In the last couple of seasons, the New York Rangers have been seeing a rise in homegrown prospects. With a core already constructed of a few key, homegrown players, the Rangers are thrilled at the future, as they continue to produce quality players through their pipeline.
Last season, Rangers fans witnessed the emergence of defenseman Michael Del Zotto, as well as forward Artem Anisimov. This year, another defenseman, in Michael Sauer, and another center, Derek Stepan, have not only cracked the lineup, but have contributed significantly, stepping up while the rest of the team has battled injuries all season.
But even with those four young guns, and the impact that other Ranger draft picks, like Henrik Lundqvist, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, and Marc Staal, Rangers GM Glen Sather, and the rest of his staff, still have a lot to look forward to.
With a strong pool of prospects, all patiently awaiting their turn at the big show, the Rangers expect themselves to be contenders in the next few seasons.
1. Chris Kreider, Forward
Acquired: First round pick, 19th overall 2009 NHL Draft
The Boston College star has made a strong impact on the college hockey scene in his two years so far. The Rangers were pleasantly surprised to see him still available when it was their turn to pick at 19th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Kreider was named captain of team USA at the World Junior Championship, a role formerly held by Rangers rookie Derek Stepan, and helped lead them to a bronze medal. Although team USA failed to defend its gold medal, Kreider stepped up big in the bronze medal game, notching two goals against Sweden.
Like Stepan, Kreider hopes to use the World Juniors as a springboard for future success. He was able to average a point per game in both appearances in the tournament, and took home two medals to boot. He was also chosen to represent the USA at the world championships, notching a goal, and an assist for two points, and a +3 rating.
All of this while playing with and against NHL players. He’s already won a national championship at BC, and was named his conference rookie of the year. No doubt, Chris Kreider is already one of the elite amateur hockey players in the league, and he will soon be taking his talents to Broadway.
2. Mats Zuccarello Assen, Forward
Acquired: Signed free agent 2010
The skillful little forward was MVP of the Swedish Elite League last season, and represented his native Norway in the Olympics. No doubt he has talent. But many doubted him, because of his size.
Nobody thought this little guy, who is not the quickest skater ever, would ever have success at the elite level of the NHL. But Assen has already started to hush the doubters. After a strong training camp, the Rangers organization thought it best to let him play in the AHL first. While there were some growing pains, Assen quickly turned it around, and earned a call up to the big club.
In just seven NHL games, he has already started to earn the cheers of the Garden Faithful. When his name is called on “garden vision,” the crowd always reacts with a “ZUUUUUUC!” He notched his first NHL goal in an OT game winner, and has already scored two shootout goals on top of that. Coach John Tortorella hopes he can turn into another small, skilled forward that he coached in Tampa Bay, Martin St. Louis.
3. Ryan McDonagh, Defenseman
Acquired: Trade with Montreal
The former Wisconsin Badger had a rough start to his first pro season, in the AHL, but was able to turn it around, stepping up his defensive play. The Rangers organization liked what they saw from him in the last couple of months, and he’s earned a call up to the big club. He’s gotten into a couple of games, with the injury to Michal Rozsival.
At 6’1", 220, McDonagh’s big frame makes him a tough guy for forwards to get around. He also doesn’t let his size slow him down. In fact, his speed and skating ability is one of his strong points. Look for Mcdonagh to be a solid defensive defenseman for now, and with time, the offense will come.
If it does not, he still has a bright future as a shutdown defenseman ahead of him. The former first round pick of the Montreal Canadiens was the key component in the Scott Gomez deal, which is already looking like a steal for the Rangers.
4. Evgeny Grachev, Forward
Acquired: Third round pick, 75th overall 2008 draft
This talented Russian impressed the Rangers, when after being drafted in the third round in 2008, he decided to make the jump across the pond and play in the OHL, where he went on to earn the OHL’s rookie of the year honors. After just one year of juniors though, it was time to go pro.
It’s his second year in the AHL now, and the Rangers envision him following a similar development path as fellow Russian Artem Anisimov, who also spent two years in the AHL as he adjusted to the North American style.
Grachev has the talent to be in the NHL, he just needs to find more consistency. And while the stereotype of Russian players is that they will bolt back to mother Russia the first chance they get, Grachev wants to play in the NHL, and soon enough, he’ll get his chance. He showed in a call-up this season that he’s not ready yet, but he’s not far off either.
