There is a very reasonable argument to be made that the New York Rangers farm system is ranked far too high in this series. Sporting only two top 100 prospects and with many of the remaining top ten players not highly touted, there is room for speculation. That said, most of the top ten are safe, if unexciting prospects and there are very few extreme long shots. Furthermore, considering the Rangers’ typical usage of picks and prospects to fortify the NHL club, we are reminded that organizational depth can help the parent club directly as well as indirectly.
- Pavel Buchnevich, RW, Severstal Cherepovets (KHL) 6-1”, 176. 75th overall, 2013
- Brady Skjei, D, Minnesota (Big 10) 6-2”, 196. 28th overall, 2012
- Adam Tambellini, C, Calgary (WHL) 6-2”, 169. 65th overall, 2013
- Ryan Mantha, D, Niagara (OHL) 6-5”, 225. 104th overall, 2014
- Igor Shestyerkin, G, SKA-Kareliya St. Petersburg (VHL) 6-1”, 187. 118th overall, 2014
- Oscar Lindberg, C, Hartford (AHL) 6-1”, 190. Trade: May 8, 2011 (Originally: 57th overall, 201, Phoenix)
- Aleksi Saarela, C, Assat (Liiga) 5-10”, 194. 89th overall, 2015
- Ryan Gropp, LW, Seattle (WHL) 6-2”, 183 41st overall, 2015
- Ryan Graves, D, Quebec (QMJHL) 6-4”, 220. 110th overall, 2013
- Robin Kovacs, LW, AIK (Allsvenskan) 6-0”, 172. 62nd overall, 2015
Players likely to lose eligibility
- Keegan Iverson, C, Portland (WHL) 6-1”, 219. 85th overall, 2014
- Brandon Halverson, G, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) 6-4”, 176. 59th overall, 2014
- Cristoval “Boo” Nieves, LW, Michigan (Big 10) 6-3”, 192. 59th overall, 2012
For a team centered around the talented and durable All-World goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, it would seem a little bit weird that netminding is among the system’s deepest spots, until we remember that depth can be used in trade as well as to fill out the roster. Of the various goaltenders littering the depth chart, the most intriguing as well as the most talented (after the man upstairs, of course), is Russian Igor Shestyorkin. Not as big as many modern day goalie prospects, Shestyorkin makes his hay by fighting harder to see the puck than most. He has a very quick glove hand and his reaction times are among the best of all goalies still outside of the NHL. Currently preparing for what should be his first full season in the KHL, the Rangers can afford to be very patient with the 19 year old.
Another netminder of significance in this system is Brandon Halverson. Like Shestyorkin, Halverson also appeared in last year’s WJC, although in his case, as a backup instead of as a starter. A fantastic puck handler for a goalie, the Greyhound puck stopper is further away and does not project as high as his Russian organization-mate, thus keeping him off the top ten list for now.
The blueline is the weakest and shallowest area for the Blueshirts, a situation made more depressing by the lack of development of former top ten pick Dylan McIlrath. The highlight of their defensive depth is former first rounder Brady Skjei. While not a future top pairing player, the ex-Golden Gopher is an elite skater who makes solid puck decisions. He will not be expected to take on a power play role anytime soon, but he could eat up big minutes at even strength and be an asset on the penalty kill. Now signed to his entry level contract, he will begin this season – and likely spend the majority of it – in the AHL.
Another notable defensive prospect is Ryan Mantha, a mammoth man-child who moved to the OHL after being drafted out of the USHL. Beyond his impressive frame, Mantha is adept at beginning the transition game as he makes a good first pass to clear the zone. He is also relatively mobile, more notable in light of his size. Considering the ease with which he acclimated to the OHL, expect a big jump up for him this season.
The final notable blueliner in the system is Ryan Graves. Like Mantha, Graves is massive. Graves is also further along the development curve, as he has graduated from the junior ranks and is set for his first season in the AHL. The Nova Scotian has a huge point shot which helped him to 20 goals in 71 regular season plus playoff contests. He is still too rough in his own zone to find his way to Broadway this year, but if they are willing to protect him with easier shifts, he will get there eventually.
While the Rangers do not have a future top six center in the pipeline, they have several potential future bottom six contributors in development. The most interesting among them is Adam Tambellini, son of former Oilers GM Steve. Since leaving the University of North Dakota midway through his freshman year, the youngest Tambellini has lit up the WHL with Calgary. While he needs to add bulk to his lanky frame to avoid being outmuscled in the pros, he has the skill set to eventually fit as a third liner.
Closer to the show – and likely the only Rangers prospect with a strong chance to lose rookie eligibility this season – Oscar Lindberg showed good progress in his second season with Hartford of the AHL. A smart two-way player with solid wheels, the former Coyote draft pick peaked during last season’s AHL playoffs and will compete for a depth forward role with the big club this year.
While further away than either Tambellini or Lindberg, Aleksi Saareli may have a higher upside than both. He debuted in the top Finnish Men’s league at age 16 and became a mainstay last year with his plus speed and passing skills portending to a plus offensive player down the line. He is a few years away, but looks like a player who could take a few steps forward in the coming years.
Also of note, although not a top ten talent, is WHL forward Keegan Iverson. He does not project to anything beyond energy line status, but his tenacity and reserve of skill will make him a fun one to watch.
After trading Anthony Duclair in the big Keith Yandle deal, the Rangers’ most talented prospect generally sets up shop on the left wing. Pavel Buchnevich took a huge step forward last year and led all under 20 KHL players – by huge margin – in scoring. A creative player with great offensive vision and a weapon in his wrist shot, there is more upside in the 20 year old than in anyone else in the system. He will return to Russia for a third KHL campaign, but would have a chance to play for the Rangers if his contract allowed for it. As is, when he does finally make it States-side, he will be a top six forward, with first line potential.
Ryan Gropp is several years away, but scored 30 goals for a Seattle team that was missing its top line center for close to half the season. He has the size, skating and shot to be a goal scorer at the higher levels, but needs to improve the consistency of his effort and put all of his tools together to reach his potential.
Another 2015 draftee of note is Swedish winger Robin Kovacs. While he lacks the upside of either Buchnevich or Gropp, he already has a full season of adult competition under his belt. His production at his age and level combination is also impressive, a testament to his puckhandling skills and speed. His high energy style suggests a third line upside although he needs two years development at minimum to get there, and likely more when considering his undersized frame.
The last player of note is 2012 second rounder Cristoval “Boo” Nieves. A down sophomore campaign at Michigan dropped him off the radar somewhat, but he rebounded nicely with a solid junior season. Like many of the other skaters on this list, Nieves has good size and is known as a plus skater but he has yet to truly find his game. He has one more season with the Wolverines before the Rangers get their crack at him.
Considering how many picks and prospects they had dealt away in recent seasons, the system could be much worse. It is a testament to the scouting staff put together by Glen Sather and Gordie Clark that they still have their cupboards full with potential contributors, including some top six forwards and several high caliber netminders. Still, it would be nice if they kept more of their first rounders going forward. Depth without high end talent can only get you so far.