Rangers Top 20 prospects

By Leslie Treff

With the graduation of Henrik Lundqvist and Petr Prucha to the NHL level, as well as some solid selections in June’s 2006 NHL Entry Draft, there is quite a bit of change in the pre-season Top 20 prospects list. Six players are new to the New York Rangers’ Top 20, including two of the 2006 draft selections. At least 12 of the players on the current list will skate with a Rangers-affiliated professional team this coming season.

Top 20 at a Glance

1.Marc Staal
2.Al Montoya
3.Jarkko Immonen
4.Nigel Dawes
5.Bob Sanguinetti
6.Brandon Dubinsky
7.Artem Anisimov
8.Lauri Korpikoski
9.Michael Sauer
10.Hugh Jessiman
11.Marc-Andre Cliche
12.Thomas Pock
13.Ivan Baranka
14.Greg Moore
15.Tom Pyatt
16.Ryan Callahan
17.Brodie Dupont
18.Darin Olver
19.Ryan Russell
20.Zdenek Bahensky

Key: Rank (former rank) Name, Position, Age
How Acquired, Grade

1. (3) Marc Staal, D, Age: 19
Acquired: 1st Round, 12 overall (2005) Grade: 8.5C

Staal will have all eyes on him in training camp next month as he tries to make the NHL. After an excellent training camp and pre-season game appearances with the Rangers last fall, Staal (6’4, 200) was unquestionably one of the best defenseman in the Canadian Hockey League in 2005-06. The 12th overall in OHL scorer among defenseman last season, Staal was the No. 1 blueliner on the Sudbury Wolves, where he served as team captain. His offensive production was an impressive 49 points (11 goals, 38 assists) in 57 regular season games, while accumulating 60 PIM and maintaining a plus/minus of +12.

Staal also appeared in the 2006 U20 World Junior Championships (where he was named the best defenseman in the tournament), and the OHL All-Star game, where he was named captain of the Eastern team. He was less impressive after he signed an amateur tryout contract (ATO) with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack. Staal skated in 12 playoff games, but his positioning was poor and he was often beaten by the quicker, more experienced, AHL forwards. Despite this disappointing performance, there are still expectations that Staal will be ready to join the NHL team this fall.

Because of an agreement between the NHL and the CHL, where Staal has one more year of eligibility remaining, the Rangers only have the choice of either keeping him on the NHL team or sending him back to juniors. This is unfortunate, because a year in the AHL would really help Staal’s development. However, given the available options, if he does not have an outstanding training camp and show NHL-level pre-season play, Staal should be returned to his junior team, where he can continue to work on his positioning, shot, and strength. Even if the big defenseman does not make the NHL team out of camp this year, with his hockey intelligence, work ethic, and further experience, Staal should be playing regularly in the NHL in 2007-08.

2. (4) Al Montoya, G, Age: 21
Acquired: 1st Round, 6 overall (2004) Grade: 8.5C

Montoya’s stock has risen since the February 2006 rankings, as he performed outstandingly last season. However, he suffered three injuries during the 2005-06 season, including a fluke shoulder injury that required surgery late in the spring. If he had not suffered his late season injury, Montoya would have beaten out Staal for the distinction as Rangers’ top prospect.

After three years at the University of Michigan, Montoya (6’2, 201) joined the Wolf Pack last season. In 40 regular season games, the star netminder posted a 2.61 GAA and a .907 save percentage, which ranked 11th overall among AHL goaltenders and fifth among rookies. Montoya’s high level of play during the regular season (he posted a record of 26-9-1, which included two shutouts), was lifted even higher in the playoffs. In five post-season games prior to his shoulder injury, Montoya recorded a 1.87 GAA and a save percentage of .932.

Montoya has all the makings of a star netminder; particularly impressive is his ability to handle pressure. As his performance during the playoffs indicates, the more important the game, the more intensity Montoya can muster. His ability to focus, along with excellent lateral movement and solid puckhandling separate him from other goaltenders of his age group. What he needs to do in the coming season is to stay healthy. If he does so, Montoya may rival Lundqvist for the position as the starting Ranger netminder in 2007-08.

3. (5) Jarkko Immonen, C, Age: 24
Acquired: March 3, 2004 Trade with Toronto, Grade: 7.0B

The 2005-06 season was Immonen’s first in the AHL, and his performance proved that he is ready to play in the NHL in 2006-07. After success playing with JYP of the Finnish League in 2004-05, Immonen (6’0, 209) successfully made the transition to the North American game last season. In 74 regular season games, Immonen was the Wolf Pack’s second leading scorer, registering 70 points (30 goals, 40 assists), while accumulating 34 PIM and maintaining a plus/minus of +16. The Rangers rewarded Immonen for his fine play by calling him up to play with the NHL team late in the regular season. Immonen immediately contributed, scoring two goals in the first two games. Although not particularly effective in the other four games he played with the Rangers, Immonen showed that he can and should play at this level. A creative forward, with good hands, good face-off skills, and excellent on-ice vision, Immonen has nothing left to prove in the AHL. He should be promoted to the NHL this season, and it is very likely that the Rangers will do exactly that.

