Pre-Draft Rangers Top 20 Prospects

With pretty much all eyes on the start of the draft tomorrow evening, I want to give you an idea of what organizational strength the Rangers have before the draft. We will give you another list after the draft. The parameters of making the Top 20 are, of course, high potential, but require a player to be under age 26, less than 45 NHL games for skaters (to avoid slotting Julien Gauthier who has 47), and less than 25 NHL games for goaltenders. Without further ado, here we go.

  1. Vitali Kravtsov, RW (1st Rd., 9th overall, 2018)–clearly the most offensively talented player on this list, Kravtsov finally came to stay in April 2021. Once in a Rangers uniform, he showed his incredible ability to pursue the puck, handle it with all kinds of tricks, and distribute the puck with ease. Kravtsov was a different player from the one that left Hartford in the middle of the season before. He seemed more mature, more confident, ready to show his stuff. Although Kravtsov is still not fully developed, look for him to cement his role in the top six this coming fall. Even if not totally ready for prime time, it is expected that Kravtsov has learned enough to contribute to the 2021-22 Rangers on a steady basis.
  2. Braden Schneider, RD (1st Rd., 19th overall, 2020)–a coveted right defenseman, Schneider has the combination of size, puck handling skills, and physicality that the Rangers love. When the WHL was late to get started this season due to the pandemic, Schneider got to briefly show off his skills in the AHL before heading off to training camp in Brandon, and he was impressive. Schneider sees the ice very well, fights for pucks, and skates well for a man/child who is 6’2″.  He is expected to play for the AHL Wolf Pack this coming season, but he might be a mid-season call up if needed.
  3. Nils Lundkvist, RD (1st Rd., 28th overall, 2018)–Lundkvist will finally be coming to North America to join the organization this fall after basically tearing up the SHL last season. Named the league’s Defenseman of the Year, Lundkvist is a defenseman who plays both sides of the puck well. Thought of mostly as an offensive defenseman (his 14 goals were the most by a blueliner in the SHL), he is no slouch in his own zone. But there is a problem, and it is not personal to him. He, Zach Jones (see #4 below) and Adam Fox (this year’s Norris Trophy winner) are all around the same size. To win a Cup or even compete for one in the playoffs, there cannot be more than at most two blueliners under six feet (or even bigger). Since, absent injury, Fox will be on the Rangers roster for a long time, it leaves room for at most only one of Lundkvist or Jones on the Rangers’ roster. Although this is not an immediate issue (although Lundkvist will get a look in training camp, he is likely to begin the year in Hartford), but long term it has to be on the Rangers’ mind that the three of these highly talented blueliners is one too many.
  4. Zac Jones, LD (3rd Rd, 68th overall, 2019)–After winning many awards and an NCAA National Championship with UMass this past spring, Jones came directly to the Rangers in April. In 10 NHL games, he posted four assists. Most importantly, Jones got better and better in each game he played. It is not clear whether he is ready to play full time at the NHL level, but he got a good start this past season. The long-term issue of room for him on the blueline will still exist, but Jones showed himself to be an exciting puck distributor with excellent vision while playing this season. He is expected to get a long look in training camp this fall and is an odds on favorite to remain with the Blueshirts in 2021-22.
  5. Matthew Robertson, LD (2nd Rd., 49th overall, 2019)–Although he has been a two-way defenseman in junior hockey, Robertson will be more of a defensive blueliner in the pros. Big, strong, and able to move the puck, at 6’4″, his reach and stickwork are big assets. Likely to start the season in Hartford, the Rangers are hoping that Robertson will be ready sooner rather than later to join the left side of the blueline.
  6. Will Cuylle, LW (2nd Rd., 60th overall, 2020), a big, mobile, gritty winger, Cuylle was drafted out of Windsor of the OHL. Because the “O” did not play this past season, Cuylle joined Hartford and played in the AHL. He only got 4th line minutes for most of his 18 games with the Wolf Pack, but before he was slotted into a fourth line role, Cuylle posted three points in 4 games. The 6-3″, 203 forward will almost certainly have to go back to the OHL for the 2021-22 season, but we should be seeing him in New York in two to three years.
