Michael St. Croix

Summer 2014 New York Rangers’ Prospect Rankings: 36-25

I published my version of the New York Rangers’ prospect rankings in early January, which you can view here. A lot has changed since then. The prospects have since played for four-to-six months, depending on their schedule, and thus all have developed (or failed to) in different ways over that time. Aside from that, the Rangers have signed multiple prospects as free agents, drafted seven more this past June, and let a handful of incumbents walk.

Perhaps the Rangers could make an additional signing or trade, but most likely the prospect pool, as it stands now, is what the Rangers will roll with going into the 2014-2015 season. Thus, it’s the right time to put together an updated ranking of the Rangers’ prospect pool. In January, the Rangers had 29 prospects in the system and I wrote about the top-25. As of today, the Rangers have 36 prospects. I might as well write about them all this time around. I’ve ranked and written about each of those 36 and will release it in three different parts; below is prospects 36 through 25. Before I get to that, though, here are a few notes to keep in mind.

  • I have seen almost all of these players in some capacity over the last year. For some, that means 25+ games. For others, it might mean two or three games. For a few, I have seen nothing beyond a few highlights, and thus am relying largely on what I’ve heard from people I trust. In the cases where my viewings were limited (or non-existent) I will make it very clear.
  • I have done my best job to be completely objective in these rankings. That being said, I’m human. I’ve already noted that I’ve seen some players more than others, and thus that might unconsciously affect my rankings in some form.
  • I’ve spoken with a lot of knowledgeable people over the last year; particularly concerning players I might not have gotten a chance to see as much of. Or, just to hear a perspective different from mine. I’m sure I’m going to accidentally omit one or two who deserve to be listed, but some of those who have been particularly helpful have been Chris Peters (USA/NCAA), Cody Nickolet (WHL), Brock Otten (OHL), Evan Sporer (NCAA), Nate Wells (NCAA),  Jérôme Bérubé (QMJHL), SBN College Hockey in general (NCAA) and Alex Nunn (Europe). I highly recommend following them all on Twitter, both for news/information about Rangers prospects as well as hockey prospects in general. And I’m sorry to anyone I might have accidentally forgotten to include.

With that, here is “Part One” the rankings. The number in parenthesis is where I had the player ranked in January.

 

36 (27). Josh Nicholls, Forward, 22 Years Old

Kevin previously mentioned Nicholls as someone who perked his interest, so of course I rank him 36th. In all seriousness, Nicholls is intriguing at face value. He’s 6’2 and could easily fill out to 195-200 pounds, and he combines that potential size with a good combination of hands and skill. He was a consistent 30-40 goal scorer and was well above a point-per-game in the WHL. Unfortunately, it has not really translated to success at the professional level. Nicholls started the season in the ECHL and could barely crack a Hartford roster that was struggling mightily and desperate for added offense given call-ups of Kreider and Miller as well as injuries to players like Fast. That on top of them generally lacking offensive firepower. In the six games he did play for the Wolf Pack, he didn’t register a single point and was pretty much irrelevant.

He did score 20 goals and tally 22 assists in 63 ECHL games while producing 15 points in 18 playoff games, and given that it was his first professional season one could find optimism in deeming it a year for learning. He’s not a hopeless commodity by any means, but so far he hasn’t done much to indicate that the NHL is in his future. Obviously, he can change all that by making the Wolf Pack this fall and contributing some offense for them.

 

35 (22). Michael Kantor, Winger, 22 Years Old

Kantor was a surprising standout during training camp and the pre-season for the Rangers. In Hartford, he also had a nice start to the season, showing plenty of aptitude in a checking role. He has decent speed. He hits hard. He’s tenacious on the forecheck. He’s the kind of player who will do anything to help your team win. The offense was lacking, though, with no points through 20 games.

Injuries slowed down his season, and he played seven games with the Wolf Pack in January before never appearing for them again thanks to a combination of injuries, healthy scratches, and a brief stint in the ECHL. Kantor is ahead of Nicholls by virtue of him managing to stick at the AHL level, but he still is going to need plenty of work to even be an NHL 4th-liner. Remaining healthy would be a good start towards reaching that goal. At a minimum, though, he’s a great character guy to have in the minors and is good depth for the Wolf Pack.