4. (6) Nigel Dawes, LW, Age: 21
Acquired: 5th Round, 149 overall (2003) Grade: 7.0B

At 5’8, 190, Dawes is an exciting player to watch. His vision, speed and soft hands enable him to compensate for his lack of size. Dawes was the top scoring rookie on the Wolf Pack last season, and ranked fourth among rookies in the AHL. With only 21 PIM and a +16 plus/minus, he was an asset to the team in all areas. Although Dawes had a rather lackluster last month of the regular season (he only scored in two of eight games), he came on with a vengeance in the playoffs, tallying 12 points in 13 games. Lest anyone think his 2005-06 performance was a fluke, in 2004-05, Dawes registered 76 points (50 goals, 26 assists) in 63 games for the WHL Kootenay Ice. He also led the team in goals, points, power-play goals and game-winning goals. Dawes has a tremendous amount of hockey sense, as well as natural talent with the puck. He has no fear, and over last season made excellent strides in protecting the puck and learning positioning. He will compete for a slot on the NHL team this fall, however, with all the signings of experienced players in the off-season, as well as Dawes’ young age, it will take an outstanding training camp for him to stick with the NHL team.

5. (NR) Bob Sanguinetti, D, Age: 18
Acquired: 1st Round, 21 overall (2006) Grade: 8.0D

The Rangers were happily surprised to find Sanguinetti still available at the 21st selection in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. At times during the 2005-06 season, Sanguinetti had been projected to go in one of the top 10 draft positions. Known for his excellent skating and puckhandling, Sanguinetti (6’1, 174) has the potential to become the top playmaking defenseman in the Rangers’ organization. In 2005-06, the blueliner recorded 65 points (14 goals and 51 assists), while accumulating 44 PIM and a plus/minus of –6 for the OHL Owen Sound Attack. It was his plus/minus rating and lack of physicality that caused Sanguinetti to drop in the draft. However, like Staal, Sanguinetti has excellent reach, and good balance. Going forward, it is the Rangers’ expectation that Sanguinetti will use his size more and use his good shot to more advantage. His skills seem to complement those of Staal, and one can envision the two big defensemen playing side-by-side a few years down the road.

6. (9) Brandon Dubinsky, C, Age: 20
Acquired: 2nd Round, 60 overall (2004) Grade: 7.5C

Dubinsky had a breakout 2005-06 season in the WHL, which he promptly followed up with an outstanding post-season for the Wolf Pack. In response to his excellent play, he moved up to sixth overall. Due to a knee injury he sustained on a questionable hit last January, Dubinsky (6’1, 210) only played in 51 regular season games in 2005-06. However, despite playing at least 10 fewer regular season games than all the other league leaders, he still managed to rank in the top 20 in the league in scoring. His season became all the more impressive after he arrived in Hartford. In 11 AHL playoff games, Dubinsky recorded 10 points, while maintaining a +8 plus/minus. This offensive production was sufficient to place him among the top AHL rookies in playoff scoring. Everyone who watches Dubinsky can see his talent and intensity. He gives his all on every shift and makes things happen around the puck. A face-off specialist with excellent hands and good vision, he is gritty, has a nose for the net, never gives up on the play, and can finish. Although HF originally projected Dubinsky to have third line potential, his development over the past year shows that he has at least second line potential. Dubinsky is an exciting player who may have even more potential than is visible at this point.

7. (NR) Artem Anisimov, C, Age: 18
Acquired: 2nd Round, 54 overall (2006) Grade: 7.5C

Anisimov is another player the Rangers unexpectedly found available to them in June. An excellent playmaker, Anisimov (6’3, 187) had been projected to be a late first round draft selection. However, some questions about his skating and intensity arose, so that the Rangers were able to select him in the 54th spot. Anisimov, a Russian who is not expected to play in North America this season, made his semi-professional debut on Lokomotiv’s junior club (Lokomotiv 2) in 2004-05. He then played 10 games for the Lokomotiv professional team last season. Anisimov also participated in four major international tournaments in 2005-06, including the U18 World Cup and the 2006 U18 World Junior Championships. He has excellent on-ice vision, good hockey knowledge, and is a very good puckhandler. Additionally, Anisimov possesses a very impressive wrist shot. With deceptive moves, and more than adequate skating ability, he has the tools to be a power forward. However, Anisimov does need to bulk up and improve his physical presence, as he is weak along the boards. Additionally, he does not do well on face-offs, mostly due to his lack of upper body strength. The Rangers are very aware of these shortcomings and are anxious to work with Anisimov to overcome them. Hopefully, the IIHF agreement will get worked out this season, so that Anisimov will be able to play in North America in 2007-08.