  7. Morgan Barron, C (6th Rd., 174th overall, 2017)–When the Ivy League decided not to play during the pandemic, Barron signed with the Rangers. He joined the Wolf Pack at the start of the 2020-21 season and had a tremendous year. Arguably the best player on the team, Barron led the team in points, and was relied upon for almost all the defensive face offs toward the end of Hartford’s 24-game season. It was clear that the mandate early in the season was to convert him to a winger, by the end of the AHL, Barron was back playing center and taking all the team’s important face offs. Once called up to the Rangers, he did not look out of place in the 5 games in which he appeared. Barron has an excellent hockey mind, good size, and good positioning. Expected to be a third line player in the NHL, he is not particularly physical, which he will need to work on some to be successful in his third line role. But he is very well liked within the Rangers’ organization and is expected to be on New York’s roster this fall.
  8. Bret Berard, LW (5th Rd., 134th overall, 2020)–He is still 18 and, with all the high end young players in the Rangers’ organization, Berard was flying somewhat under the radar. Until the World Juniors last December, that is. Berard was one of the stars for the US team in Edmonton, and if he was born just a week later, he would be in this year’s draft, going much higher than in the fifth round. He has great vision, hands, and decision-making with the puck. Probably two years away from turning pro, Berard will return to Providence College this fall (where his father was recently named Associate AD).
  9. Patrick Khodorenko, C (UFA: signed 3/10/20)–Khodorenko was scouted by Director of Player Development, Jed Ortmeyer, and signed just before the pandemic began. He played four years at Michigan State (during the last season, Khodorenko was one of the team’s alternate captains), after spending two years on the NTDP. Although not a big offensive threat in his first campaign as a Spartan, Khodorenko was consistently productive in his sophomore through senior years. A decent-size scoring center, who can take face offs (and win them), Khodorenko plays bigger than his 6-0″, 200 body. Although he started out as a bottom six guy with the Wolf Pack this past season, he played better and better as the season went along and was rewarded accordingly. The 22-year-old will likely need another year in the AHL before being NHL-ready, but he could fit a bottom six role in the fall of 2022.
  10. Justin Richards, C (UFA: signed 4/2/20)–Many think that Richards (no relation to Brad or Mike) has more offensive upside than Khodorenko (and his numbers in the very short AHL season seem to indicate that), but Khodorenko has better two-way ability and uses his body better than Richards and, those skills are what the Rangers need right now. Richards is more of a playmaking center, with good puckhandling skills, and the ability to see the ice well. But whether this will convert into an NHL career, and if so, whether it will be with the Rangers, is uncertain.
  11. Tarmo Reunanen, LD (4th Rd., 96th overall, 2016)–Reunanen is an excellent offensive defenseman who has the bad luck of having Fox, Lundkvist, and Jones ahead of him. With excellent vision, offensive instincts, and puck moving abilities, Reunanen spent most of the 2020-21 season quarterbacking the powerplay in Hartford. Although he did a good job in that role in the AHL, when he was called up by the Rangers, Reunanen did not do much. At age 23, Reunanen is not quite NHL-ready; with one more year on his ELC, and the formidable group of blueliners ahead of him, Reunanen is expected to spend next year in Hartford.
  12. Dylan Garand, G (4th Rd., 103rd overall, 2020)–When it comes to goaltenders, success is hard to predict, which is why some teams have refused to draft goalies in the first round. Garand is the first of three netminders listed among the next four prospects, none of whom were selected in the first round. At 6-1″, Garand is the smallest netminder, when these days, for goalies, “big is beautiful” in the NHL. Despite his size, or what may be considered lack thereof, I am ranking Garand as the best goaltending prospect in the system. He particularly grabbed my attention when he played for Hartford in two 2020-21 AHL games (this was prior to the start of WHL Kamloops’ team camp). His athleticism, lateral movement, and ability to stay square to the shooter were all excellent; where he needs work appears to be on rebounds. Expect Garand to return to Kamloops next season for one more junior year before he rejoins the AHL.
