once again for the Izhevsk native.

After almost two years at the top of the Rangers top 20, this could be the end of the road for Tyutin. He’s impressed at every level he has had the opportunity to play at, including the NHL and there is no reason why he won’t be lacing up his skates in the Big Apple this October.

2. (2), Henrik Lundqvist, G – 23
Grade: 8.5B, Projection: Starting goaltender
A seventh round selection in 2000, Lundqvist is proof of the hit or miss nature of the NHL Entry Draft, particularly for goaltenders. For the third season in a row, Lundqvist led the Swedish Elite League in save percentage and goals-against-average, guiding Frolunda to their second championship in the past three years.

Although Lundqvist was only average at the World Championships where he was Sweden’s top goaltender, he has signed a contract with the Rangers and is the favorite for the vacant backup position. However, some say he could even challenge NHL veteran Kevin Weekes for the starter’s sport in New York before the year is through.

Lundqvist has nothing left to prove in the SEL, but could benefit from AHL experience in adjusting to North American rinks. But entering the “new NHL” right now may benefit him as far as timing goes. Lundqvist’s only real weakness is his puckhandling skills, and the changes regarding how goaltenders are allowed to play the puck could make this a non-issue.

3. (3), Al Montoya, G – 20
Grade: 8.5C, Projection: Starting goaltender
Rangers fans will be able to write another chapter in the constant comparison between Al Montoya and Henrik Lundqvist this year as they both compete head to head for a spot in the NHL. Montoya left the NCAA after a tumultuous year to sign a contract with New York.

While Lundqvist is expected to have the edge on NHL roster spot, Montoya is not expected to make the decision easy. Despite some disappointing performances at the World Juniors and during his college regular season, Montoya is bursting with potential. He recovered well from his struggles to have a stellar run in the playoffs with the University of Michigan Wolverines.

If nothing more, how the organization handles their two future star netminders will be a very compelling story. Given the “future is now” attitude of the team and the make up of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Montoya will need to prove himself quickly or he could miss out on the chance to be a star with the Rangers.

4. (NR), Marc Staal, D – 18
Grade: 7.5C, Projection: Top four defenseman
Marc Staal is the highest 2005 draft pick to break into the Rangers top 20. At first glance, he’s recognized the most for his last name, familiar to many hockey fans because of his brother, Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes. Marc has made a name for himself as a member of the Sudbury Wolves for his poised and mature play.

In 65 games, Staal posted a respectable 26 points, but what he is really known for is his defensive game. He constantly lined up against the top offensive stars in the OHL and his +22 plus/minus was tied for 22nd in the league. Not bad for playing on for the Wolves, who as a team had only a +16 difference between goals for and goals against.

Staal will no doubt return to major junior hockey this fall. He still has plenty of filling out to do on his 6’4, 195-pound frame and as he grows into his body, he should become more coordinated which could help his offensive prowess as well.

5. (5), Jarkko Immonen, C – 23
Grade: 7.0B, Projection: Scoring line center
Acquired in the Brian Leetch trade, Jarkko Immonen has been one of the top offensive stars in Sm-Liiga for the past two seasons. Despite the heightened talent level around the league due to locked out NHLers coming and going, Immonen finished the year tied for sixth in league scoring with 47 points. All of this was done while playing for a weak JYP squad.

After signing a contract with the Rangers this summer, Immonen is another player who is expected to compete for a spot on the opening night roster. As a playmaker and a center, he could find himself stuck behind too many veteran NHL players and is perhaps more likely to be sent to Hartford.

6. (8), Hugh Jessiman, RW – 21
Grade: 7.5C, Projection: Scoring line power forward
The Huge Specimen has arrived in the Big Apple. After missing all but 12 games in the 2004-05 season, the Rangers top pick in 2003 signed a deal with the club this summer. He was hampered by an ankle injury that led him to tallying just a goal and an assist during his dozen games of action with Dartmouth in the NCAA.

All things considered, Jessiman’s potential remains high. He was healthy enough to return to the Big Green to finish the year, which bodes well for his future. As a 6’6, 226-pounder with offensive potential, Jessiman’s scouting report makes fans drool when they think of the possibilities. While he essentially missed almost a year of development, his determination and size could see him playing in the NHL this year.

7. (6), Lauri Korpikoski, LW – 19
Grade: 7.0B, Projection: Scoring line forward
Considering how many prospects the Rangers signed this offseason, it’s almost a surprise to see a player like Lauri Korpikoski without an NHL deal. But that is in no way a discredit to the 19th overall pick in 2004. Unlike many of these prospects, Korpikoski didn’t thrive in his first year in Finland’s top league. He was mainly stuck playing a fourth line role, and had six assists as his only points on the year.

As he showed during the World Juniors, Korpikoski’s offensive potential is still very much alive. He’ll gain valuable experience as a teenager playing alongside grown men in the SM-Liiga and TPS Turku seems determined to bring him along slowly. However, with the new CBA rules concerning prospects from Europe, he’ll to make his mark quickly to ensure he’ll be brought over to North America. He has the skill set to play up to that task.