8.(7) Lauri Korpikoski, LW, Age: 20
Acquired: 1st Round, 19 overall (2004) Grade: 7.5D

Korpikoski is a winger with speed and great hands, but the 2005-06 season was a very disappointing one for the talented Finn. Despite an excellent performance in the U20 World Junior Championships last winter, Korpikoski’s 2005-06 European season was lackluster at best. The 20-year-old skated with TPS Turku of the SM-Liiga, the top Finnish league. In 51 games with the team, Korpikoski only managed seven points. In April 2006, after his European season was completed, Korpikoski (6’1, 195) signed a professional contract with the Rangers. Assigned to Hartford, the Rangers had high expectations for the former first round selection. Although he started out very well (3 points in 5 regular season games), during 11 playoff games, Korpikoski was completely ineffective, registering only one point, and garnering a –1 plus/minus. His poor European season, combined with lack of effectiveness in the AHL playoffs will put more pressure on Korpikoski in 2006-07. He will need to show that he can be consistently productive on the ice with North American professional players to continue his progress. Projected to be a first or second line winger, Korpikoski has a lot of work to do before he has a real shot at an NHL career.

9.(10) Michael Sauer, D, Age: 19
Acquired: 2nd Round, 40 overall (2005) Grade: 7.0C

Recently signed to an entry-level contract by the Rangers, Sauer (6’3, 210) may well be on his way to an NHL career. He is a top Rangers’ prospect; however, repeated injuries have impeded his progress. Over the last year and a half, Sauer has had to overcome three injuries, including one sustained last month at the US National Junior Evaluation Camp at Lake Placid. To his credit, the skilled defenseman has always bounced back. Sauer he has missed a significant number of regular season games for the last two seasons and he has not participated in two consecutive evaluation camps (which are the precursors to the U20 World Junior Championships). Sauer’s development has certainly lagged as a result of his recurrent injury problems; however, his potential remains high. A good skater, with very good hockey sense, and great skill at puckhandling, Sauer remains a top 10 Ranger prospect.

10. (8) Hugh Jessiman, RW, Age: 22
Acquired: 1st Round, 12 overall (2003) Grade: 7.5D

Jessiman’s ranking has dropped a bit to reflect a very disappointing 2005-06 rookie professional season. Since the Rangers’ drafted the big winger (6’5, 220) in 2003, Jessiman has never duplicated his stellar freshman season at Dartmouth College. Jessiman did show glimmers of why he was drafted in the first round at times this past season, but it was only glimmers and they were brief. One must remember though that Jessiman is still only 22 years old, and that there is some truth to the old adage that power forwards take more time to develop. Additionally, Jessiman was injured for almost all of his junior 2004-05 collegiate season, so his development was further hampered by almost a year off the ice.

Rather than to return to Dartmouth for his final year in 2005-06, Jessiman signed a professional contract with the Rangers last July. He was very unimpressive in training camp last fall, so the Rangers assigned the big winger to Hartford to begin the 2005-06 season. It became clear early on that Jessiman was not ready to play at that level, so the Rangers organization reassigned him to the ECHL Charlotte Checkers. During his ECHL assignment, Jessiman was injured again, but he managed to play 25 games, registering 23 points (13 goals, 10 assists), so the assignment was considered a success. Jessiman was returned to Hartford, but only played well sporadically upon his return to the AHL. Poor positioning and puck control problems marred his play throughout his AHL appearances. His lack of effectiveness caused Jessiman to be benched in all but two of the Wolf Pack’s playoff games. This year will be a pivotal one for the former first round pick. There is no question that Jessiman is a smart player with good hockey sense, but he has a lot of work ahead of him if he hopes to achieve his potential.

