Drafting is one of the things the New York Rangers have done well since the 2004-05 lockout came and passed. As a team in transition, the organization realized that if they were to steadily improve, they were going to have to draft well.
Despite not having a top-five selection in any of the drafts since, the Rangers have still been able to choose solid players, and not just in the first round. Players like Derek Stepan, Artem Anisimov and Ryan Callahan were all selected beyond the initial round in their respective drafts, and as we all know, they’re all capable and promising NHL regulars.
Although the 2010 draft was recent—and some of the players selected are far from NHL-ready—the draft class looks hopeful. Now, three years removed, we should begin to see some of these youngsters take steps toward being considered by the big club.
Although the story of the draft was the surprise drop of defenseman Cam Fowler on the draft board, if some of the selections the Rangers made pan out, nobody will remember the fact that the Rangers could have selected him at No. 10.
But, considering I cannot predict the future, I present to you today a progress report on the Rangers' 2010 draft class. Read on to catch up on the development of the six Rangers who could don blue in the not-so-distant future.
Dylan McIlrath was the player the Rangers selected at No. 10 instead of the ever-slipping Cam Fowler. Fowler was considered a talented two-way defenseman with power-play quarterbacking ability, and McIlrath was seen as the polar opposite. The scouting report told us McIlrath was a nasty, hard-hitting, stay-at-home defenseman who wasn't afraid to mix it up.
Despite the fact that the Rangers passed over Fowler, who was certainly the more attractive selection, the pick made sense. The Rangers haven’t had a legitimate, high-end, crease-clearing D-man since Jeff Beukeboom retired in 1999. McIlrath was a welcome addition to an ever-growing group of solid young defensemen.
Now aged 21, McIlrath completed his first professional season with the Connecticut Whale of the AHL in 2012-13. He began the season on the sidelines, rehabilitating from knee surgery he underwent in July of last year. McIlrath ended up appearing in just 45 games for the Whale, registering zero goals, five assists and 125 penalty minutes with a plus-six rating.
Despite his rare appearances on the scoresheet, reports on McIlrath’s performances have been positive. The Rangers hired Beukeboom as an assistant coach in Connecticut last summer to help not only McIlrath realize his potential, but the entire blue line.
The Rangers are giving him every opportunity to succeed by providing him with the right guidance and not rushing him. He’s still just 21, and with the Rangers defense nearly set, the team isn't looking to prematurely promote McIlrath. He’s going to have plenty of time to adjust to the speed of the pro game, work on his skating and add some offense to his repertoire.
Fortunately, at this time, it appears McIlrath is on the path to NHL success.
Christian Thomas, the son of former NHL player Steve Thomas, was a player the Rangers took a gamble on. Although he possesses high-end skill, Thomas is undersized. He was drafted at 5’9” and 162 pounds, but despite his stature he registered 66 points in 64 games for the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League in 2009-10.
The following 2010-11 season—the one immediately following the Rangers’ selection of him—Thomas seemed out to prove that although he was small in standing, he wasn't small on the scoresheet. In 66 games, Thomas registered a staggering 54 goals and 99 points. The Rangers were pleased, to say the least.
In 2011-12, Thomas picked up where he left off and looked poised to repeat his stellar performance, but following a 10-game suspension for a high-sticking incident, Thomas struggled to retain his pace. He finished the season with 67 points in 55 games.
2012-13 was Thomas’ first full season as a pro. He also spent the entire season in Connecticut, where he finished up the year with 19 goals and 35 points in 73 games. He even appeared in one game for the Rangers in which he didn't register any points.
All things considered, Thomas had a solid first pro campaign. There are many promising young players with a ton of talent but unfortunately don’t have the physical makeup to succeed at the NHL level. That being said, Thomas did well for a 21-year-old playing against men. It looks like he could be a project for the Rangers, but they’re a team short on top-end offensive talent in terms of prospects, so Thomas is one the Rangers should be patient with.
A fourth-round selection, Andrew Yogan appeared to be a solid later-round choice by the Rangers. Fresh off a 25-goal, 55-point performance in 2009-10, it was clear the Rangers were impressed.
