Under their new coach, Gerard Gallant, today the Rangers are tied with Washington for the most points in the NHL. So, many fans are not looking so much to the future as to now. Will the team continue its winning ways? Is the defense as currently constructed good enough to win at least one playoff round? Is this team a real Stanley Cup contender? That is what most fans (and journalists) are focused on. But, here at NY Sportsday, we are always looking to the future and its been awhile since we posted our top prospects for this organization.
Notice that this winter, it is only 17 players on the list. Some years, I find myself scrounging for players toward the bottom of the list, so I decided not to do that anymore. Top prospects only–prospects that have a reasonable chance of making a mark in the NHL. So, here is the latest iteration of the list–albeit a shorter one than previously. Remember to be eligible, as of January 1, 2022, not only must players be under 26 years of age, but skaters also must have appeared in less than 50 NHL games and goalies must have made less than 25 NHL appearances.
Before we go any further, there is the matter of Vitali Kravtsov, who for two seasons has had an aversion to playing in the AHL. Both times over the last two seasons that Kravtsov was reassigned, he did not agree to the demotion. He chose instead to return to Russia to play for the KHL’s Traktor Chelyabinsk (the Rangers agreed to loan him to the KHL team). Because he is eligible to return to the Rangers after the KHL season is over, and Kravtsov has indicated that he would consider doing so, we are judging him mostly on talent but also our prediction as to whether he will achieve his ceiling in the NHL (either with the Rangers or any other of the 31 NHL teams).
- Vitali Kravtsov—RW, KHL (Traktor Chelyabinsk), Age: 22; Drafted: 1st Round, 9th overall, 2018–Kravtsov has incredible hands. He can score and make plays. A speedster who brings size to the table too, on paper, he should be a perfect fit on the right side of the first line for the high-skill Blueshirt team. But, Kravtsov has not wanted to learn the NHL game at the AHL level and that has caused problems and consternation on both sides. Clearly, the best talent on the prospect level of the organization, Kravtsov has only appeared in 20 NHL games at age 22. That does not bode well for his future in New York or alternatively for the Rangers trying to trade him to another team. Expect this drama to play out before our eyes in a few months–Kravtsov is at the end of his ELC this spring.
- Braden Schneider—RD, AHL (Hartford), Age: 20, Drafted: 1st Round, 19th overall, 2020–Schneider is in his rookie pro season and he is still adjusting. But from what we have seen, he could potentially be a top-pairing defenseman. Although touted as a two-way blueliner, we see Schneider as more of a defensive guy in the NHL–not stay-at-home, per se, but sort of a hybrid, good distributor of the puck, while at the same time not putting up a lot of points. He skates well for a big man and has an excellent stick, while playing a pretty controlled game. He probably will need one more year in the AHL, but Schneider may surprise and fight for a spot on the blueline next season
- Brennan Othmann—LW, OHL (Flint), Age:18, Drafted: 1st Round, 16th overall, 2021–Othmann is the guy you want if you want a gritty, talented forward. He plays both sides of the puck well and can hit and score. Always looking to make something happen, Othmann is several years away from the NHL, but his skill set is what the Rangers have been missing the past few years.
- Nils Lundkvist—RD, NHL (New York), Age 21, Drafted: 1st Round, 28th overall, 2018–After playing in the SHL for three years post-draft, Lundkvist made his NHL debut this fall. Given his outstanding offensive production in the SHL last season, one would have thought that he would have put up better numbers thus far in the NHL (4 points in 24 games), but he is adjusting and being given limited minutes on the ice. That said, Lundkvist will have a limited window to impress ,as the Rangers have some interesting defensive prospects coming up behind him.
- Zac Jones—LD, NHL (New York), Age 21, Drafted: 3rd Round, 68th overall, 2018–Speaking of which, although Jones is a left D, he plays a similar type of game and there is only so much room on the club for a smaller blueliner. Jones was signed last spring after helping UMass win a national championship. As part of the deal, the Rangers burned off a year of his ELC–there is only one more year left on the deal after the 2021-22 season. Thus far, Jones has played almost his entire season in Hartford, where he has posted .81 points per game. He has great vision, decision-making, and he can skate. Jones still has some pro experience to gain, but he was called up on December 29 due to team COVID issues. Although there are no points attributed to him, Jones has made some nice plays since being called up and is expected to compete strongly for a spot on the roster next fall (if not before).
- Matthew Robertson—LD, AHL (Hartford), Age 20, Drafted: 2nd Round, 49th overall, 2019–For some reason, it feels like Robertson has been around longer than he has. Maybe its because we started to get more excited about Schneider than Robertson, who has developed in junior much more slowly than has Schneider. It does not mean that Robertson, at 20, is not a top prospect, he is, but he needs more time to see if he develops into a first or second pairing defenseman. Robertson is a big boy, so you do not expect incredible skating, but you do expect excellent defensive plays from a blueliner who is to be a more own-zone guy.
- Will Cuylle—LW, OHL (Windsor), Age 19, Drafted: 2nd Round, 60th overall, 2020–It may surprise you that Cuylle is listed this high, but his play merits it. He is a goal scorer, with a big body and very decent hands. Cuylle is the consummate power forward who, because of COVID, played in Hartford last season as an 18-year-old. He struggled at times, and often got only fourth line minutes, but Cuylle showed so much potential and tenacity, and most of all, learned quickly, that he very much impressed me. Unfortunately, he was still too young to be, playing in the AHL during the 2021-22 season, so he is back playing against boys–and has been posting more than a point per game. An exception should have been made, because there is no developmental reason for his return to major junior after a full season (okay 24 games) in the pros, but Cullye has accepted it and performed very well. Watch for him to break out when he finally goes pro and is not then expected to be going backward.