11. (16) Marc-Andre Cliche, RW, Age: 19
Acquired: 2nd Round, 56 overall (2005) Grade: 7.0C

In 2005-06, Cliche completed his third season as a member of the Lewiston MAINEiacs of the QMJHL. Without question, this was the year that he came into his own. After attempting to play through a serious shoulder injury the previous year (and only managing to play in 19 games), Cliche was healthy this past season. The increase in his offensive production was impressive. During the regular season, the 6’1, 180-pound winger was second in scoring on the MAINEiacs, tallying 82 points (37 goals, 45 assists) in 66 games, while accumulating 60 PIM, and maintaining a +4 plus/minus. Of his 37 regular season goals, 22 came on the power play and three were shorthanded. A face-off specialist, Cliche, the team alternate captain, took the largest number of draws for the MAINEiacs, and won the majority of them (52.7 percent).

Cliche was rewarded for his excellent performance this past season with an invitation to the 2006 Canada’s National Junior Team’s Development Camp, which took place last month. He is hoping to have sufficiently impressed the coaching staff to be selected to represent Canada in the 2007 World Junior Championships. Cliche is an excellent skater with soft hands and a deadly shot, who uses physical play to intimidate his opponents. Cliche took a leap in development this past season, and should be ready for professional play after the 2006-07 season. He is projected to become a second line winger.

12.(11) Thomas Pock, D, Age: 24
Acquired: Signed as free agent, March 2004 Grade: 6.5B

The Rangers have re-signed Pock to his third one-year contract, in the hopes that he will be ready to join the NHL club for the 2006-07 season. Named an AHL All-Star last season, Pock had a very offensively productive year with the Wolf Pack. In 67 regular season games, Pock recorded 61 points, a total that was third among all AHL defensemen, and also set a franchise record for points in a single season by a defenseman. Pock also skated in eight games with the NHL team. He tallied one goal and one assist in that time, as well as 4 PIM and a –3 plus/minus. He had more giveaways (3) than takeaways (2) while in a Ranger uniform, and often was beaten and out of position while on the ice. It was not really a successful stint, but at times he showed real talent on the ice.

This season will likely be his final one as a Ranger if he does not stick with the NHL team. There is no question that Pock is offensively gifted and has proved himself very competent on the AHL level. However, he must continue to develop his defensive skills to be successful in the NHL. This season he will get the opportunity to prove himself worthy of this promotion.

13.(14) Ivan Baranka, D Age: 21
Acquired: 2nd Round, 50 overall (2003) Grade: 6.5B

The Slovakian Baranka was signed to an entry-level NHL contract in September 2004, but he has yet to play a game at the NHL level. After playing for the Everett Silvertips of the WHL for two seasons, Baranka (6’2, 195) played his first professional season with the Wolf Pack in 2005-06. In 59 regular season games, the 21-year-old blueliner registered 21 points (5 goals, 16 assists), with 87 PIM and –1 plus/minus. Unfortunately, Baranka’s 2005-06 season was cut short by a hand injury, however the AHL rookie, who is a strong skater and sees the ice very well, made an excellent start to professional career. Known mostly as a defensive specialist prior to showing some offensive abilities last season, Baranka appears to have quite a bit of untapped potential. If he can continue to improve his defensive zone coverage, as well as build in some more offensive firepower, Baranka will be very successful in the NHL as a second or third pair defenseman.

14. (NR) Greg Moore, RW, Age: 22
Acquired: March 6, 2004 Trade with Calgary Flames Grade: 6.5B

Moore (6’1, 214) was acquired by the Rangers in the bloodletting that occurred in the spring of 2004. In this particular trade, Moore, Blair Betts, and Jamie McLennan came to the Blueshirts in exchange for Chris Simon and a 2004 seventh round selection. Moore, who had been drafted by the Calgary Flames in the fifth round, 143 overall, of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, was a standout for four years at the University of Maine. Always known as a gritty, physical player, Moore’s college years were marked by resiliency and tenacity, as well as many awards for his offensive prowess. Last year, Moore, who was named one of 10 Hobey Baker finalists, had a team high of 45 points (12 goals, 33 assists), and 12 multi-point games. The Black Bears’ hockey team captain was named a first team All-American, as well as to the first team in the Hockey East. After his college career was completed last spring, Moore joined the Wolf Pack, where he opened his professional career with two points (1 goal, 1 assist) in as many regular season games. He then was a big contributor in the Wolf Pack’s playoff run, scoring seven points (2 goals, 5 assists) in 13 games. Moore has been successful at every level in which he has skated, and with his increased on-ice maturity over this past year, he has an outside chance to win a spot on the Rangers’ NHL team this fall.