A centerman with a wide frame, Yogan was successful in the faceoff circle and also provided generous portions of grit and skill. He went on to prove his worth in 2011-12 when he scored 41 goals and 78 points in 66 games for the Peterborough Petes of the OHL.
But 2012-13 wasn't as kind to Yogan. He split time between the AHL and East Coast Hockey League and finished with 19 points in 43 games in the A and nine points in 15 games for Greenville of the ECHL.
The single fact that the organization believed Yogan needed time in the East Coast Hockey League is troubling. Sure, there have been success stories of players who've turned their careers around after stints in the ECHL, but it doesn't happen often.
Clearly, the team is not as high on the 21-year-old as they were when he scored 41 goals in the OHL a year ago. But, seeing as the team isn't exceedingly deep at the center-ice position, it’s possible they’re patient with Yogan and give him a chance to grow.
If he’s to do that, he’s going to have to work on his skating. It’s the most troubling part of his game and something he must attend to if he’s to be a full-time NHLer.
Jason Wilson, one of the organization’s lesser-known prospects, was touted as a speedy and responsible player who could play all three zones. In his draft year, he scored 17 goals and 35 points with 101 penalty minutes in 46 games for the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL.
On paper, he seemed like a player who would have fit well in a John Tortorella-type system. That could be why he was selected by the Rangers in the fifth round after only appearing in 46 games in 2009-10, but the truth is that he isn't a viable NHL option at this point in his career.
After being returned to juniors for an over-age season in 2010-11, Wilson never put it all together. He scored 43 points in 64 games in that season and even had fewer penalty minutes. After the season ended, Wilson was signed by the Rangers but played in no games in the AHL. In 56 ECHL games, Wilson only produced 14 points and 102 PIMs.
The 2012-13 season was none more impressive. He did spend time in the AHL, but he only appeared in 17 games and scored just once. Wilson also played 23 games for Greenville in the ECHL and scored once and added just four helpers. He did mange 75 PIMs in those 23 games, though.
At this point, it doesn't look promising for Wilson. His game is clearly not a sustainable brand in the NHL, and the fact that this team now answers to Alain Vigneault, who will introduce a more skill-based game, means that any faint chance Wilson had to make the Rangers is now history.
Jesper Fast could be the Rangers' latest diamond in the rough. The 21-year-old Swede may not be big—5’11”, 165 lbs—but he’s very talented and has an advantage over many of the other prospects in the Rangers system: He’s played professionally for four years now.
As a member of HV71 Jonkoping of the Swedish Elite League, Fast gathered a vast amount of experience playing with men at a top level. His best performance was in 2012-13, when he scored 18 goals and 35 points in 47 games. After his team was bounced in five games in the playoffs, Fast signed an entry-level contract with the Rangers. He reported to New York and practiced with the Blueshirts before being sent to Connecticut of the AHL. There he played in one game and scored one goal before being injured for the rest of the season.
Anders Hedberg, the Rangers’ head European scout, has been a big fan of Fast since he was selected in 2010. Late in 2012, he even stated that Fast would indeed be an NHL player at some point. And judging by Fast’s progression, Hedberg’s statement does seem accurate.
His strong skating ability and overall hockey sense makes him a typical Swedish forward. To top it off, he’s proven he can score, too. I think he will have to fill out a bit, but if Fast can adjust to the NHL game and continue his progression as a hockey player, there’s no doubt he’s a Ranger sooner rather than later. As a matter of fact, I believe he’s the most likely of the players on this list to appear for the Rangers next season.
Randy McNaught, a seventh-round selection for the Rangers, was never intended to be more than an enforcer. At 6’5” and 221 pounds, McNaught had great size, but that’s all he had going for him.
He never scored more than six points in any of his five seasons in juniors. Furthermore, he only appeared in five games for teams affiliated with the Rangers: one in the AHL in 2011-12, and four in the ECHL in the same season.
He eventually declined to sign a deal in the AHL and decided to go to college instead. McNaught does not play hockey professionally anymore.