This is “Part Two” of my ranking of the New York Rangers’ prospects. You can view “Part One,” which included players ranked 36th through 25th, via this link. Today is the release of players I’ve ranked 24th through 13th.
24 (16). Marek Hrivik, Winger, 22 Years Old
He was underwhelming for majority of last season – he had only five goals and eight assists in 41 games through January – but Hrivik kept himself alive as a relevant prospect with eight goals and seven assists in the final 33 games. Still not fantastic production, but certainly better.
I’m extremely skeptical of Hrivik’s NHL future. I just don’t see what his role is. He doesn’t put up enough offense to be a top-six winger, and he’s not particularly physical or proficient defensively, making him a poor fit for the bottom-six. He’ll turn 23 in August and he is in the final year of his contract. This is do or die time for Hrivik. In Hartford, he’s going to need to explode offensively this upcoming season or show dramatic improvement to his game in other areas that would make him useful in a depth role. Or a combination of both. Otherwise, he seems destined to be a good AHLer or even a quality player in one of the European leagues. That would be nothing for Hrivik to be ashamed of, but as far as the Rangers are concerned his relevance as a future NHLer is in critical condition.
23 (N/A). Igor Shesterkin, Goaltender, 18 Years Old
Taken in the fourth round, I’ve actually seen a few independent scouts and publications rate Shesterkin higher than Brandon Halverson. Shesterkin represented Russia in the Subway Super Series, and so I got to see him play twice. This goaltender is absolutely crazy. I just don’t know if it’s the good kind of crazy (Hasek) or the kind that will be a major detriment. He has the very basic fundamentals of goaltending down, and after that is very similar to Dominik Hasek in that he abandons conventional technique in favor of raw athleticism. He actually reminds me of Mike Richter in many ways. He makes up for small stature with the athleticism and reflexes. Like Richter, his glove hand is his best asset, but he can also do splits and stretch his legs in all sorts of weird ways. He tends to play shooters very aggressively. He likes to poke-check a lot; perhaps too much, as it leaves him out of position to make saves for when he can’t reach pucks. He needs to improve his down-low game and in dealing with shots within close proximity of the net. He needs to learn how to properly set up his body to better limit shooting angles.
Shesterkin is far and away the most raw goaltender the Rangers have in their system, but also the one with the most upside, I think. It’s largely going to come down with how malleable he’s willing to be in adjusting his game. If he’s stubborn and stuck in his ways then it’s going to be a major problem, but if he’s open-minded and has the right attitude, and if Benoit Allaire is able to tame and educate him, then the Rangers could be holding another late-round goaltending steal. He’ll stay in Russia for at least one more year, likely more. He has a very good chance of being Russia’s starting goaltender at the World Junior Championships for this upcoming season.
22 (N/A). Ryan Mantha, Defenseman, 18 Years Old
Having never seen him play, I’m relying purely on where the Rangers drafted him (4th round) as well as scouting reports from others. At about 6’5 and 225 pounds, Mantha is an absolute monster. When dealing with defensemen like this, the biggest concern is going to be speed; it doesn’t matter how big you are if you can’t move. Luckily, Mantha is pretty mobile and agile. He uses his long arms to break up plays and cause turnovers with his stick. However, he needs to be more consistent in utilizing his size to be a physical presence. He’s a defensive defenseman but he does possess a hard shot.
Mantha was set to join the University of North Dakota, which would have been a great place for him to develop. Unfortunately, he was deemed academically ineligible, and so instead he’ll be joining the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL, who have a good group of young, talented defensemen. Mantha is clearly a long-term project, but his combination of size and raw tools make him projectable.
21 (N/A). Petr Zamorsky, Defenseman, 21 Years Old
Information regarding Zamorsky, whom the Rangers signed to a two-year deal in June, is somewhat limited. Luckily, I was able to get in contact with a couple of people who have followed him in the Czech Republic, and I myself was able to watch him play against Sweden in the World Championships this past Spring.