 

34 (13). Andrew Yogan, Forward, 22 Years Old

While I was never particularly high on Yogan, it pains me to see him this low on the list. He went into last season with moderate promise. He was the captain of the Rangers’ Traverse City team, where he played well. A big player with very good hands, he held his own during the Rangers’ training camp. He went back to Hartford having to be feeling pretty good about his game. Then… nothing. When I had him 13th in January ( a ranking I acknowledged I wasn’t in love with) Yogan had 19 points in 43 games, which was decent but nothing special for a 22-year-old in his second year as a pro. After that, it was all downhill. He had three goals and one assist in 14 AHL games before he was sent down to the ECHL, where he finished the season. With the Greenville Road Warriors he was a point-per-game player, but that’s besides the point. Yogan was someone whom the Rangers were hoping would show progress and tkae his game to that next level in the AHL. Instead, he was finishing the season in the ECHL.

Bigger forwards can take a bit longer to develop, and that’s the one silver lining. Still, Yogan is in the final year of his contract and right now is fighting just to stay in the organization. He’s going to have to metaphorically hit a home-run this season to get a new contract from the Rangers.

 

33 (28). Jason Missiaen, Goaltender, 24 Years Old

I am fairly surprised that Missiaen, whose contract expired this summer, is still in the organization. The call-up of Cam Talbot made Missiaen Hartford’s starting goaltender, and he struggled. In total, he had a 3.83 GAA and a .864 Save % in 14 games with the Wolf Pack. He and Scott Stajcer were so poor that the Wolf Pack went from playoff team to bottom of the standings. Eventually, the Rangers brought in Dave LeNeveu and Dov Grumet-Morris to salvage the season, and Missiaen was sent to the ECHL.

I can see the logic in bringing Missiaen back on a one-year deal, though. To his credit, he posted a .919 Save % in 21 games in the ECHL and stood tall during the playoffs. Goaltenders are weird and can take into their late-20s to develop. Missiaen, at 6’8, is a freak of nature and even with the Wolf Pack showed the ability to make some highlight reel saves thanks to his huge frame. Presumably, the Rangers are confident enough in Cedrick Desjardins, whom they signed to be Hartford’s starter, and Mackenzie Skapski, who will probably turn pro, that they feel they have room to toy around and take a flyer on Missiaen. Maybe something clicks with Benoit Allaire this year, and he finally learns how to utilize his body to become a successful goaltender. If not, then the Rangers let him walk next summer. No harm done.

 

32 (25) Troy Donnay, Defenseman, 20 Years Old

Donnay’s value is purely in his projectability. At 6’7 and almost 190 pounds, he’s a beast and he plays like one. With the Erie Otters, Donnay was a second-pairing, defensive-minded defenseman who also played the penalty kill. He dramatically improved his footspeed and his decision making with the puck as the season went on and ended up being a pretty solid player for one of the best teams in the CHL.

Donnay, under contract, can turn pro this season, but all signs point towards the Rangers sending him back to Erie for an overage year. That’s probably best for his development. He has plenty to improve on even at the junior level and the departures of Spencer Abraham and Adam Pelech, Erie’s two best defensemen last season, destine him for increased minutes and an increased role. He’s a good 3-5 years away from his theoretical NHL-readiness, but he has upside as a third-pairing defenseman who patrols the crease.

 

31 (23). Samuel Noreau, Defenseman, 21 Years Old

Noreau, who only turned 21 in January, understandably spent most of the season in the ECHL. At 6’5 and almost 225 pounds, a big, physical defensemen like Noreau can be overwhelmed by the dramatic difference between the juniors and the minors. The ECHL was a good compromise, as it was still a step up but not quite as steep as that of the AHL. He did earn a brief call-up to the Wolf Pack in late December and played five games. Despite being sent back to the ECHL afterwards, I don’t think he looks particularly out of place, which is good. In fact, I think he was done somewhat of a disservice in not being given a few more games. It’s not like the players Hartford was throwing out on the third-pairing at the time were demonstratively better.

Noreau is looking at multiple years in the minors. His skating isn’t atrocious, but it definitely needs to improve. Though a long shot, he absolutely has potential to make it into the NHL in about three years as a physical, third-pairing, penalty-killing defenseman.