8. (7), Nigel Dawes, LW – 20
Grade: 7.0B, Projection: Scoring line forward
Unlike a large number of this list, Nigel Dawes already signed an NHL deal before the NHL lockout. He finished his WHL career with the Kootenay Ice and posted career highs in goals with 50. Meanwhile, his 76 points were good enough to finish as runner up for the WHL’s player of the year. He also turned out a solid performance at the World Juniors, winning the gold medal and scoring at a point-per-game pace over the course of the six games.

Dawes is yet another player who is expected to challenge for a roster spot with the Rangers. The easy answer would be to brush him off because of his small stature, but if he has proven anything, it’s that his 5’8, 185-pound frame does not hold him back. He skates extremely well with skills to match and isn’t afraid to throw his body into the mix when the going gets tough.

9. (11), Maxim Kondratiev, D – 22
Grade: 7.0B, Projection: Top four defenseman
Like No. 1 prospect Tyutin, Maxim Kondratiev started the season strong with Hartford before leaving to join a Russian league team. Also like Tyutin, Kondratiev is expected to play in the NHL this upcoming season.

In Kondratiev’s case, he joined Lada Togliatti, one of the top teams in the RSL. His season ended on a low point however, when he was suspended from the team during the playoffs for testing positive for ephedrine, an ingredient in cold medication. That blip notwithstanding, Kondratiev enjoyed a solid season, continuing his development. While he still needs to work on adding strength and improving his work ethic, he’s a very strong chance to start the season with the Rangers.

10. (4), Jozef Balej, RW – 23
Grade: 7.5C, Projection: Scoring line forward
While some may argue that Jozef Balej took a step back last year with Hartford, others could just as easily say he spent the time rounding out his game. Either way, Balej’s offensive totals were down considerably from the previous year and to top it off, he ended the season by being held pointless in six playoff games.

Despite the failure to reach the high expectations of last season, Balej’s future remains bright. He is a very skilled player who is expected to take a scoring role with the Rangers sooner as opposed to later. Balej has little left to prove in the minors and he’ll be one of the first players in line to be considered for a roster spot amongst the forwards.

11. (NR), Michael Sauer, D – 18
Grade: 7.0C, Projection: Top four defenseman
Michael Sauer was a bit of a surprise pick in the second round for the Rangers. Like Staal, Sauer has an NHL playing brother, Colorado’s Kurt Sauer. A mid-season injury to his hip limited him to just 32 games and for a while it wasn’t even for sure that he would opt into the draft. Healthy once again, Sauer will be one of the top blue liners in Portland now that Braydon Coburn has turned pro with Atlanta.

Although his first season in the WHL was cut short, Sauer’s potential is high. He’s noted for his strong defensive poise and is not afraid to play the body. His 13 points in the 32 games he did play point to some offensive potential as well. Sauer could surprise with his increased responsibilities this year.

12. (10), Bruce Graham, C – 19
Grade: 6.0B, Projection: Scoring forward
Despite all their differences, Bruce Graham does have something in common with the player ranked before him, Michael Sauer. Both players were playing strongly last year and then were forced to miss significant time due to injury. In Graham’s case, he was well on his way to a career season when he broke his leg in January. He was able to return to Moncton’s lineup to join the Wildcats’ playoff run and in 47 regular season games he had 42 points. Meanwhile, in 12 playoff games, he had nine points.

A rangy center, Graham doesn’t always use his size to the best of his ability. At times last season he looked to be on the cusp of putting all his skills together, and it was then that he appeared dominant. Moncton is hosting the Memorial Cup this season and if Graham is returned to the team, he will be one of their top players. However, it isn’t out of the question that the Rangers could still sign him to a contract.

13. (17), Dominic Moore, C – 25
Grade: 6.5B, Projection: Two-way center
At 25, Dominic Moore is one of the older prospects in the organization. In terms of potential, it’s a case of what you see is what you get. Moore is now entering his peak years and after being one of the top players in Hartford, he’s knocking on the NHL’s door.

Moore is one of the hockey playing, Harvard grad brothers. He’s a very polished player at this point in time, possessing great wheels and excellent poise at both ends of the ice. Though he lacks the overall skill set to be able to anchor a scoring line, he’ll be an excellent third or fourth line type for the club.

14. (NR), Ivan Baranka, D – 20
Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Defensive Defenseman
Like Nigel Dawes, Ivan Baranka signed a deal with the Rangers prior to the 2004-05 season and then returned to the WHL. Baranka is now scheduled to step onto the Hartford blue line. If all goes well, he could be ready to challenge for a spot in the NHL this time next year.

Baranka is primarily a defensive defenseman. He skates well, and also moves the puck with ease but he’s best known for his physical play. Baranka scored seven goals and had a total of 23 points in 64 games last season.

