Stop the presses—the New York Rangers have qualified for postseason play in six of the last seven seasons.
What? Who? The Rangers?
An influx of young Rangers prospects have made it all possible.
Rangers success may be old news—and dare I say, even expected—at this point, but forgive me if I’m still unprepared to preemptively shell out extravagant sums for playoff tickets each year.
Maybe it’s my roots in New York fandom. Maybe it’s just what happens when you grow up cheering for the frequently underachieving and disappointing New York Mets and New York Knicks.
Maybe it’s just what it means to be a New York Rangers fan.
Despite New York’s extended string of prosperity, it’s difficult to forget that you have to go all the way back to 1996-97 to find the last time the Rangers qualified for the playoffs prior to their franchise renaissance in 2005-06.
Even with a long and storied history, triumph has mostly proven to be few and far between for one of hockey’s renowned Original Six franchises.
When this prolonged run began, the success still felt very tentative, culminating with the team just barely missing out on the 2009-10 playoffs. But the mood seems different this time around.
Gone are the days of overpriced free-agent acquisitions. No longer will you find aging superstars and their rapidly declining production dominating the their top lines and impeding the progress of the team’s young assets. Best of all, though? To the rest of the NHL, frivolously mortgaging the future for immediate gains is, thankfully, a thing of the past.
Opposing front offices must be kicking themselves.
Beginning with director of player personnel Gordie Clark, the Rangers are finally built for long-term success.
Clark, largely credited as the source of the franchise’s philosophical about-face, has been instrumental in the team’s recent upward surge in the standings, and it all begins with the youth movement.
Gordie Clark (via nhl.com):
A lot of people thought in New York you had to just get all the big-money players, but in the end, they wanted a really hard-working team, and that’s what we decided to work toward. It was going to be younger.
Sound draft strategy and sensible trades have replenished the Rangers’ once barren prospect pool and helped to accrue a myriad of valuable young assets—some already paying massive dividends for the parent club—that render New York’s future to be very bright.
In Gordie Clark we trust.
Here are nine prospects that the Rangers will, eventually, undoubtedly want to tie up to long-term deals.
J.T. Miller was selected with the 15th pick in the 2011 NHL draft, and it’s already easy to see that the Rangers will happily reap the benefits.
Hockey’s Future touts the first-rounder as an exceptional two-way forward with plenty of strength and strong hands that make him a force in the faceoff circle.
Estimated to be at least a couple of years away from the NHL, Miller recorded 62 points in 61 games at the OHL level last year.
According to Brock Otten of WHL From Above (via the New York Rangers blog), Miller looks comfortable at both the center position and on the wing. If the Rangers can continue to develop Miller’s game at center, the team may soon be able to fill the current void they have at the position with some real homegrown talent.
Considering the Rangers’ faceoff struggles and their present dearth in organizational depth at the center position, Miller should eventually slide seamlessly into the lineup in place of the aging Brad Richards.
How does the thought of Miller centering Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin sound to you?
Lock him up, Mr. Sather.
What Christian Thomas lacks in stature—listed at 5’9” and 162 pounds—he makes up for tenfold in terms of sheer talent.
The exciting Thomas used his superb skill set to set the OHL world on fire in 2010-11, when he accumulated 54 goals and 44 assists in just 66 games.
Following the aforementioned memorable season, there were whispers that the undersized forward was ready for professional play. A disappointing 67-point 2011-12 quelled some of these notions, but don’t count him out.
With an uncanny scoring ability, not everybody is ready to denounce Thomas’ future on account of his lack of size.
“I don’t think size is an issue for him," Brock Otten said." He’s very strong and very quick. When he’s on his game, he’s consistently beating out bigger players for loose pucks, or beating them to the net. At first, he might have a bit of a tough time trying to create space to get his shot off, but as he continues to add bulk, I don’t see it being an issue. It’s not as if he’s a perimeter player.”
Mustn't we forget the Rangers' woeful power play of recent years. With 19 power-play goals in 2011-12, Thomas has the remedy.