Undrafted, Zamorsky lit the Czech Extraliga on fire this season, scoring seven goals and adding 11 assists in 44 games. He helped HC Zlin win the championship and he was named the league’s best defenseman. His successful campaign earned him a spot on the Czech Republic’s roster for the World Championships, where he produced three assists in 10 games. In the game against Sweden, at least, he showed good poise with the puck on his stick. He makes crisp, hard passes with the puck and particularly finds teammates’ sticks in the offensive zone. He’s a good skater but sometimes gets caught flatfooted. He got absolutely burned by Mikael Backlund in one of those instances. His best defensive asset is his active stick; he breaks up many rushes with poke checks. He shows a willingness to be physical but clearly needs to add some muscle. He is eager to shoot and has a hard slapshot. From what I’ve heard, he can be a bit of a hothead and needs to learn how to throw big hits without leaving his feet or making contact with the head.
Zamorsky signed with the Blues of the Finnish Elite League, and he has implied that he’ll be loaned to them if he does not make the Rangers’ NHL roster. Though it’s certainly a step up from the Czech league, I think he’d be far better served in the AHL. He’s already proven plenty in Europe, but in Hartford he’d be forced to learn to make quicker decisions on a smaller rink and adapt to the big, physical forwards North America has to offer. In any case, Zamorsky was a no-risk “gamble” by the Rangers, as the organization isn’t exactly flooded with right-handed, offensive-minded defensemen. He has upside as a depth defenseman who plays the point on the power play.
20 (13). Calle Andersson, Defenseman, 20 Years Old
The son of former Ranger and Black Ace Peter Andersson, it wasn’t guaranteed that Calle would even be on this list. The Rangers’ exclusive rights to Andersson were to expire June 1st, and news of him signing a contract came out on May 31st, with the Rangers officially announcing it June 2nd. Clearly, the Rangers took their time in deciding whether he was worth signing, and what probably gave them pause was a lack of development over the last two seasons. That’s not really Andersson’s fault, though, but rather the consequence of multiple injuries, including a broken wrist with ligament problems which sidelined him for months. This season was mainly about him “playing catch up” and getting back to full strength. He was a depth defenseman for Malmö of the Swedish Allsvenskan, who was loaded with talented defensemen, and was solid but unspectacular.
Still, I think signing him was the right decision. He just turned 20 this past May, meaning he has plenty of development left in him. When healthy, he was certainly adequate as a 19-year-old against fully grown, professional men. That’s obviously a different situation than what those in juniors and NCAA here in North America are faced with. He’s one of the few defensemen within the organization who has realistic upside as an offensive defenseman with PP QB ability. He has great vision and passing ability in the neutral and offensive zones. There appears to be a bit of uncertainty regarding his immediate future. Andersson signed with EV Zug of the Swiss league and has told the media in Europe that he will play there, but Gordie Clark has stated that Andersson could play with the Wolf Pack. Presumably, the two sides will figure out what’s best this summer or perhaps during training camp.
19 (N/A). Keegan Iverson, Forward, 18 Years Old
Drafted 85th overall, Iverson was the Rangers’ second selection of the 2014 draft. Iverson was once seen as a first-round talent but his stock slipped this past season for a variety of reasons. One big reason is that he was buried behind a gluttony of forwards on a stacked Portland Winterhawks team, who made it to the WHL Final. Not ideal for his own personal exposure. Iverson did a tremendous job on Portland’s checking line and still managed to pot 22 goals with 20 assists in 67 games. Despite being only 6’0, Iverson is, as Gordie Clark described him, “thick” at about 215 pounds. He literally plows through opponents along the walls and behind the net to win puck battles. He can carry into the zone effectively because his legs are like tree trunks and is thus he is hard to separate from the puck. He has surprisingly good hands for a player of his mold and, in the games I watched, made some quality setup passes. Because he’s a power forward, he naturally positions himself in front of the net in the offensive zone and is good on screens and in putting garbage around the crease into the net. He can score from a shot around the circles as well. It’s easy to see that he takes a lot of pride in being a good teammate. I get the sense that he wouldn’t hesitate to drop the gloves with Godzilla if his tail got too close to Henrik Lundqvist’s crease.
