It has been awhile since we posted a Top 20 Prospects list—a year in fact. Things have changed in Rangersland, as three of the top players on the last list (Pavel Buchnevich, Jimmy Vesey, and Brady Skjei) are now regulars on the Rangers’ roster. Several of the prospects on the late 2016 list have departed from the organization, and New York had two first round selections in the 2017 draft, who are at the top of the new list. Although center Boo Nieves and winger Vinni Littieri have been threatening to become NHL regulars, no prospect has graduated to the NHL club thus far this season.
The making of this list is rather complicated. Do we put a player who is almost a sure thing but never will be more than a third line forward above a boom or bust high skill guy? What about highly talented European players who may never come over. There has to be a balance, so there never will be agreement on any list. Let’s hope that this one stirs the usual discussion and keeps all of us looking to Dallas to see what will come next for the Blueshirts. Remember, only players aged 25 and under are included on the list. Without further ado, here is the Winter 2018 list and a recap of each player.
1. Filip Chytil, C
2. Lias Andersson, C
3. Igor Shestyorkin, G
4. Sean Day, D
5. Brandon Crawley, D
6. Boo Nieves, C
7. Vinni Lettieri, RW
8. Ryan Graves, D
9. Adam Huska, G
10. Ryan Gropp, LW
11. Morgan Barron, C
12. Neal Pionk, D
13. Ty Ronning, RW
15. Tim Gettinger, LW
16. Alexande Georgiev, G
17. Adam Tambellini, C
18. Tarmo Reunanen, D
19. John Gilmour, D
20. Tyler Wall, G
Four of the players on the list were drafted this past summer, including Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson, who are the system’s top prospects. Both are centers in an organization that has been looking for a true top-line center for a decade. Chytil is more dynamic, but still very young in his development, while Andersson is a steady reliable center, who could be considered more
NHL-ready. Either or both may still be called up this season, as they are building blocks of the Rangers’ future forward prowess.
Igor Shestyorkin continues to develop in the KHL, posting shutouts and impressing everyone who sees him between the pipes. He is an elite netminder, who was recently named to the Olympics and is the heir apparent to Henrik Lundqvist. The issue here (and why he is not the top prospect in the system) is whether he will come to North America. He can make a huge amount of money in Russia and it is not clear that he will come to New York to play. All NHL entry-level contracts are two-way and have caps on them, so will Shestyorkin give up millions of dollars to play here for much less is the “million dollar” question. He is under contract with SKA St. Petersburg for two more seasons, so he will have awhile to make up his mind.
After the top three prospects, there is a drop off of talent in the system, but the next four prospects will likely have careers in the NHL. Sean Day and Brandon Crawley are both young defensemen who should move up to the Rangers’ blueline within two years. Day, who was one of only a few to be granted exceptional status to join the OHL a year early, has taken some time to develop. But he has the skills to be a second pairing defenseman. In his final junior year, Day is rounding out the defensive side of the game and will be ready for professional play next fall.
Crawley is a newcomer to this list. The 20-year old true defensive defenseman was drafted by the Rangers only last summer and he has already become the number one blueliner in Hartford. Drafted out of the OHL London Knights, Crawley can move the puck, put the hit on, rough it up, and clear out the crease. Crawley is not huge in size, but he has grit and plays a very basic, tough, smart game. The fourth rounder has quietly become one of the gems of the 2017 NHL draft.
Next on the list are the NHL rookies Vinni Lettieri and Boo Nieves. Lettieri appears to have the higher offensive upside, but, at age 22, is still learning the defensive side of the game at the professional level it is his first season out of the University of Minnesota). Lettieri should find an energy/offensive role in the NHL in the near future. Nieves is a more experienced professional, however, he has less offensive upside than Lettieri does. Nieves plays a safe game, but needs to work on his faceoffs and taking advantage of opportunities. That said, he may very well be able to find a bottom six role on the NHL team over the coming years.
As we move down in the rankings, among players with high talent levels, there are more and more question marks. Ryan Graves looked to be developing into a second pairing defenseman and was previously higher on our prospect list. He was expected to be more of a defensive defenseman when drafted (although he had a booming shot), but the organization felt that Graves was more suited to become a two-way blueliner. This season, he is back in a more defensive role, but Graves’s development has been slow. Still only 22 years old, he still has the potential to be an NHLer and will likely be given another year to develop his defensive game.