The acquisition of playmakers like Marian Gaborik and Rick Nash are nice, but if Thomas can recapture the ability that made him a Rangers roster threat prior to last season, a future long-term deal should be a certainty.
Fourth-round draft picks are often considered to be somewhat of an afterthought in sports.
They may display flashes of brilliance but lack the deemed necessary size or frame. Perhaps they possess the proper tools and frame that leave the potential for growth, but consistent production has escaped them throughout their young careers. Regardless, the ultimate hope is that they can someday become a useful professional commodity, and in the end, any NHL production you get out of a fourth-rounder is just a bonus.
If capable of surpassing these aptly reserved expectations, a player is generally considered to be a steal as a fourth-rounder.
According to Hockey’s Future, a big frame, good skating ability and decent vision combine to make Andrew Yogan a potential “borderline second-line player” at the NHL level.
It should also be noted that scouting reports consider Yogan to be a strong faceoff man who goes hard to the net and has a willingness to drop the gloves when necessary.
Raise your hand if that description prompted visions of the recently departed Brandon Dubinsky.
In Yogan, it sure appears as if the Rangers may have found that rare gem of a fourth-round draft pick.
Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto (CBA permitting), Michael Sauer—clearly, the Rangers have plenty of dependable defensemen under team control for the foreseeable future. But you can never have too much of a good thing, right?
Enter Dylan Mcllrath.
The presence of Mcllrath in the Rangers' system rendered the offensively gifted Tim Erixon expendable and simplified a decision-making process that garnered the Rangers Rick Nash.
At 6’4” and 212 pounds, the Rangers’ brass were understandably enthusiastic following their 10th pick in the 2010 draft.
Hockey’s Future describes Mcllrath as “a nasty, in-your-face NHL defenseman who won’t back down and can clear the crease for his netminder.”
As things currently stand, Mcllrath owns a powerful shot to go along with a penchant for puck distribution, but his skating and defensive positioning still have plenty of room for improvement.
If all goes according to plan, New York could have its very own (lite) version of Scott Stevens, who made a career out of punishing the Eastern Conference.
The New York Rangers recently inked Michael St. Croix to a three-year, entry-level deal.
Yet after accumulating 45 goals and 60 assists in 72 WHL games, the 2011 fourth-round pick may be in line for a long-term NHL contract sooner rather than later.
Listed at just 5’11” and 179 pounds, St. Croix is another member of the Rangers' undersized forward club, but as his numbers suggest, his stature may prove to be merely a side note to his potential production.
Another fourth-rounder, the Rangers hope St. Croix can someday reach his two-way forward projections and become another example of New York’s late-round value picks.
Depending on his strength and physical development, the 19-year-old is likely still a few years away from competing for a roster spot on the parent club.
As the son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, it’s tough to argue with the lineage of Ryan Bourque.
The center may be small (5’8”, 163 pounds), but he possesses great speed, exceptional vision and a quick release, according to Hockey’s Future.
Injuries derailed what the Rangers’ brass had hoped to be a promising 2011-12 for Bourque, but they are far from giving up on the genetically gifted center.
Bourque may be a couple of years away from competing for a roster spot, but you can bet that talent-limited third- and fourth-line players like Mike Rupp, Brian Boyle and Jeff Halpern won’t be there blocking him once he's deemed ready for the jump.
What can possibly be said of the infinitely talented Chris Kreider that hasn’t already been said?
Save some managerial decision-making travesty, Kreider has guaranteed himself a spot on the NHL roster despite never having played a regular-season game in the NHL.
Be excited, Rangers fans. Amidst of list of prospects and the due uncertainty that goes along with them, Kreider’s production is as close to a forgone conclusion as there is in this league.
The 21-year-old winger burst onto the NHL scene with five goals and two assists in 18 playoff games with limited ice time, and now there is no looking back.
Kreider’s 2012-13 rookie eligibility makes him a capable and easy addition to this list.