  13. Evan Vierling, C (5th Rd., 127th overall, 2020)–A smooth skating, playmaking center, Vierling was drafted out of the OHL, which did not play this past season. It is a shame, because Vierling was just gaining his stride and meeting his potential with the Barrie Colts toward the end of the 2019-20 season. A top six player in the OHL, he will need to refine his game to play that role in pro hockey. He will have at least one more season to do so before the Rangers will have to make a signing decision about Vierling.
  14. Lauri Pajuniemi, RW (5th Rd., 132nd overall, 2018)–Signed by the Rangers on April 30th of this year, Pajuniemi has been skating in the Liiga since being drafted three seasons ago. The 21-year-old is a good skater, who has an excellent shot. He is expected to come to play in North America this coming fall–almost certainly in Hartford. He is at least one year away from being NHL-ready, where he would play a bottom six role on this Rangers team.
  15. Tim Gettinger, LW (5th Rd., 141st overall, 2016)–What we all know about Gettinger is that he is big. Although successful using his size at the AHL level, when called up to the Rangers (which he has for each of his three pro years), Gettinger did not stick.  With his ELC now expired, Gettinger is a good candidate for a one-year, two-way contract, with a six figure minor league salary.
  16. Hugo Ollas, G (7th Rd., 197th overall, 2020)–Committed to Merrimack college for the fall of 2021, Ollas played in the Linkoping organization since he was a young boy. He 6’8″ (that is not a typo), and despite going down on his knees early, he plays big in net. Lindbom movements are minimalist in net–letting pucks hit him and using his size to smother them.
  17. Adam Edstrom, C (6th round, 161st overall, 2019)–Sticking with the large player theme, Edstrom is 6-8″. He recently signed a 2-year extension in Sweden (Rogle), but when he finally gets here, Edstrom could be the rough and tumble player that the Rangers have been missing for quite a few years. The Rangers are watching him very closely.
  18. Austin Rueschhoff, RW (UFA: signed 3/30/20)–Rueschhoff is another former collegiate player found by Jed Ortmeyer. He is also another player who is tall (6-7″). The Rangers signed Rueschhoff after three years at Western Michigan University. I his first year of pro hockey, Rueschhoff showed that he was more than just a big body crashing around the ice–he skated well for his size and contributed offensively when he got the chance. He will need at least one more year in Hartford, but Rueschhoff has the potential to be an effective fourth liner in the NHL.
  19. Adam Huska, G (7th Rd., 184th overall, 2015)–After being drafted in the seventh round of the 2015 (and, at the time, being fifth on the depth chart between the pipes), Huska has risen to number four behind Igor Shesterkin, Alexandar Georgiev, and Keith Kinkaid. In other words, he has not achieved NHL backup status during his ELC. An RFA at the end of his ELC, Huska is almost certainly not going to be a number one netminder in New York. But he certainly has minor league value, as he is adequate at the AHL level; whether that translates to an NHL SPC at this point remains to be seen.
  20. Oliver Tarnstrom, C (3rd Rd., 92nd overall, 2020)–Tarnstrom can skate, which, with his pedigree, appears to be a major reason he was selected in the third round. He did not have a good season in 2020-21, however, he is still 18 years old, so there is much more time to grow.
About the Author

Leslie Treff

Leslie Treff is NY Sportsday's Hockey Editor. She has been covering the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils for more than 15 seasons. Leslie is a recognized expert in hockey prospects and has served as a scout for several independent agencies. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, in her former life, Leslie was an attorney in the judiciary in New York City.

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