 

30 (N/A). Tyler Nanne, Defenseman, 18 Years Old

Having never seen him play, I’m solely relying on scouting reports from others as well as where the Rangers drafted him in regards to others. Nanne (pronounced like “nanny”), whom the Rangers selected late in the 5th round, led his high school in Minnesota to the state championship this year; a particularly big deal in Minnesota. Nanne has spent time at both forward and defense, but has committed to being a defenseman. He’s agile and shifty. He has a good shot.  He commands play with the puck on his stick from the point, and for those reasons projects as a power play QB; something the Rangers sorely lack in their system. Among Rangers’ prospects, he’s probably the farthest away from being NHL ready. He has a lot of maturing to do, both physically and mentally. At 5’10 and 175 pounds, some growing wouldn’t hurt him. He’s still learning how to play defense in general; Future Considerations claims he has “miles to go” in figuring out that part of the game. He also has developed a reputation for taking poorly timed or selfish, heat-of-the-moment penalties. Having just turned 18 in March, though, much of these issues are understandable.

There’s a bit of confusion regarding his future. Nanne just graduated high school and is committed to Ohio State University. However, College Hockey, Inc. claims that he’s beginning his college career in the Fall of 2015. That would indicate that he’ll be spending a year in the USHL. After the draft, Glen Sather said that Nanne would be playing in “Iowa.” That makes little sense, considering that the Sioux Falls Stampede, located in South Dakota, own his USHL rights. Either Sather misspoke, or he knows something that hasn’t been publicly announced yet. In any case, he’s probably playing in the USHL this upcoming season and then will spend three or four years at Ohio State. He needs a lot of work and won’t even be AHL-ready for a while, but has upside as a 15-20 minute defenseman who earns his money on the power play.

 

29 (18). Steve Fogarty, Center, 21 Years Old

After the Rangers selected him in the third round in 2011, Fogarty has flown under the radar the last few years. A basic look at his statistics – last season as a sophomore he had three goals and eight assists in 33 games with Notre Dame – are not indicative of someone with an NHL future. It’s more complicated than that, though. Fogarty’s play has been better than his offensive output shows, and on a Notre Dame team loaded with offensive talent he was asked to play the role of shutdown center.

This is going to be the season to keep an eye on Fogarty. The graduations of T.J. Tynan and David Gerth leave the role of second-line center as Fogarty’s to lose, I would think. The graduations of wingers Jeff Costello and Bryan Rust should mean increased power play time. Fogarty is above-average in the faceoff circle and is an intelligent defender and penalty killer. At 6’3 and around 205 pounds, he’s a big guy who uses his body well. If Brian Boyle comes to mind, then the comparison is not too far off. What Fogarty does possess that Boyle doesn’t is a pretty good set of wheels for his size and ability to make things happen with the puck on his stick. Notre Dame has had him play the point at times on the power play because of his ability to rush the puck up the ice and make passes. A good season with Notre Dame would mean that Fogarty explodes up these rankings for January, and I won’t be surprised at all if it happens. He’s going to spend the next two seasons at Notre Dame, and has upside as a prototypical third-line center.

 

28 (21). Tommy Hughes, Defenseman, 22 Years Old

The jump from juniors to professional hockey can eat defensemen alive. Especially an undrafted one like Tommy Hughes. He survived the season, and that’s the best thing I can say about him. While others like Noreau and Nicholls clearly experienced a culture shock of sorts in playing against AHL competition for the first time, Hughes showed that he belonged. That’s not to say he didn’t struggle at times, but he never was bad enough that Wolf Pack Head Coach Ken Gernander was afraid to play him.

Merely surviving is not going to be enough for this upcoming season if Hughes is to have an NHL future. Having competent goaltending and an improved defense should create a better environment for Hughes to develop. A former London Knight, Hughes has been compared to Dan Girardi, who also played for London. He doesn’t really have any attributes that stick out in particular. He’s just does a lot of things decently. He doesn’t have great skating ability, but it’s not a liability, either. He’s good with his stick and is perfectly willing to block shots or take abuse to make plays in his own zone. He holds his own in the offensive zone and does a pretty good job of getting pucks towards the net from the point. He’ll need at least another full year in the AHL, but with a productive year, has a chance of pushing for a roster spot in 2015 and has upside as a steady depth defenseman.

 

27 (N/A). Daniel Walcott, Defenseman, 20 Years Old

Daniel Walcott is a pretty amazing story. He moved around a few times while a teenager, meaning that nobody really saw him consistently enough to scout him accurately. As a result, he was forced to play for Lindenwood University in the ACHA, which isn’t even Division I hockey. Wanting to return home, he managed to sign with Blainville-Boisbrand Armada of the QMJHL. He quickly made a name for himself and was selected to represent the QMJHL at the Subway Super Series. Now, against all odds, he’s an NHL draft pick.