Iverson is not slow by any means, but some agility and acceleration training would be beneficial. If it means dropping four-eight pounds then so be it. Iverson was definitely a projection pick by the Rangers. He turned 18 this past April and therefore theoretically has not reached his physical peak yet. With two of Portland’s top forwards in Taylor Leier and Brendan Leipsic going pro, Iverson should be bumped onto a more offensive line and hopefully will start seeing some power play minutes. He can play center but I see his future on the wing. I don’t see any concrete NHL comparisons for Iverson, but his peak is probably somewhere along the lines of a Scott Hartnell or Brandon Dubinsky. That’s well into the future, though, and for now he just needs to focusing on pushing his game to the next level with a Portland team that will hopefully put him in a spot to do so.
18 (11). Adam Tambellini, Forward, 19 Years Old
On the whole, I don’t think last season went exactly how the Rangers or Tambellini anticipated it would. Starting the season as a freshman at the University of North Dakota, Tambellini showed up with a leg injury he suffered during the Rangers’ training camp. It affected his play early on. Tambellini had two goals and two assists in 16 games, which isn’t terrible for a freshman but isn’t good, either. Then weirdness happened. Tambellini abruptly left UND in mid-January so he could play for the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL. The exact reasons why aren’t exactly clear, but the general knowledge is that he wasn’t fully happy with the his situation and preferred the lifestyle in juniors to that of college/NCAA.
With the Hitmen, alongside childhood friend Greg Chase, Tambellini clearly was much happier, and thus much more productive. He totaled 17 goals and 22 assists in 31 regular season games. Then, in the playoffs, he was arguably Calgary’s best player, scoring five goals and adding four assists in six games against Mackenzie Skapski’s Kootenay Ice. In the entire CHL (minimum 25 games), Tambellini was tied for 26th among forwards who were 19 or younger in points/60 minutes. In the WHL, he was tied for 8th. The one caveat to this stat is that the majority of his points came on the power play. His even-strength numbers were not very good, and while it’s nice that Tambellini is so productive on the PP – we all know how badly the Rangers need someone like that – majority of the game is played at even strength, so Tambellini needs to get better there. Still, Tambellini is only 19, and it was known from the beginning that he was a raw, long-term project. He’s really tall and thus has long arms, and has ridiculously quick hands. He combines that with a lot of creativity. Haggerty is his only competition in the organization when it comes to shooting ability. More than anything, Tambellini needed to bulk up; he entered last season around 6’3 but only about 170 pounds. All indications from the Rangers’ prospect camp were that he did add about 10 pounds of muscle, and it’s only July. Developing some muscle is relatively simple in comparison to developing skating ability or good hands or anything like that. The added weight alone should make Tambellini a much better player.
Eligible to turn pro, my own sources have told me that the Rangers will look at Tambellini in training camp before making a decision on whether to sign him or whether to send him back to Calgary for an overage season. He’s incredibly raw and has a ways to go before he’s anywhere near NHL-ready, but his peak upside is just as high as either of Duclair’s or Buchnevich’s.
17 (N/A). Ryan Haggerty, Winger, 21 Years Old
I think some circumstances surrounding Haggerty’s signing have confused people into rating him higher than he really has earned right now. That the Rangers putting him on the NHL roster after signing him was purely a condition that Haggerty’s camp demanded. It allowed him to collect an NHL salary (significantly higher than an AHL salary) for a few months at the NHL level, practice with the NHL team, experience an NHL lifestyle, etc. For the Rangers, it was something they were happy to do in order to get him under contract. It was not an indication of him being NHL-ready or anything like that.