15. (16), Petr Prucha, C – 23
Grade: 6.0B, Projection: Scoring Forwards
Petr Prucha is another forward who signed a contract with the Rangers over the offseason. He is also expected to challenge for a spot in New York this season, however it is just as likely that he will need some conditioning in the AHL.

Prucha has played the last four seasons in the Czech Senior League playing for Pardubice. With the addition of NHL players such as Milan Hejduk, Jan Bulis and Ales Hemsky, Prucha did not receive as much playing time last season as he did the year before and so his totals dropped slightly. However, his pure offensive potential remains very high and he could have a significant impact in the NHL in a few years time.

16. (9), Thomas Pock, D – 23
Grade: 7.0D, Projection: Offensive Defenseman
Thomas Pock’s first full year of professional hockey was hit or miss. He played 50 games with Hartford and another three with Charlotte in the ECHL. Unfortunately for the Austrian, Pock missed 29 games due to a variety of injuries. When he was playing for the Wolf Pack, his results were not as impressive as hoped. Pock scored just one goal and added another five assists for six points in those 60 games, not eye popping totals for an offensive blue liner.

After a strong NHL debut in 2003-04, hopes were high, but it now appears he may require additional time to pull his game together. Pock must play tighter defense as well as add a physical element to his game.

17. (12), Darin Olver, C – 22
Grade: 7C, Projection: Scoring forward
Darin Olver is entering his junior year with the Northern Michigan Wildcats after leading them in scoring for the past two seasons. A slightly built forward, Olver still has a lot of work to go before he will be challenging for a spot in the lineup. In 40 games last season, Olver scored nine goals and had a total of 43 points. He will return to Northern Michigan this year under coach Walt Kyle.

18. (18), Brandon Dubinsky, C – 19
Grade: 6.0B, Projection: Third line forward
Brandon Dubinsky is the type of player who you love to have on your team, but hate to play against. He fills the agitator role with the Portland Winter Hawks, but to typecast him as merely a pest would be to ignore his offensive skills. Despite his average size, Dubinsky has no problem fighting through checks and setting up offensive plays.

Dubinsky works hard but will need to continue to develop in order to make it. He’ll be returned to Portland for what will probably be his final year in the WHL. He will no doubt need further time in Hartford before being able to challenge for an NHL spot.

19. (14), Bryce Lampman, D – 23
Grade: 6.0B, Projection: Two-way defenseman
With Fedor Tyutin and Maxim Kondratiev in Russia and Thomas Pock suffering through injuries, Bryce Lampman took a leading role on the Hartford blue line. Lampman scored 7 goals and had a total of 25 points in 74 games with the Wolf Pack, but it was the way that he rounded out his game that garnered the most attention.

Lampman will push Kondratiev for a roster spot with the big club. His game has progressed significantly since he was drafted and he is more the ready to step directly into the Rangers lineup to start the season.

20. (NR), Brodie Dupont, C – 18
Grade: 6.0C, Projection: Scoring forward
Rounding out the top 20 is another 2005 draft pick. Brodie Dupont was selected from the Calgary Hitmen organization where he scored 14 goals and had 25 points along with 111 penalty minutes in 70 regular season games. However, he really improved his stock during the playoffs. His 10 points were third on the team only to Anaheim prospect, Ryan Getzlaf and Carolina prospect, Andrew Ladd.

With a number of Hitmen players expected to graduate to the pro leagues, Dupont will be called upon to pick up a large amount of the offensive slack. He plays a rough and tumble game and earns a lot of his points by parking himself in front of the net. His big challenge next season will be remaining consistent throughout the year.

Missing the Cut

Zdenek Bahensky, RW – 19
Grade: 7.0D, Projection: Scoring forward
After being drafted out of the Czech junior leagues, Bahensky spent last season in the WHL. Bahensky scored 14 goals and added another 17 assists for 31 points in 66 games. He also had 101 penalty minutes.

Bahensky has all the tools to develop into a dangerous offensive forward. He skates well, plays with an edge, and sees the ice very well. As always, there are a number of things that he needs to improve on, but his potential is undeniable.

Dwight Helminen, C – 22
Grade: 5.5B, Projection: Checking line forward
When Hockey’s Future gathered quotes for the previous incarnation of the Rangers Top 20, a source in New York’s organization compared Dwight Helminen to Todd Marchant. Helminen has done nothing but live up to that comparison. After a successful NCAA career, Helminen’s first pro season saw him split time between Hartford in the AHL and Charlotte in the ECHL.

The first skill noticed when watching the Michigan native is his speed. He’s able to read the play well even when he is going at top speed. He is also solid defensively, and was honored as the CCHA’s top defensive player in his final season in the NCAA. Helminen should push for consistent time in Hartford this year, especially thanks to a number of openings due to players filling in the NHL roster. He should one day fill the role of a defensive specialist who excels on the penalty kill.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.