5 New York Rangers Prospects Set to Challenge for a Roster Spot in 2014
After a magical ride that saw the New York Rangers make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, general manager Glen Sather was handed a tough task: keeping the Eastern Conference champions intact.
Although that was never going to happen. When a team makes a run to the Final, everyone is watching. And when everyone is watching, pending UFAs get overpaid.
Anton Stralman, Benoit Pouliot and Brian Boyle are prime examples. All three had strong playoff campaigns, all were impending free agents and now all are overpaid and on other teams.
Sather simply didn’t have the cap space to offer the trio the money they could get on the open market. And even if he did, I would like to think he wouldn’t have given it to them.
With a plethora of RFAs to sign, Sather will need to look to the farm to fill the holes the three—along with buyout Brad Richards—have left behind.
Fortunately, the organization has players ready to make the jump. They may not necessarily replicate their predecessors success, but they’ll have the opportunity to do so.
In that vein, here are the five most likely candidates to make the Rangers' opening night roster come fall.
Note: J.T. Miller is not included on this list, as he will most likely be a roster player. Brady Skjei is also not included, as he may return to the University of Minnesota.
The Rangers, without a first-round selection, had three third-round picks at the 2013 NHL entry draft. And with the picks they chose three promising forwards. One of them was Anthony Duclair of the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts.
As a 16-year-old, Duclair scored 66 points in 63 games for the Remparts in 2011-12, but in his draft year the left winger battled injury and some inconsistency and managed only 20 goals and 50 points in 55 games, leading to his dropping in the draft.
The Rangers were lucky to grab such a skilled player in the third round, and Duclair rewarded the organization by scoring 50 goals and accumulating 99 points in 59 games in 2013-14.
The Rangers, thoroughly impressed, handed Duclair an entry-level deal back on Jan. 2 in hopes that he would be able to build on his junior success by turning pro in the coming season.
Unfortunately, Duclair suffered a concussion with fewer than 10 games remaining in the regular season and his team was eliminated in the first round. The silver lining ended up being his QMJHL MVP nomination.
Now in Rangers prospect development camp, Duclair is healthy. And if he remains that way through training camp he could be a dark horse to make the Rangers’ roster in the fall. Even assistant general manager Jeff Gorton believes so.
If he isn’t ready, he must return to juniors. As a player younger than 20, who was selected out of the CHL, Duclair is currently ineligible to play in the AHL.
The Rangers could really use Duclair’s all-world speed and electrifying skill, but at 5’11”, 176 pounds, he could definitely use some bulking up. If he returns to Quebec, he would have a strong chance of playing for Canada at the World Junior Championship, plus his Remparts are hosting the Memorial Cup and Duclair would have an opportunity to play at the CHL’s highest level.
Dylan McIlrath’s progression as a prospect has been viewed under a microscope since the moment he was selected 10th overall in the 2010 NHL entry draft.
At No. 10, the Rangers could have selected Cam Fowler, Vladimir Tarasenko or even Nick Bjugstad, but instead they decided to address an organizational need: toughness on defense.
In McIlrath’s defense, he was considered a strong prospect, but Tarasenko had all-world skill and Fowler was an anticipated top-five selection.
Nevertheless, the Rangers really liked what the Winnipeg, Manitoba, native could bring to the table. He’s rather large—6’5”, 230 pounds—and is downright nasty. In his last two junior seasons, the defenseman collected a combined 280 penalty minutes in 114 games. He also battled injury in his final season (2011-12).
Before going pro in the 2012-13 season, McIlrath had surgery on his right knee and missed half of his inaugural AHL campaign. After returning, it took him a while to get back into the swing of things, but he was tipped to challenge for a spot heading into 2013-14.
As we know, that didn’t work out. As a matter of fact, McIlrath played poorly during preseason. He was assigned to Hartford but later recalled in December with injuries mounting.
He featured in two games with the Rangers, scoring zero points but collecting seven penalty minutes. He challenged veteran tough guy Brian McGrattan to a fight and held his own.
But that would be the only holding of his own the then-21-year-old would do. He was shaky at best and obviously not ready to make an impact. McIlrath was returned to Hartford and injured shortly after.
Now 22, McIlrath is walking the line between bust and roster player. With Anton Stralman’s departure, it appeared McIlrath would get his opportunity, but in his place the Rangers signed veteran Dan Boyle.
That being said, McIlrath will still compete for a roster spot, and you can guarantee that the organization and its fans are pulling for him. He’s a really good kid who wants to make an impact, and we all know the Rangers have failed to employ a competent, bruising defenseman since the departure of Jeff Beukeboom.