15.(12) Tom Pyatt, C, Age: 19
Acquired: 4th Round, 107 overall (2005) Grade: 7.0C

Pyatt’s hockey career really took off after his selection in the 2005 draft. After impressing the Rangers’ coaching staff in training camp, Pyatt (5’11, 180) returned to the Saginaw Spirit to have an excellent season. Additionally, he was named to the OHL All-Star Game (where Pyatt was named Western Player of the Game) and to the Canadian U20 World Junior Championship team, where he was part of the team that won the gold medal. In his regular CHL season play, Pyatt served as the Spirit’s alternate captain, and registered nearly a point a game. Pyatt’s ability to handle the puck, hockey instincts, as well as his effort level, are his strengths. Additionally, his defensive skills will help him move to the next level. This is a pivotal year for the 19-year-old center, as he moves toward the end of his junior eligibility. To have any shot at making the Rangers right out of juniors, Pyatt needs to dominate his peers this coming season.

16.(NR) Ryan Callahan, RW, Age: 21
Acquired: 4th Round, 127 overall (2004) Grade: 6.0B

After Callahan was not offered a professional contract that he liked last fall, he returned to the Guelph Storm to prove his worth. With renewed effort and determination, Callahan (5’11, 185) became an OHL star in 2005-06. Callahan was the leading scorer on the Storm and 15th in scoring in the OHL. Improved offensive production was only part of Callahan’s changes, as he improved his leadership skills by serving as team captain. Additionally, Callahan served as an example to younger teammates by displaying a consistent work effort and tenacity on the forecheck. His level of play and leadership earned him the Leo Lalonde Memorial Trophy as the OHL’s top overage player for the 2005-06 season. A gritty, two-way player with few noticeable weaknesses, last May Callahan was rewarded for his outstanding efforts in 2005-06 with an NHL entry-level contract. He signed an ATO with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack in early May 2006, but he did not appear in any playoff games with the team. Callahan will play for Hartford during the 2006-07 season, and it will be at least one more season before he is expected to make the jump to the NHL. He is projected to be a third line winger.

17.(NR) Brodie Dupont, C, Age: 19
Acquired: 3rd Round, 66 overall (2005) Grade: 6.5C

Dupont (6’2, 198) is a solid, two-way player, with great hands. He had an excellent 2005-06 sophomore season with the WHL Calgary Hitmen. The Hitmen alternate captain was the team leader in points (53 points in 72 games), and he continued to play the very physical game that attracted the Rangers. Never known for shying away from an altercation, Dupont increased his PIM from 111 in 2004-05 to 123 last season. More importantly, his plus/minus improved from –4 to +6. Dupont is a big, strong presence on the ice who plants himself in front of the opposition’s net and is hard to move. He battles through checks and more often than not comes away from battles along the boards with either a penalty or the puck. Projected to be a second or third line center, Dupont really improved his game last season, which improved his stock with the Rangers.

18.(15) Darin Olver, RW, Age: 21
Acquired: 2nd Round, 36 overall (2004) Grade: 6.5C

Olver (6’0, 170) has just begun his senior year at Northern Michigan University (CCHA). A natural center, who has been moved to wing, Olver had an excellent season in 2005-06. He continues to develop at Northern Michigan, and should be ready for AHL play at the end of the 2006-07 collegiate season. Olver is an excellent skater, with a good work ethic. Despite a slim build, Olver has shown a willingness to take the body and block shots. He also has very good passing and shooting skills, which would serve him well as either a center or a winger. It is unclear which position he will play when he begins his professional career.

19. (18) Ryan Russell, C, Age: 19
Acquired: 7th Round, 211 overall (2005) Grade: 7.0D

Russell had an outstanding season in 2005-06. He was a steady force, playing every game for the WHL Kootenay Ice. Russell (5’10, 165) was second on the team in scoring and ninth in the league in total points. Solid in his own zone, Russell has gotten more aggressive over the last two years. A very fast skater, who is gifted with wonderful hands, a great shot, and excellent on-ice vision, Russell has the potential to be a finesse player at the NHL level. He has started to become a bit of a grittier player, but at his size, he will never be considered a physical force on the ice. However, it is possible that Russell’s offensive creativity may overcome any shortcomings in that area. Russell is still developing his game, so it is unclear what his upside is, however, it is possible with his skill set to become a second line center.

20. (NR) Zdenek Bahensky, RW, Age: 20
Acquired: 3rd Rd, 73 Overall (2004) Grade: 7.0D

After Bahensky was drafted by the Rangers in 2004, he came to North America from the Czech Republic for the 2004-05 season. A two-way player, who can perform in all situations, Bahensky (6’2, 205) has excellent skating abilities, a great wrist shot, and wonderful agility. Last June, Bahensky signed an AHL contract to play with the Wolf Pack this season. He remains property of the Rangers until June 1, 2007, since he was drafted out of Europe. Although the winger is projected to be a second line forward, play against the more mature AHLers this season will reveal whether or not that projection is realistic.

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