Equipped with NHL-ready speed, strength and instincts, Kreider transcended debut projections when he made the jump last year, a clear testament to the advanced maturity he possesses for his age.
Kreider owns two NCAA National Championships, proving—as his Boston College teammates know—that the kid knows and is willing to do what it takes to win.
When the time comes, Sather will be have no choice but to ensure that Kreider is wearing a Rangers sweater for a long time.
I know, I know—nobody even wants to entertain the thought.
Henrik Lundqvist can’t play forever. One day, some (un)lucky player will be tasked with supplanting The King as the Rangers' starting netminder.
In Cam Talbot, the Rangers might not have that guy, but they just may be grooming his next inexpensive backup.
At 25 years old, Talbot may not have much room left for improvement, but his 2.61 GAA in 2011-12 signifies some promise.
Martin Biron proved to be a more-than-capable backup to Hank, but his production slipped as the year went on and he’s not getting any younger. If Biron stumbles at any point, or if the Rangers choose to go in another direction in following seasons, Talbot provides an interesting internal option.
Talbot isn’t the sexiest of prospects, but he may very well end up being a nice, inexpensive and capable long-term asset moving forward.
The Rangers were lucky enough to score Brady Skjei, another talented two-way defenseman, in the first round of the 2012 draft.
At 6’2” and 203 pounds, New York is poised to add plenty of size and defensive depth to the franchise’s lower levels.
Just 18 years old, Skjei is still years away from contributing at the NHL level, but the team hopes the poise and playmaking ability he displayed as a member of the U.S. National Team Development Program are indicative of the power-play spark he can provide for future Rangers squads.
Skjei is committed to play for the University of Minnesota this season and his ability to secure a long-term contract in the future will largely hinge on his development under his coach, Don Lucia.
For the more demanding readers, I have compiled a list of notable omissions.
The Rangers have an abundance of third- and fourth-line forwards (Carl Hagelin) in addition to several defensive prospects who are likely to face difficulty in regard to cracking the Rangers' roster anytime soon.
A few of these players may very well have a future in this league, but at this moment in time, it is hard to include these youngsters in the future plans of the franchise.
(C) Steven Fogarty
Via Hockey's Future:
Fogarty has good offensive skills and a big body, which he uses well along the boards and in front of the net. A decent skater, he will need to improve his stride to move to the next level, but he is solid two-way forward, with decent hands.
(RW) Jesper Fasth
Via Hockey's Future:
A very good skater, who has excellent hockey sense, Fasth has good offensive upside, while excelling on the forecheck.
(LW) Carl Hagelin
Via Hockey's Future:
Hagelin is a two-way forward, with very good speed and an effective shot. A very smart winger, he can take face-offs and has good leadership qualities.
(D) Pavel Valentenko
Via Hockey's Future:
Valentenko has an excellent shot, combined with crease clearing abilities. He is an excellent defensive player, very responsible in his own zone and a good puck distributor.
(LW) Marek Hrivik
Via Hockey's Future:
Talented offensively, Hrivik also showed a willingness to do the smaller things that help win hockey games including a crucial buy-in with Moncton's defense-first system. With a quick shot and a nose for the net, the 19-year-old is a constant threat in the offensive zone, but needs to continue to work on his skating. Struggling at times with consistent effort, Hrivik is at his best when he engaging the opposition and using his body to create chances and protect the puck.
(C/LW) Cristoval “Boo” Nieves
Via Hockey's Future:
Nieves is a skilled forward with good speed and deft playmaking skills. Although he has the height, Nieves is still a bit on the skinny side and will need to bulk up to better handle the rigors of the pro game. He'll also need to show that he can compete well at a higher level of competition, but most signs point to Nieves becoming a creative offensive player with top-six potential
(D) Mikhail Pashnin
Via Hockey's Future:
Pashnin is a two-way defenseman who has a nasty streak. With a good hockey IQ and vision, he can create plays, however, Pashnin needs to improve his shot to be successful in the NHL.