The Rangers almost did not draft Adam Huska–the system did not need any more goaltenders in it. But the Rangers just could not pass him by in the seventh round—Huska had just too much talent to go that low in the 2015 draft. So, New York selected him and Huska has done nothing but prove the Rangers’s scouting staff right in picking him among the final players in that draft. Currently out with a sprained wrist, the University of Connecticut netminder has been impressive in his first two seasons with the Huskies (if occasionally inconsistent). He presently ranks sixth among Hockey East goalies in stats this season (2.52 GAA, 91.4 save %).
Rounding out the top ten is Ryan Gropp, who was drafted in the second round as a potential top-six winger with good size. Now in his first professional season in Hartford, Gropp has struggled on both sides of the puck, although being given top six minutes. Only 21 years old on a very poor AHL team though, Gropp still has a top nine NHL upside.
Of the lower ten, two netminders appear. Alexande Georgiev is a new name that you might not be aware of. Signed to the Rangers from Europe last summer, he was impressive in training camp and then (as expected, was sent to Hartfor). He has had a difficult season but, of late, has been playing extremely well. It is a big adjustment for goalies coming over, but over the last ten days, he has two shutouts, with a five-game win streak. The current influx of high-end players will only help his cause over the next week. Tyler Wall (who is tied for 20th on the list) is an enigma. He was left off last year’s list, which was the cause of much consternation. Frankly, although he had an excellent record in 2016-17, at the time, I saw a few things that made me question his game. But, others said it was foolish to leave him off and that may have very well been true. However, I expect that I will get just as much flack this time for putting him on the list. Well, I guess that is the nature of the beast. Wall has had a terrible season at UMass—Lowell and lost his job as the number one netminder. Whether he can come back from this or not remains to be seen, but he has the size and lateral movement to be able to do well at the collegiate level and make it to the pros.
On defense, Neal Pionk, Teemu Reunanen, and John Gilmour are included. Although Gilmour and Pionk’s numbers look impressive on paper, both players have had issues for Hartford this season. Pionk, who often plays on the top pairing with Crawley, has a tendency to give the puck away, but has a good offensive upside and will fight when called upon (like this weekend). He is not a big player, but he is gutsy and gritty, which is why he ranked number 12. The 24-year old Gilmour is offensively gifted, but really struggles in his own end, even at the AHL level. He is unlikely to make it to the NHL on a regular basis, but on an individual game basis, he could be credited with an excellent show of talent.
At 19 years old, Reunanen has been developing in Europe. A 4th round 2016 draft selection, Reunanen was given a shot to play with the highest level of men in the Liiga this season, but recently has been sent back to a lower level. He is projected to be a two-way blueliner in the NHL, but has quite a way to go before he will be NHL-ready, which is fine because his contract in Finland has at least another year on it (there is a one year option on the end of it).
Among the forwards, Morgan Barron is the biggest surprise. The 2017 6th round pick is one of the youngest players on the Ivy League title winning Cornell hockey team. He plays left wing on the top line, has two game winning goals, and has excellent speed getting to the net. A potential power forward in the NHL, Barron is still quite raw, but he has the speed, the hands and the size to become a top six forward in the NHL.
Gabriel Fontaine and Adam Tambellini are both skating for Hartford in the AHL. For Fontaine, it has been an adjusting rookie pro season. Projected to be a bottom six forward in the NHL when drafted in 2016, Fontaine showed some good offensive upside last season. But he has not replicated that showing again yet with the Wolf Pack. A sixth round selection in 2016, Fontaine may not develop into an NHLer, but last season’s output indicates that he may have the potential to become a third or fourth liner yet. Tambellini is an AHL veteran who has an interesting story. After being drafted in the third round by the Rangers, Tambellini entered college and then left mid-season for the CHL. He showed good offensive upside in junior hockey and was expected to be a top six center in the pros. However, his first two seasons in the AHL were disappointing. Now in the final year of his ELC, he started out this season with more of the same. But most recently, Tambellini seems to have turned a corner. It remains to be seen whether he can continue to put points up for the rest of the season and earn a new contract.