It was less than a year and a half ago that the Rangers announced to fans that management was going all-in on a rebuild. Soon thereafter, the shedding of veterans and their salaries, accompanied by the gathering of excellent prospects and draft picks, began in earnest. Since then, the team has selected 6 first-round prospects and 3 second rounders in the two entry drafts, in addition to obtaining five prospects by trade and three as UFAs. In essence, the Rangers took an almost bare cupboard of organizational prospects and turned it into one of the best in the league in less than two years.
It was a bold move, trading away familiar (and beloved) established players in exchange for picks and prospects that management hoped would eventually make New York a Stanley Cup-contending franchise. Less than two years later, with the aid of a lucky lottery, it looks like the move was not only bold, but smart too.
Development camps give management the opportunity to see where the prospects are in the advancement of their skill set. It also gives the players an opportunity to renew their attachment to the team and forge friendships with each other. Finally, it gives everyone (including fans this year) a chance to envision what the NHL team might look like in a year or two (or three). Let me tell you, folks, it looks darn good from my seat.
The talent level among the forwards is extremely high and, if the goalies play in season anywhere near how they played this week, it will very shortly be difficult for anyone to say that New York has only one world-class netminder. There were some standout moments on D too, and remember, this was just development camp and careers of drafted and/or signed prospects are not made or broken here. Below are some thoughts after I saw the last two days of scrimmages and attended the media availability at MSG on Wednesday afternoon. It says nothing about the prospects not listed—there are just thoughts about the ones below.
Vitali Kravtsov (RW, 1st rd, 9th overall, 2018)—Kravtsov was signed by New York after an excellent season in the KHL (playing against men). He has generally been more of a playmaker than a scorer through his junior career, but he showed at development camp that he can definitely score—and see the ice, and pass, and skate. In other words, he can pretty much do it all. He may take a bit of time adjusting to the smaller space on the ice, but you had better believe that he is ready to win a spot on the NHL team.
Kaapo Kakko (RW, 1st rd, 2nd overall, 2019)—Kakko did not stand out on Thursday during the scrimmage and, even though I had seen him play incredibly previously, I internally began to question the hype. It just shows me (and should show you too) that one viewing is not enough to get a picture of where a player is at. On Friday, Kakko was on fire. He can pass, he can score, can weave through traffic, and can see the play long before it has come together. Essentially a wizard with the puck, he could definitely grow into a franchise player for NYR over time. It may take a little time adjusting to the smaller rink, but Kakko has played against men in the Liiga this past season, so any adjusting to be done will almost certainly happen at the NHL level.
Leevi Aaltonen (RW/LW, 5th rd, 130th overall, 2019)—I never saw this smaller forward play before this week, but boy was I impressed. Aaltonen is a speedster with excellent hands—he can apss the puck and can finish. Whether he can do it against older, bigger players on a small rink remains to be seen, but Aaltonen definitely has great offensive potential. He will get a chance to play against men in the Liiga this year. Do not expect him to play in North America until at least the fall of 2020.
Morgan Barron (C, 6th rd, 174th overall, 2017)—Barron has become a highly touted prospect and he did not disappoint this week. Whether it means that he can win a face off, use his body to protect the puck, use his brain to make a good pass, or just score a goal, Barron showed in the scrimmages this week that he can do it. Not sure that he is a top six player on a highly competitive NHL team, but he definitely can contribute big minutes on the bottom six. He has one more year at Cornell and wants to finish his degree. Hopefully, the Rangers can sign him after his season is completed this spring.
Jake Elmer (RW, UFA signed 3/15/19)—it has been awhile since the Rangers have signed an undrafted free agent and have that player become a regular player in the NHL. Signed out of the WHL Lethbridge Hurricanes, Elmer was all over the ice this week. Noticeable in shift after shift during the scrimmages, Elmer was scoring, passing, and doing the little things on the ice to give his teammates opportunities to shine.
Eric Ciccolini (RW, 7th rd, 205 overall, 2019)—I do not know these days what the chances are of a seventh-round pick making it to the NHL these days (and a North American at that), but Ciccolini was all over the ice this week. He showed a very good shot and speed, and the ability to play a team game. Although the rap on Ciccolini was his lack of team play, we did not see any evidence of this on this ice this week. Perhaps it was the level of players the OJHL star (he was the league’s top prospect this past season) faced at the junior A level. Ciccolini will attend Michigan starting this fall and we will get to see whether he progresses to make him the first NHL player who was drafted in the 7th round this year.
Igor Shestyorkin (G, 4th rd, 118th overall, 2014)—The Rangers have waited a long time for Shestyorkin to get here, but he has arrived, and with a bang at that. He is excellent at lateral movement, almost perfect low in the net. Igor’s glove hand is very good and he purposely makes saves look easy. As for rebounds, he directed them brilliantly time after time. This seemed like a piece of cake for him 5 on 5; but we will have to wait to see if he is ready for Broadway as he begins to face NHL level players.
Adam Huska (G, 7th round, 184 overall, 2015)—The Rangers had enough goalies within the organization when this pick came up, but the team just could not pass up Huska in the 7th round. And the scouting staff was right in selecting Huska with their 2015 final pick. He had a great college career and a great week at development camp. Not as high end prospect as Shestyrokin, Huska has size and an excellent glove hand, along with very good lateral movement. He still has quite a bit of work to do to be NHL-ready, but he has the potential to be a number one netminder—if not in New York than with another NHL team.
Adam Fox (RD, trade with CAR, 4/30/19)—Originally drafted by Calgary in 2016, Fox’s rights were later traded to Carolina, and then to New York in exchange for picks this past April. He then signed this May following three years at Harvard University and a Hobey Baker award finalist candidacy. Expected to compete for a spot on the Rangers blueline this fall, Fox showed some creativity and vision this week. However, he was not dominant on the ice. I am looking forward to seeing him in Traverse City and the main training camp to see the whole picture of what he brings to the organization.
K’Andre Miller (LD, 1st rd, 15th overall, 2018)—Miller just keeps getting better and better. He is big, strong, sees the ice very well, has great offensive instincts and is learning the defensive side. He sparkled at times on both sides of the puck. He will return to Wisconsin this fall but clearly indicated his desire to be ready to sign after this coming season (the key thought here is if he is ready skillwise).
Yegor Rykov (LD, trade with NJD, 2/23/2018)—Rykov came to the Rangers as part of the trade that briefly sent Michael Grabner to the Devils (also included was NJD’s 2nd round pick in 2018). If what we saw this week was any indication, getting Rykov in the deal was a smart move. He is big and strong, distributes the puck well and can shoot. Steady on the blueline, Rykov has spent most of the last three seasons against men in the KHL—he should be a good addition to the NHL roster this fall.
Nils Lundkvist (RD, 1st rd, 28th overall, 2018)—Lundkvist appeared in only one game, but he clearly has some offensive (and defensive) skills. Still recovering from an injury, Lundkvist is not expected to fill a slot on the Blueshirts’ blueline this fall, but the Rangers are very high on him nonetheless.
Hunter Skinner (RD, 4th rd, 112th overall, 2019)—Skinner looked very big on the ice on Friday and what a heavy shot. Twice he beat opposing goaltenders with shots from the point. He used his stick well too. Very intriguing to see.