That’s not to say that Haggerty isn’t a good prospect. Obviously, the Rangers wouldn’t have agreed to those conditions if they didn’t feel he was a good enough player to make it worth it. I just don’t believe Haggerty is as close to NHL-ready as some might believe based on that premise. At least, those who have watched him much more than I have, believe this. Haggerty had some decent collegiate seasons prior to last season, but it was his 28 goals in 35 games as a junior at RPI that put him on the radar. His shooting ability is far and away his best asset. He can score from many areas of the ice and particularly does damage on the power play with a quick release and hard shot. He has a thick, strong build and this past season he did a much better job of utilizing it.
Going from the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference immediately into the NHL would be a tremendous leap for Haggerty. I’m not going to write him off and I think his name will be in the discussion, but it would be a surprising turn of events should Haggerty make the Rangers out of training camp. Most likely, he’s going to need at least a full year in the AHL to deal with the learning curve and become a more complete player. Unlike most NCAA signings, though, Haggerty is only 21 and thus there is no rush. He can afford to take his time to adjust to professional hockey.
16 (19). Ryan Bourque, Forward, 23 Years Old
How things have changed for Mr. Bourque, a third-round pick by the Rangers in 2009. At this time last year he was not even on the radar. He was a 22-year-old, undersized forward who was averaging about 15 points per season in the AHL and couldn’t stay healthy. Then he had a tangibly good training camp with the Rangers. Then he started the season out well with the Wolf Pack, putting him into, “let’s not count him out just yet,” territory. When I ranked him 19th in early January he had five goals and five assists through 32 games. After that point, he exploded onto the scene, scoring 16 goals and adding 11 assists in 44 games. Defensively, he was Wolf Pack Head Coach Ken Gernander’s go-to guy on the penalty kill. He is a good skater and combines that with a high hockey IQ to make plays in his own zone. He also uses the two to make good rushes through the neutral zone and to forecheck hard.
Bourque has limited upside, hence him being ranked 16th, but in terms of pure NHL-readiness he is easily among the top-five. In fact, I think he has a very good shot of making the Rangers as either a fourth-liner or 13th forward this coming season. Gordie Clark has dropped his name a few times when discussing potential replacements for the depth the Rangers have lost so far this offseason. Bourque is staggeringly similar to Dominic Moore in terms of having a good motor, a high defensive IQ, experience as both a center and winger, and the ability to chip in on offense once in a while. With a cap hit under $700K, Bourque has a very good shot of starting the season with the Rangers and could be the exact kind of cost-efficient, versatile player the Rangers desperately need to slot in and fill out the end of the roster.
15 (N/A). Brandon Halverson, Goaltender, 18 Years Old
The Rangers’ first pick in the 2014 draft, so it’s logical that he’s my highest ranked player from the draft. Selecting a goaltender was obviously on the agenda, but I was moderately surprised that the Rangers took one as early as the second round. Still, Halverson a good one. Despite the love for Shesterkin from other sources, I side with Gordie Clark and his staff in rating Halverson the better prospect of the two; at least for now. Halverson is closer to being NHL-ready. He has big stature but, more importantly, has a pretty good idea of how to utilize it. He cuts down angles well and limits how much net shooters see. This results in an awful lot of pucks hitting his torso for an easy save and a whistle. He’s got quick feet for his size and good lateral ability. Unfortunately, he does not properly utilize this for shots from the side. Sometimes he leads with his pads instead of just quickly shifting his entire body to the shooter, leaving more room than necessary for shots. Some time with Benoit Allaire should quickly remedy this. Obviously, stopping pucks is what goaltenders live and die by. Still, it does not hurt that Halverson is really good at handling the puck. Like, Martin Brodeur levels of good. He can send outlet passes into the neutral zone with ease on the PP and will often prevent full line changes for the opposition by quickly sending their clearances back to a teammate into the offensive end of the ice. Sometimes he tries to do too much and it creates problems, but he’ll learn.
