As many of you know, for the last 12 seasons, I have covered the Rangers prospects. Whether it has been prospects in the AHL, CHL, NCAA or at tournaments, I have traveled far and wide and given fans my evaluations, as well as reported on what I have been hearing from my contacts.
And twice a year, I have created a Top 20 prospects ranking list. Frankly, I have never been happy with the twice a year schedule (late August and late February), in that the fall list was due before the Traverse City Rookie Tournament in September, with no chance to adjust my rankings until six months after the tournament and training camp.
Well, I am under no such restriction at NY Sportsday, and have decided that it will be much more accurate if the rankings list came out three times each season. The first will come out at the end of the summer (ie, now). This list reflects the spring entry draft and how prospects performed at development camp. Then, an updated list will appear in mid November (to make adjustments for tournaments, training camp performances and quick starts). The final list of the season will appear at the end of February, and will take into consideration performances at the world juniors and most of the season.
So, without further ado, here are my top 20 rankings of Rangers’ prospects, under the age of 25 with 25 or fewer games in the NHL.
- Pavel Buchnevich, LW
- Jimmy Vesey, LW
- Ryan Graves, D
- Brady Skjei, D
- Igor Shestyorkin, G
- Robin Kovacs, RW
- Brandon Halverson, G
- Ryan Gropp, LW
- Adam Tambellini, C
- Sean Day, D
- Tarmo Reunanen, D
- Sergei Zborovskiy, D
- Malte Stromwall, LW
- Nicklas Jensen, LW
- Boo Nieves, C
- Mackenzie Skapski, G
- Gabriel Fontaine, C
- Steven Fogarty, C
- Calle Andersson, D
- Ty Ronning, RW
Of course, explanations are in order. Starting with the top.
Vesey and Buchnevich and even Skjei have been bandied about by fans as the team’s best prospect. But, at this very moment in time, that accolade has to go to Buchnevich. He is a pure sniper, who has the potential to be a game breaker. At just 21, he has shown in the KHL, where he played against men, that he is a differencemaker on the ice. Vesey, who may also have this potential, has not shown it against men, yet. Yes, Vesey won the Hobey Baker Award, but that is far from a guarantee of success in the NHL. So for now, Vesey sits in the second spot.
And from here, it gets interesting. I have Graves ranked above Skjei, which is likely to rankle almost everyone. But, give me a chance to explain and give him a chance to show you what he has already shown the coaching staff and the scouts. Graves is an outstanding defenseman. Last year, he was adjusting to the pro game and you would be hard pressed to find any of the Rangers’ coaches or player personnel staff who is not gushing over him. At this point a more defensive defenseman, Graves is learning both sides of the game. But he is a quick study and is expected to be a call up this year. Skjei is also an excellent talent, who is more NHL-ready and has an outstanding shot, but long-term, Graves has a higher upside.
Shestyorkin and Kovacs are both Europeans, who show great potential. Some call Shestyorkin the heir apparent to Henrik Lundqvist, but it seems too soon to make that pronouncement. Especially since there are other goalies in the system (especially Halverson), who may yet take that title. Shestyorkin has previously mostly played in a lower Russian league, so this year will be critical to seeing what track he is on. Kovacs, who looked absolutely terrific in Development Camp, will likely play in Hartford to start the season. As the main training camp is very different from playing against prospects, Kovacs is not expected to shine as much, but if, by chance, he does, it will make it very interesting when the last cuts are made.
Stromwall was a teammate of Kovacs in the Allsvenskan last season. Like Kovacs he stood out very positively at Development Camp, but it is not yet clear how he will do when on a line with North American professionals. Stromwall has played before in the United States (with Tri-City in the WHL), so his adjustment may be easier than Kovacs, and he looked bigger than his 5’11’ size at Development Camp. But why Stromwall is so high on this list is that he showed excellent vision and hockey sense when he played in July. He is definitely one of those players whose ranking was very influenced by his performance at Development Camp.
Then, there are the college guys, Nieves and Fogarty, who will begin their first full professional seasons in Hartford. Fogarty is predicted to be more of a two-way player, with Nieves having more offensive upside. Boo showed some offensive pop for the Wolf Pack last March, but we will have to see what he can produce consistently over the long professional season.
Further down the list are the veteran prospects, including Jensen, Skapski and Andersson. Each has had some time to prove that they are a top prospect and failed to do so (for Skapski, this is due in part ot injury). But that does not mean that they may not find their place in the organization. For all three, this will be a critical year in their hockey careers.
Lastly, you may be wondering why “little” Ty Ronning is on the list, when some others were left off. It is simply because I loved his jam and his willingness to go into traffic at Development Camp. I know the seventh round pick is a longshot to make the NHL, but it won’t be for lack of effort on every shift. My list, my number 20.