The New York Rangers Prospect with the Most Upside at Every Position
Although depleted due to the graduation of several high-profile young players to the big club over the past five seasons or so, the New York Rangers still have a somewhat solid group of prospects within their system.
During the Gordie Clark era, the organization has done well to select strong players without choosing high in the draft. For example, Chris Kreider was selected 19th overall in 2009, Derek Stepan went 51st overall in 2008, and Carl Hagelin was the 168th selection of the 2007 draft.
Last summer, the Rangers were without a selection in the first two rounds, but selected three promising forwards in the third round—Anthony Duclair, Pavel Buchnevich and Adam Tambellini. The organization is confident all three can follow in the footsteps of the numerous second- and third-rounders the team has utilized since the 2004-05 lockout.
As is the case with any club’s prospect pool, some players have more upside than others. In the modern game, a team’s success depends greatly on whether or not their young players with high potential manifest into solid NHL stars.
In the Rangers’ system, there are a select few who have the potential to become high-profile players in the big league.
We’ll take a look at the prospect who has the most upside at each position in the Rangers system.
Center: Oscar Lindberg
The current leading scorer for the Rangers’ AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, with 37 points in 59 games, Oscar Lindberg has proven that his game carried over well from the Swedish Elite League to North America.
Lindberg is a solid two-way centerman who works hard in all three zones and possesses strong playmaking abilities. At 22 years old, the 57th overall selection in the 2010 entry draft (by Phoenix) boasts a wealth of professional experience, having played four full seasons in the Elitserien. His best season came in 2012-13 when he scored 42 points in 55 games. His 12 points in 13 playoff games earned him playoff MVP despite his Skelleftea AIK side’s loss in the finals.
Sooner or later, Lindberg will get a shot in the NHL, especially if center Brad Richards is bought out this summer. If general manager Glen Sather chooses to not replace the veteran through free agency, look for Lindberg to slide in as the Rangers’ third-line center.
Left Wing: Anthony Duclair
Arguably the Blueshirts’ hottest prospect, Anthony Duclair would have been selected earlier than the third round in last season’s draft had he not been injured during the 2013-12 season.
But his performance in 2013-14 has led the organization to believe they may have nabbed the steal of the draft.
After putting up 66 points in 2011-12 and 50 points in 2012-13 for the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL, Duclair has become one of the most dangerous players in junior hockey, scoring 99 points through 59 games so far this season, which is good enough for fourth as of Thursday afternoon. His 50 goals are second only to Detroit’s Anthony Mantha.
Duclair’s game is that of a speedy sniper with immense talent. At 5’11”, 177 pounds, the winger could benefit from bulking up if he’s to become a successful pro.
On January 2, 2014, the Rangers rewarded Duclair for his impressive season with an entry-level contract, which means at the end of his QMJHL season, the 18-year-old could join either the Rangers or Wolf Pack for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs.
Right Wing: Danny Kristo
A four-year man at the University of North Dakota and originally a 2008 selection of the Montreal Canadiens, Danny Kristo was traded to the Rangers last summer in exchange for Christian Thomas.
After scoring 52 points in 40 games (second in the nation) for North Dakota in 2012-13, Kristo joined Montreal’s AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs. After recording just three assists in nine games with the club, it became evident the organization was not impressed, and just a few short months later, he was unloaded for what was believed to be a lesser prospect in Thomas.
Kristo got a good looking-at by new head coach Alain Vigneault in training camp but was ultimately assigned to Hartford. Through 48 games this season, the winger has registered 18 goals and 33 points.
Although he’s been somewhat disappointing in 2013-14, Kristo is still the Rangers' most talented prospect on the right wing. He has great speed and a quick release, but his work ethic has been questioned on several occasions.
Defense: Brady Skjei
Chosen 28th overall in 2012, Brady Skjei is the Rangers' last first-round selection.
Selected out of the U.S. Development Program, Skjei has spent the last two seasons with the University of Minnesota of the NCAA. In 2012-13, he posted three points in 36 games, and this season, he’s scored eight points in 33 games.
Skjei represented the United States at the U-18 World Championship and recorded one point in six games en route to winning the gold medal, and he most recently skated for his country in 2014 at the World Junior Championship, scoring just one point in five games despite a very strong defensive showing.
Skjei, like numerous Rangers defensemen, is defense-first and an outstanding skater. He’s been compared to Ryan McDonagh but is probably further behind in terms of offensive talent.
Seeing as he is the best skating prospect with the strongest defensive ability, he easily has the highest upside of all of the Rangers’ defensive prospects.
Goalie: Mackenzie Skapski
The Rangers have a serious lack of quality goaltending prospects, especially now that Cam Talbot is with the big club. Although he was hardly considered a prospect at 26 years old, he was still insurance in the pipeline.
Mackenzie Skapski, the team’s sixth-round selection in 2013, has the greatest upside of the remaining keepers. Other than the fact that he is the youngest (19), Skapski has proven he can handle a heavy workload, considering he’s played in 116 games over the past two seasons for the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League.
In 2012-13, Skapski went 34-25-1 with a 2.78 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage on a team that went 35-35-2 during the regular season.
This season the Abbotsford, B.C., native has gone 28-19-3 with a 2.61 GAA and a .919 SV%.
As is usually the case with goaltenders, it should be a long while before we see Skapski be even considered for an NHL job. Unfortunately for him, Henrik Lundqvist is signed long-term, and Talbot has proven himself more than worthy of an NHL backup position.