Halverson compared himself to Phoenix Coyotes’ goaltender Mike Smith, and I think it’s a good comparison. Both are big but athletic goaltenders who utilize their size and who handle the puck well. Halverson will spend some time working with the goaltenders at Rangers’ training camp before being sent back to the Sault St. Marie Grayhounds of the OHL, where he’ll become the full-time starter thanks to the departure of Matt Murray; the team’s previous starter who is now going pro with the Penguins.
14 (N/A). Chris McCarthy,Forward, 22 Years Old
For whatever reason, McCarthy is the college free agent signing that got little fanfare. A five-year college player thanks to an injury sidelining him for virtually all of his junior season, McCarthy led the University of Vermont in points this past season, with 42 in 38 games. He was also second on the team in goals, with 18. After being signed, the Rangers sent him immediately to Hartford, where he scored one goal in eight games.
Of the three college free agents the Rangers signed this past spring, McCarthy has the lowest ceiling. He is, however, the most likely to emerge as an NHL player. He’s a solid two-way forward who, despite average height (6’1) and weight (190 lbs) plays a power forward’s game. He chases pucks behind the goal-line and is good at shielding defenders from the puck when he’s holding it. He’s got decent hands and a good enough shot that he can score more than just garbage goals around the crease. He played the penalty kill effectively for Vermont. In his brief stint in Hartford, he clearly needed time to adjust to the speed of the game and the tactics but ultimately did not look out of place. At a minimum he’s going to develop into a high-character minor leaguer that every team wants in on their AHL squad. At best, McCarthy has a chance to become a really good botttom-six forward who does the grunt work, can play the PK, and chips in 10-15 goals.
13 (15). Mackenzie Skapski, Goaltender, 20 Years Old
The highest-ranked goaltender in the organization (as far as I am concerned), Skapski is quite easily the most matured and polished goaltender the Rangers have in the system. For the bulk of the 2013-2014 season, Skapski WAS the Kootenay Ice’s defense. With a bunch of retreads in front of him, Skapski faced an average of 32.2 shots per game; many of which were odd-man rushes and breakaways. For the most part, he did an incredible job keeping the puck out of his net, posting a .916 Save Percentage. For context, Tristan Jarry, whom the Penguins drafted 44th overall and who represented Canada at the WJC, posted a .914 Save Percentage in the WHL while playing for the WHL Champion Edmonton Oil Kings. Skapski had a disastrous playoff showing with a 3.78 GAA and .886 Save Percentage and got pulled on multiple occasions. Nonetheless, it was not enough to undermine an otherwise impressive season from Skapski on a team that provided him very little help defensively.
Skapski has a good combination of athleticism and positioning. He’s really sharp at cutting down shooting angles and making sure rebounds don’t land in vulnerable positions. His glove hand is his best feature. He is one of the best prospect goaltenders in North America when it comes to breakaways and shootouts. A reasonable inference one might draw from the Rangers drafting two goaltenders this past June is that they don’t put much stock in Skapski, but this could not be further from the truth. I know for certain that the Rangers’ WHL scouts, Tom Thompson and Ernie Gare, are very high on Skapski and the fact that they signed him to a contract a year earlier than necessary shows it. Theoretically, the Rangers could send Skapski back to the WHL for an overage season; something common for goaltenders. However, the vibe I am getting is that the intention is for Skapski to turn pro and battle for the backup spot with the Wolf Pack. With the kind of confidence in himself that he possesses, he’s going to go into training camp with the goal of trying to steal Lundqvist’s starting spot in the NHL. That’s obviously not going to happen anytime soon, but I think he has a real shot of being an NHL goaltender in two-and-a-half to four years.
The top twelve players will be released tomorrow. Again, please feel free to leave any thoughts or questions in the comments section below.
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