The 3 New York Rangers with the Brightest Future

Andrew Capitelli@@acapitelliContributor IApril 11, 2014

The 3 New York Rangers with the Brightest Future

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    Frank Franklin II

    Despite being in win-now mode, the New York Rangers have a lot to look forward to in the coming years.

    They have sacrificed several young, promising homegrown players over the past two years, but one could argue the most promising talent is still in place.

    Today we’ll highlight the three Rangers with the brightest future, and the list will be limited to players who are on the main roster as of April 10.

    Read on to see who made the cut.

Mats Zuccarello

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    Frank Franklin II

    It’s been nothing but tough for Mats Zuccarello since arriving in New York nearly four years ago. At the time, the Oslo, Norway native was coming off his best season as a pro, scoring 64 points in 55 games for Modo Hockey of the Swedish Elitserien. He was even named the 2009-10 league MVP.

    At 23 years old, he was a hot commodity, with several NHL teams in the hunt to sign him. The Rangers were lucky enough to procure his signature, but then-coach John Tortorella struggled to find Zuccarello a place in the lineup. He spent the majority of his first two seasons under contract in Connecticut with the Rangers’ AHL affiliate.

    Zuccarello decided to head back to Europe, this time in the KHL, for the 2012-13 season, but he returned to the Rangers at the conclusion of the season. After scoring eight points in 15 regular-season games, he apparently did enough to warrant a new contract with the Rangers, and we all know how well that turned out for all parties concerned.

    Before play Thursday night, Zuccarello led the Rangers in scoring with 58 points in 75 games. Tuesday night he was awarded the illustrious Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, which is given to the Rangers player who “goes above and beyond the call of duty.”

    Simply put, he’s been arguably the Rangers' best player, along with Ryan McDonagh and Henrik Lundqvist. And at 26 years old, he can only get better.

    Zuccarello possesses a wealth of creativity, excellent passing ability and—despite his 5’7” frame—great puck-possession skills. Furthermore, he’s shown this season—and this is probably why he’s become such a fan favorite—that he can play with a ton of heart and isn’t afraid to back down to anyone.

    The only thing that could stop him from progressing is double coverage, and if he keeps up his impressive play, he’s going to start to see more of it. The Rangers need to make it priority No. 1 to re-sign the winger this upcoming summer.

Chris Kreider

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    Seth Wenig

    The Rangers drafted Chris Kreider with the 19th overall selection in the 2009 NHL draft, and at the time, most fans didn't know a thing about the forward, except for the fact that he was big.

    Big is good, but when you pair big with fast and talented, you’ve got a blue-chip NHL prospect.

    And that’s what Kreider was tabbed as. After being drafted out of high school, the Boxford, Mass. native suited up for Boston College, where he would go on to play three seasons and win two national championships.

    His best season was his last in 2011-12, when he scored 45 points in 44 games as a junior. Kreider elected to leave BC practically right after it won the national championship and sign with the Rangers. He was thrown into NHL playoff hockey with no regular-season experience but impressed nearly everyone.

    He scored five goals and seven points in 18 games during the Rangers’ run to the Eastern Conference Final and scored some big goals in the process. Expectations were high for his first full season with the Rangers in 2012-13, but it was cut short thanks to the lockout.

    He spent the strike with the Connecticut Whale of the AHL and performed poorly before getting a shot with the Rangers once the NHL rebooted. John Tortorella felt he couldn’t trust the 21-year-old, and as a result, Kreider spent much of the season back in the AHL.

    It was tough to gauge him entering the 2013-14 season, but after he was assigned to Hartford during training camp, Alain Vigneault recalled the winger during the Rangers’ miserable start to the season, and Kreider hasn’t looked back.

    Jelling with Rick Nash and Derek Stepan, Kreider established himself as one of the premier young players in the league. His size and speed proved too difficult for some defensemen to handle, and in addition he added another element to his game: grit. You can never go wrong with making yourself harder to play against, and in that respect Kreider has progressed.

    He’s also a much more confident player. With the raw skill and frame he’s working with (6’3”, 226 pounds), there’s literally no ceiling on his potential. He just needs to work on his focus and further progress as an offensive force.

Ryan McDonagh

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    Nick Wass

    By my estimate, Ryan McDonagh has easily been the best Ranger this season. If he’s not in the Norris Trophy conversation, it’ll be a travesty.

    Unlike the other two players on this list, he has impressed from Day 1. He was brought over from the Montreal Canadiens in June of 2009 in the Scott Gomez deal and very quickly became the Rangers’ top prospect.

    He too left college as a junior to sign with the Rangers but began his professional career in the AHL. In 2010-11 he skated in 38 games for Connecticut before being called up to finish the season with the Rangers, and he did nothing but impress.

    Through 40 games, he scored nine points, but it wasn’t offense that defined him. His skating ability was top-class, just like his defensive positioning, stick-checking ability and determination.

    In 2011-12 he was forced onto the Rangers’ top pairing, with defenseman Marc Staal set to miss a bulk of the season with post-concussion syndrome. McDonagh seized the opportunity and proved that, although he was without a wealth of NHL experience, he was ready to be a top-pairing defenseman. He and Dan Girardi acted as the anchors of the defense, and—along with Henrik Lundqvist—they carried the Rangers deep into the playoffs.

    2012-13 was also impressive for McDonagh, but it wasn’t until 2013-14 that the St. Paul, Minn. native forced himself into the elite-defenseman conversation.

    It was always believed that he owned untapped offensive potential, but under John Tortorella it was never realized. With the introduction of a more offensive head coach in Alain Vigneault, there was hope McDonagh could transform into a two-way defenseman.

    His 43 points in 77 games are good enough for 16th in the NHL amongst defensemen, while his 14 goals are more than he’s scored in all three of his previous seasons combined and rank seventh amongst defensemen league-wide.

    He now anchors the power play, and his defense is as good as and maybe better than it was in the past. He’s become one of the most complete defensemen in the league, and in a perfect world he would be considered for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.

    Except the Norris is one of those trophies where a pedigree is required, and McDonagh lacks one currently. But he’s the complete package, and if he is not considered this season, he most certainly will be in the mix in the future.