Drafted late in the fifth round, I think this was a very nice value pick by the Rangers. Walcott can skate with pretty much anyone, and if you can skate, then you have a chance in the NHL. He has great straight-line speed, but is also agile and quick in terms of changing directions, skating backwards, going side-to-side, and so on. He scored 10 goals and registered 19 assists in 67 games, plus four goals and six assists in 19 playoff games. Walcott is not a natural offensive defenseman, but he has enough tools to be productive. He doesn’t have a blast from the point by any means, but he’s very smart in pinching at the right times and pushing into the high slot for scoring chances. Defensively, he’s tenacious. He has good defensive awareness and does the yeoman work in front of the net and behind the boards. Being 5’11 isn’t in itself a problem, but he definitely needs to add some muscle to his frame in order to battle with the professional forwards, who will be much bigger and stronger than kids he’s used to dealing with in the QMJHL. Despite being eligible to turn pro, Gordie Clark has implied that Walcott will be returning to the Armada for an overage year. Being 20, though, he won’t need as much work as some of the other defensemen in the system. I think his peak upside is as second-pairing, two-way defenseman.

 

26 (N/A). Richard Nejezchleb, Winger, 20 Years Old

Like Walcott, Nejezchleb’s history is atypical and might have contributed to him falling into the fifth round; a bargain, as a few WHL people seem to believe. Nejezchleb moved to the WHL from the Sparta Praha in the Czech Republic for the 2012-2013 season. Numerous injuries derailed his entire season. He ultimately only played 33 games, maybe 20 of which he was actually fully healthy for, and potted 11 goals. After going undrafted in 2013, he returned to the Brandon Wheat Kings with a clean sheet and had a phenomenal season. In 66 games, he recorded 32 goals and 25 assists, while in the playoffs registering five goals and four assists in 9 games.

Nejezschleb’s is certainly a talented offensive player. He makes good rushes up the ice with the puck and can pull off some creative dekes. Sometimes he gets overly eager, though, and tries a move when it’s not there instead of keeping his head on a swivel and seeing a simpler but more efficient play. That’s not to say he isn’t a good passer of the puck, though, because he certainly is capable of some nice setup passes. His skating stride is slightly goofy, as he almost stands up straight while in a high gear. It works, though. At 6’2 and well over 200 pounds, he has the potential to be a difference maker physically. He’s not consistent with that yet, though. The Rangers have been less transparent with their plans for Nejezchleb than they were with Walcott. He also is eligible to turn pro or to return to the WHL for an overage year. I think it will come down to a numbers game. If in training camp the Rangers decide he will be able to get legitimate minutes in Hartford then perhaps they’ll sign him and stick him there, but otherwise he’s better off spending another year in the WHL, where he’ll get first-line minutes against what is still quality competition.

 

25 (17). Michael St. Croix, Center, 21 Years Old

Last season was definitely a learning experience for St. Croix. After being a dominant force in the WHL, facing pros in the Rangers’ training camp was a massive wakeup call. In fact, he was sent to the ECHL straight away. In 13 games that he did get called up to play with the Wolf Pack, he didn’t register a single point. The good news is that he did perform well in the ECHL, registering 17 goals and 31 assists in 53 games as well as 15 points in 18 playoff games. St. Croix has plenty of skill, but the game is much quicker in the AHL than in juniors, and on top of that hopefully he realized that skill alone won’t get him by; he needs to get stronger, faster, and make quicker decisions with the puck. Being that he was 20 for most of the season, he’s in a different camp than Josh Nicholls. He’s got much more room for growth. Daniel Briere, whom I’ve often compared St. Croix to, similarly had that kind of reality check in the minors. I don’t count last season against St. Croix; especially since he was so good in the ECHL, which is still a step up from juniors. This season he won’t have that same kind of leash, though. He needs to make a statement in training camp and show he can be the playmaking center with the Wolf Pack that he has the talent for. If not, then he could see himself downgraded into the 30s along with some of the other prospects whose futures as NHLers are in serious doubt.

 

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to leave any thoughts or questions in the comment section below. Players 24 through 13 will be released tomorrow.

 

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