The New York Rangers have become one of the NHL teams that rely most on good player development. As the result of a rebuild that lasted at least half of the last decade, close to half of the players on the 2011-12 roster had either been drafted or signed as free agents out of junior hockey.
Although the most recent strategy has been to trade for or sign as free agents most of their top forwards, almost the entire defensive corps is homegrown, and many of the complementary forwards have come through the organization. And for the first time in many years, a homegrown potential top line winger is poised to become a regular member of the New York's NHL roster.
Because the Rangers continue to do well at the NHL level, the team has not drafted within the top 15 but once in the last seven years. Therefore, New York has had to look outside the generally recognized top players to select in the first round of the NHL draft. Many of those players have worked to obtain a permanent NHL roster spot and have graduated.
The graduations have led to weaknesses within the organization. Among them are defensive weaknesses, including the lack of any purely offensive blueliner in the system. Additionally, the Rangers still have no clear successor to Henrik Lundqvist.
The Rangers have four prospects at left wing, including Chris Kreider, who had made his first NHL appearance in the playoffs last spring. It may be the first time in many years that a Rangers' drafted forward is expected to become a first line player in New York. With his size and speed, Kreider may be the power forward that has eluded New York for years.
It was hoped that when the Rangers signed Mats Zuccarello in 2010, he would be the spark plug that New York needed to become a high scoring NHL team. Despite being a highly skilled winger, with excellent creativity and vision, Zuccarello not was able to become a regular NHL roster player during the two years he spent in North America. The Rangers made a qualifying offer to Zuccarello before the 2012-13 season, however, he chose to skate with Magnitogorsk Metallurg in the KHL this season. The Rangers will however retain his rights.
Marek Hrivik was signed to entry-level contract as a free agent by the Rangers in May 2012 after showing excellent offensive production during the AHL playoffs for the Connecticut Whale. Hrivik has outstanding size, good speed, and has excellent passing skills. Hrivik continues to skate for the Whale during the 2012-13 season.
There are seven centers within the Rangers' organization, including two who are new to the organization.
Christoval "Boo" Nieves was drafted by the Rangers in the second round of 2012. Now a freshman at the University of Michigan, Nieves has excellent size, good faceoff skill, and can go to the net as well.
Kyle Jean was signed as a 22-year old free agent on July 5, 2012. After two years at Lake Superior State University, Jean was very impressive at Rangers development camp this past summer. A hard-hitting, goal scoring center, Jean has been playing a big offensive role this season with the AHL Connecticut Whale.
This is the third season that Michael St. Croix, the Rangers fourth round selection in 2011, is scoring at a level of more than a point-per-game in the WHL. St. Croix, who has spent his entire major junior career with the Edmonton Oil Kings, is a potential second line center. Equally adept at scoring and playmaking, St. Croix has yet to make a big splash in development or training camp, and needs to get stronger to be effective as a professional.
Ryan Bourque and Oscar Lindberg are potentially second- to third-line forwards who are playing professionally. Bourque, who has become more of a defensive forward as a professional, has been playing on the wing with the AHL Connecticut Whale. Lindberg, who is an excellent face off man, remains a center and has been playing in Sweden for the past four seasons. Lindberg, who signed an entry-level contract with the Rangers in June 2012, is expected to play in North America next season.
Andrew Yogan is a potential second- to third-line center who recently was reassigned by the Rangers to the ECHL Greenville Road Warriors. Struggling to adjust to professional hockey, Yogan has gotten off to a great start with the Rangers' "AA" affiliate.
Notre Dame freshman Steven Fogarty was drafted by the Rangers in 2011. Expected to be a top nine forward, with a big frame, Fogarty is likely to be converted to a winger prior to playing professionally.
The Rangers have six prospects at right wing. Three are expected to play a more offensive role at the professional level.
Christian Thomas is an undersized, highly skilled forward, with excellent speed and outstanding hands. Thomas is adjusting to professional play with the AHL Connecticut Whale this season.
J.T. Miller, New York's first round selection in the 2011 NHL Draft, is one of the youngest players in the AHL this season. With the potential to be a second line power forward in the NHL, Miller should be a member of the Connecticut Whale for at least two seasons.
Jesper Fasth, who signed an entry-level contract with the Rangers in May 2012, has the potential to be the most successful European draft pick the Rangers have had in recent years. Currently skating with HV 71 of the Swedish Elite League, Fasth is a two-way forward with 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.
For the last several years the Rangers have been known to have one of the strongest corps of defensive prospects in the NHL. New York has graduated Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto, and Michael Sauer in the last four years.
Eleven blueliners remain within the Rangers' system, including the 2012 first round selection Brady Skjei. A freshman at the University of Minnesota, Skjei is a big blueliner, who skates very well and has excellent vision.
Calle Andersson was also drafted by the Rangers this past summer, and has been playing in Sweden during the 2012-13 season. Andersson has good speed and an offensive flair from the blue line.
The Rangers first round selection in 2010, Dylan McIlrath, began his professional career this fall, but has yet to play his first game in a Connecticut Whale uniform. Still recovering from surgery for a dislocated kneecap, McIlrath is big and strong, with toughness along the boards as well as on open ice.
Stu Bickel is an older prospect, who was a regular roster member of the NHL team late in the 2011-12 season. Pavel Valentenko and Mikhail Pashnin are both playing in Russia and not are not expected to play in North America in the foreseeable future.
Blake Parlett was signed to a two-year entry-level contract as a free agent prior to the 2011-12 season. A two-way defenseman, Parlett has yet to prove himself at the AHL level. Jyri Niemi and Steven Delisle are also professional defensive prospects within the Rangers' organization. None of the three is expected to become an NHL roster player.
Two Rangers' defensive prospects are currently playing in the CHL. Samuel Noreau, drafted by New York in the fifth round in 2011, is a big tough blueliner, who can fight. Improving his positioning and offensive contribution to the QMJHL Baie-Comeau Drakkar this season, Noreau is still far from being NHL ready, but this long-shot is a player to watch in the Rangers' system.
Also in the CHL, 2011 sixth round selection Peter Ceresnak, is in his second season as a member of the Peterborough Petes. Ceresnak is very raw, needing work on skating and positioning, but he has until June to prove to the Rangers that he is worthy of an entry-level contract.
There are three goaltending prospects in the Rangers' organization, all of whom are playing professional hockey. After three years at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, Cam Talbot, the number one goaltender in Connecticut, was recently re-signed to a second contract. Talbot does not look ready for NHL backup duties, nor does he project to be a number one netminder.
The Rangers signed Jason Missiaen in March 2011. After toiling between the pipes for four years in the CHL (playing in both the OHL and the QMJHL). Missiaen joined the ECHL Greenville Road Warriors in the fall of 2011. After Missiaen played incredibly well at the "AA" level last season, he was promoted to the AHL backup role this season.
Scott Stajcer is the only goaltending prospect in the system that was drafted by the Rangers. In his first professional season, Stajcer is playing very well in net for the ECHL Greenville Road Warriors.