The New York Rangers may be surging in the Big Apple, but there are plenty of top prospects in their system who are itching for the chance the join the big club.
While not overly deep, the Rangers have a pretty decent prospect crop, a number of whom look to be solid NHLers for some time.
We'll take our focus down into minor league and collegiate hockey, giving you a stock watch for the Rangers' top prospects.
Dylan McIlrath suffered a knee injury a few days before Christmas. He recently started skating again, according to Larry Brooks of the New York Post.
Before the injury, McIlrath had posted three goals and four assists in 26 games, while racking up an astonishing 119 penalty minutes and posting a minus-three.
In my view, McIlrath tops out a fourth or fifth defenseman, a guy who can clear the crease and knock some heads. There's nothing wrong with that. Every team needs that. It just has to annoy Rangers fans that they could have selected Cam Fowler, who was chosen by the Anaheim Ducks two picks after McIlrath in the 2010 draft.
McIlrath does have a chance to make the NHL next year. On the call-up list, he's behind Conor Allen. But with Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman slated to be unrestricted free agents in the offseason, and with John Moore, Justin Falk and Michael Del Zotto slated to be restricted free agents in the offseason, there's a good chance that McIlrath will lock down a spot next year.
This season, though, he's probably best served improving in the AHL.
Brady Skjei is coming off a turn with Team USA at the World Junior Championships, where he had one point and was plus-five in five games.
Skjei earned rave reviews for his performance in Malmo, as Alex Nunn of Blueshirt Banter wrote:
Skjei’s skating has predictably been his strength so far and his defensive game, for the most part at least, has been solid. He’s not a guy you’ll notice much in a blowout win but he’s keeping it simple out there and doing a job.
The University of Minnesota sophomore has taken on a big role for the Gophers, where he has six points in 19 games, already doubling his point total from a year ago.
Skjei is only 19, so it'll be awhile before he reaches New York. But his skill set is enticing. At 6'2", he's a big body who can really skate. He's never going to be a major point producer, but he'll be in the top four, play 20 minutes a night and be very dependable.
Be patient with Skjei. He's going to take some time, and it's possible that after he graduates he'll spend some time in the AHL. But when he's ready, the Rangers will be happy they waited.
After a torrid start that saw him on a point-per-game pace, Danny Kristo has cooled off a bit in the American League.
He now has 25 points in 34 games, a respectable number in his first full professional season.
The book on Kristo is pretty simple: he's a scorer. He's not going to be of much use on defense, as evidenced by his minus-eight mark.
So Kristo's stock is a little bit down, but not much. We know he can score. We know that he'll probably end up as a power-play specialist. But he won't check, he won't kill penalties, he won't win draws.
Unless there's a major injury, I don't think you'll see Kristo until next year. Right now, J.T. Miller is ahead of him on the organizational depth chart, so Kristo will probably finish the year in Hartford unless Miller gets hurt or the Rangers really need a shakeup.
That said, I do expect him to compete for and win a roster spot next season, perhaps replacing someone like Benoit Pouliot, who is an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.
Oscar Lindberg has had a bit of a difficult time transitioning to North America. The former Swedish Elite League star has seven goals and 11 assists this season. Last year in Sweden, Lindberg scored 17 goals and had 25 assists.
There's no room on the roster for Lindberg right now. The Rangers are already carrying five centers, with Brian Boyle playing at wing.
So it's good that Lindberg is taking his lumps now. He has the time to learn the North American game and regain his offensive prowess.
If the Rangers buy out Brad Richards this offseason, as many expect, then that could open a gaping hole that Lindberg could fill. Outside of Paul Stastny, there are really no centers on the free-agent market that are worth giving big money to.
Lindberg, on the other hand, could fill the third center role, with Derick Brassard taking the role of second pivot. The book on Lindberg is that he's a good skater who is defensively responsible and can score some goals. That's what the perfect third-liner does.
Give him a chance to develop, but look for Lindberg to play a big role on next year's team.
Conor Allen impressed observers in his three-game NHL debut. As Alain Vigneault told Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News:
I liked what I saw (Sunday) night. I think the fact that he wasn’t jittery with the puck when people were around him and the puck wasn’t bouncing. He wasn’t afraid to take the hit and sometimes make those small, little bump plays, skill plays that need to be made, so you can spend less time in your end.
Allen plays the type of smooth and steady game that will endear him to coaches. He's not going to be a shutdown guy, and he's not going to put up a bunch of points. But he will give you reliable minutes on a nightly basis.
Should someone like Michael Del Zotto get traded (for someone other than defenseman) then it's plausible that Allen could receive some of those minutes. In my opinion, he's a better, albeit less physical, option than Justin Falk.
Allen is a really intriguing prospect because he's on the cusp of being a regular NHLer. There are no opportunities on the big roster at present, but Allen could benefit should one open.