5. Dylan McIlrath, Defenseman
Acquired: First round pick, 10th overall 2010 draft
The hard hitting defenseman is a beast in the OHL. While many Rangers fans knocked this pick, with defenseman Cam Fowler still on the board (Fowler eventually landed with Anaheim, where he has already seen NHL time) nobody can doubt that McIlrath brings a unique element to the table.
Not only does he have loads of talent as a shutdown defenseman, but he’s also got the potential to be a true enforcer. McIlrath, who has surely earned his nickname “The Undertaker,” led the OHL in fights by a longshot in his draft year, and hasn’t slowed down in the least.
With their depth on defense, the Rangers are in no rush to get him to the NHL, and will give him all the time in the world to develop, so don’t expect him to be in Ranger blue any time soon, but when he does get here, he will be a force to be reckoned with. He’s shown a little bit of offensive ability in the OHL, mostly tallying assists. Nobody expects it to completely translate at the pro level, but it’s not out of the question either.
6. Roman Horak, Forward
Acquired: Fifth round, pick 127 overall 2009 draft
Horak was one of four Rangers prospects represented in the WJC this winter, representing his native Czech republic. The former fifth round pick has flown under the radar among Rangers fans, but the young gun has been lighting up the WHL, rolling on more than a point per game clip.
His game still has some holes, but the raw talent is there to make a talented NHLer. If he can learn the defensive game, and be a better player without the puck, he may turn out to be a great steal for the Rangers in the 5th round.
7. Ryan Bourque, Forward
Acquired: Third round, 80th overall 2009 draft
The son of Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque, this Bourque will probably not live up to his father’s name, but he is a strong prospect. Serving as the alternate captain for team USA in the WJC, Bourque tallied 3 assists en route to a bronze medal.
The forward, though small in stature, has managed to make quite a junior career for himself playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, scoring at a point per game clip his rookie year. He followed that season up with strong playoffs.
This season, his last year of junior eligibility, he has been on a tear. He is a fast paced, high energy player that could surely fill a spot in the Rangers' bottom six forwards in the next few years. In the meantime, expect him to see at least a year in the AHL when this season is over.
8. Jesper Fasth, Forward
Acquired: Sixth round, 157th overall 2010 draft
It’s not often a player can be picked that late, and rise up their team’s prospect depth so quick, but Jesper Fasth done exactly that. At just 19 years old, Fasth has already been playing pro in Sweden, in the Swedish Elite League.
While most other prospects are playing against guys their own age, he’s a boy playing against men. While he has not exactly been tearing up the SEL, he has not been embarrassing himself either. It was at the WJC that he really opened some eyes.
Although team Sweden lost in the bronze medal game, Fasth still had a great tournament, notching 4 goals, 2 assists and a +4 rating in six games. I rank him eighth, only because of the strength in the Rangers system ahead of him. In the sixth round, he is already an absolute steal for the Rangers.
9. Christian Thomas, Forward
Acquired: Second round, 40th overall 2010 draft
Christian Thomas, although only 18, is already in his third junior season. Playing in the OHL, Thomas has managed to put up a lot of offense for the Oshawa Generals. He still needs to grow physically though, at 5’9" 165lbs, he would be eaten alive on an NHL rink. He’s got speed and a lot of skill, but his size may hurt him. He may have the speed and skill though, to overcome it.
10. Scott Stajcer, Goaltender
Acquired: Fifth round, 149th overall 2009 draft
While the goalie may not be the Rangers’ strongest need, it’s always good to have a solid goalie prospect in the system. And they have that in Scott Stajcer. A brief look at his stats might turn a lot of people off, but you must also factor in the quality of the team he played for.
The Owen Sound Attack of the OHL had a terrible defense in front of him, not allowing him the chance to put up solid numbers. His 3.57 GAA in his draft years begs the question of why the Rangers even used a pick on him at all. But in a pivotal year in his career, Stajcer has improved a lot, and it is finally starting to show on the stat sheet.
Look for Stajcer to work his way up through the ECHL, to the AHL and finally, backing up Henrik Lundqvist in four or so years.
The Rangers have no doubt had a history of some major draft flops. It almost seems as if their strategy at the draft included drawing names out of a hat.
From the embarrassment of having two picks in the top 10, Pavel Brendl and Jamie Lundmark, that never panned out in 1999, to the only first rounder in 2003 to not make the NHL in Hugh Jessiman, and picking Al Montoya sixth overall in 2004, the Rangers have shot themselves in the foot time and time again come draft time.
But for the first time in a long time, Ranger fans have something to be optimistic about. The image of a team full of overpaid free agent mercenaries has slowly vanished, replaced by an image of a team built the right way.
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