- Dylan Garand—G, WHL (Kamloops), Age 19, Drafted: 4th Round, 103rd overall, 2020–Garand is on the small size (6’1″) for the NHL these days, but he is very athletic and sports an excellent record in the CHL (Garand is currently second overall in goalie stats in the league). The Rangers just signed Garand to an ELC prior to the Christmas break, which he promptly responded to by winning his only appearance in net for Team Canada in the shortened 2022 U20 WJCs. Garand is smart and makes few unnecessary movements; with his aforementioned athleticism, Garand becomes the number one goaltending prospect in the organization.
- Morgan Barron—C, AHL (Hartford), Age 23, Drafted: 6th Round, 174th overall, 2017–Barron has played first-line minutes in Hartford for two seasons now. But do not expect him to be a top-six forward in the NHL. Barron is an excellent two-way center, who is refining his face off presence, is learning to be more physical, and generally plays a smart game. He still has a little ways to go to ensure his bottom six presence on an NHL team, but he is almost there. Expect Barron to compete for an NHL spot this next winter.
- Brett Berard—LW, NCAA (Hockey East, Providence College), Age 19, Drafted: 5th Round, 134th overall, 2020–Berard should not be a top ten prospect, yet he cannot be left off the list. That is the thing about this undersized, highly talented, gutsy forward–you don’t think he is going to make it, but he does. Berard first came to most Ranger fans’ attention at last years U20 WJCs–he was a dynamo in the tournament. Then he went back to Providence and had a good, but not outstanding, season. Now, Berard is at it again. Currently tied for the lead in total points in Hockey East (i.e., 24 points in 21 games as a sophomore), one cannot leave him off any list of top prospects. Gritty, gutsy, talented, a pain to play against, I would never bet against him overcoming the odds and making the NHL.
- Ryder Korczak—C, WHL (Moose Jaw), Age 18, Drafted: 3rd Round, 75th overall, 2021–Korczak is an excellent playmaker that the Rangers moved up in the draft to get. A very offensively minded, right-shot center, Korczak is excellent on faceoffs (currently at 58% wins). He leads Moose Jaw in scoring and has three game-winning goals. Korczak will have to work on his defense to not be a liability in the NHL, but he definitely is one of the top center prospects in the Rangers organization.
- Lauri Pajuniemi–RW, AHL (Hartford), Age 22, Drafted: 5th Round, 182nd overall, 2018–Pajuniemi quietly put up points in the Liiga after being drafted three and a half years ago, becoming one of the league’s best offensive players. This season, in North America, he has been adjusting to the smaller surface, but still is showing both his playmaking and scoring ability. Pajuniemi shares the Wolf Pack GWG lead with Barron and is currently the team leader in total points among rookies. It is not yet clear where Pajuniemi would fit on the Rangers roster, but he has another year on his ELC to prove to the powers that be that he can play an NHL top six role.
- Tarmo Reunanen—LD, AHL (Hartford), Age 23, Drafted: 4th Round, 98th overall, 2016–Reunanen is not a flashy player, but he has been putting up solid numbers since he arrived in North America in 2020. Originally thought of just as a power play specialist (an offensive defenseman), he currently has the highest plus/minus on the Wolf Pack team. More and more, he has become responsible in his own end. In the last year of his ELC, the Rangers and Reunanen will have to decide what the next steps are. For today though, Reunanen sits on the Rangers’ taxi squad, waiting for his chance to show that he is ready for the NHL.
- Brody Lamb—F, USHL (Green Bay), Age 18, Drafted: 4th Round, 104th overall, 2021–Lamb was one of the youngest players eligible for the 2021 draft. He has room to grow and is is committed to the University of Minnesota for next fall. Equally a goal scorer and a playmaker, Lamb can shoot the puck in ways that are unusual at this level. He is longshot to make the NHL, but so are most of the boys who are selected in the fourth round of any draft.
- Hugo Ollas–G, NCAA (Hockey East, Merrimack College), Age 19, Drafted: 7th Round, 197th overall, 2020–One of two 6’8″ players that the Rangers chose over the past three drafts. Ollas, who is from Sweden, has been between the pipes for Merrimack College this year. Ollas has decent, but not great, numbers, but his play has been better than his statistics would indicate. Given his size and his ability to move laterally, Ollas is a player to watch
- Adam Edstrom—F, SHL (Rogle), Age 21, Drafted: 6th Round, 161st overall, 2019–Knowing that Edstrom is 6’8″ tall and recognizing the Rangers less than physical play over the last few years, it is easy to imagine why Edstrom was chosen. But, alas, he can actually play and push people around, and do it pretty well. Edstrom has some offensive skill, and he can skate (given his size). He’s fun to watch and is a genuine prospect to make the NHL.
- Evan Vierling—C, OHL (Barrie), Age 19, Drafted: 5th Round, 127th overall, 2020–A late round pick that has offensive upside, Vierling is good in the face off circle and is not afraid to mix it up if he has to. A good two-way forward, he is still a longshot to make the NHL, but he definitely has a shot at it.