Undrafted defenseman Conor Allen played three seasons for UMass-Amherst from 2010-13 after spending the 2009-10 season with the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL.
The Chicago native’s strong and steady defensive play in Hockey East must have made a strong impression on the Rangers, who signed Allen at the completion of his junior season in 2012-13. He had had his best offensive campaign that year, scoring five goals and 19 points in 33 games while proving to be an invaluable defensive stalwart.
He was a virtual unknown to Rangers fans heading into 2013-14 training camp, but incoming coach Alain Vigneault was impressed by the rookie. Allen would eventually become the last cut on defense following the Rangers’ preseason. The only reason Justin Falk was selected by Vigneault over the impressive Allen was because he would have preferred the then-23-year-old got regular playing time in his first season as a pro.
Allen was assigned to Hartford, where he would continue his natural progression. He continued to play sound defense, and it came somewhat easy to him, being a strong skater and a smart player.
He scored 31 points in 72 games for Hartford and will undoubtedly be in consideration for a roster spot come September. The only issue is that Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and John Moore are all proven NHL talents who, like Allen, shoot left. Vigneault is a stickler when it comes to keeping defensemen on their strong sides.
Unless there is a trade or an injury, it will be tough for Allen to nab a roster spot. But it certainly won’t be for a lack of talent. Allen, now 24, is ready. We’ll just have to wait and see what training camp brings.
A possible late-round gem, Jesper Fast was selected in the sixth round (157th overall) in the 2010 NHL entry draft.
A member of HV71’s U-20 team in 2009-10, Fast finished second on the team in points with 49 and appeared in two matches with the senior squad, which plays in the Elitserien—Sweden’s top hockey league.
Fast proved in 2010-11 that he could be a useful pro, scoring 16 points in 36 games as an 18-year-old. The following season he showed even more promise, scoring 16 points in 21 games before his season ended early due to injury.
After signing a contract with the Rangers after the 2011-12 season, Fast went on to have his best season in his native Sweden in 2012-13. In 47 games, the right winger scored 18 goals and 35 points and earned a plus-13 rating.
At the conclusion of the SEL season, Fast joined the Rangers briefly before being assigned to Hartford, for whom he would score one goal in one game before being injured.
After an impressive showing in training camp last fall, Fast made the Rangers' opening night roster and played in the first game of the season. After being scratched for the next two, Fast returned in the fourth, and eventually played eight in total before being reassigned to Hartford in late October.
He’d return in April for a three-game stint and remain with the Rangers throughout the playoffs, seeing three games of action—two against the Flyers in Round 1 and one against the Penguins in Round 2.
During the regular season, Fast didn’t register a single point in 11 games. In the three playoff games he registered just one assist.
But all in all—and maybe it’s my own opinion—Fast, now 22, was always impressive. Very smooth and almost tricky, he was always in good position and defended really well in the neutral zone. He’s certainly not big (6’0”, 185 pounds, which is a bit generous if you ask me) but he’s very smart and can skate well.
He’s never going to be a point machine, but with time he will be a serviceable third-liner with second-line potential. With the loss of four forwards this offseason, Fast will get a solid look again and could definitely make the senior squad.
Originally a second-round choice of the Phoenix Coyotes in 2010, Oscar Lindberg was acquired by the Rangers in 2011 for prospect Ethan Werek.
The deal has since been considered a victory for the Rangers, as Werek has struggled in the AHL since the trade while Lindberg has impressed.
In the season immediately following the trade, Lindberg was disappointing in the Swedish Elitserien, scoring just 12 points in 51 games. But the following season—2012-13—Lindberg took his game to the next level.
After scoring 17 goals and 42 points in 55 regular-season games, Lindberg scored 12 points in 13 playoff games, carrying his Skelleftea AIK side to the finals, where his team would lose despite Lindberg being named playoff MVP.
Lindberg attended Rangers camp last fall and played well, but the Rangers simply had too many centers for Lindberg to be a viable option to make the team. He was assigned to Hartford, where, after starting slowly, he scored 44 points in 75 games, which was second best on the team.
He appeared in zero games for the Rangers, but now with the departure of Brad Richards and Brian Boyle, the organization will look to the system to promote a center.
If he is good enough he makes the team. Simple as that. His two-way game is his best attribute and he has some offensive flare; sounds ideal for a third-line center.
His biggest competition will be J.T. Miller, who I believe is better suited as a winger. Regardless, of the players on this list, Lindberg has the best shot of making the team, simply because its makeup favors him right now.