Welcome to the 2016 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2016 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted this year. There have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed.
What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2016-17 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. The cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: New York Rangers Prospects
It was an up-and-down season for the New York Rangers who looked like a top contender early in the year but fell off as the season went along. They made another big trade deadline splash bringing in Eric Staal. He struggled in New York, and would eventually be allowed to leave as a free agent. The Rangers would finish third in the Metropolitan Division, earning their spot in the playoffs. However, they fell quickly to the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the first round.
This all led to an off-season of change in New York. Staal signed with the Minnesota Wild. Defenceman Dan Boyle retired. The Rangers also traded the rights to Keith Yandle to the Florida Panthers. Forward Dominic Moore also moved on. The team made their own free agent signings in Michael Grabner, and Nathan Gerbe. Later in the summer they, traded Derick Brassard to the Ottawa Senators for Mika Zibanejad. This past week the Rangers have signed Jimmy Vesey, and John Gilmour. They are much needed additions to the team’s prospect pool.
New York Rangers Prospects Scouting Reports
Top Prospect: Jimmy Vesey
The Rangers signed Vesey last week. Prior to Vesey becoming the biggest college free agent on the market, we did an in-depth scouting report. We will not repeat the report. You can check out the report here.
#2 Prospect: Pavel Buchnevich
Left Wing/Centre — Shoots Left
Born Apr 17 1995 — Cherepovets, Russia
Height 6’1 — Weight 176 [185 cm / 80 kg]
Drafted by the New York Rangers in round 3, #75 overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
After years of waiting, Buchnevich signed an entry level contract with the New York Rangers this summer. He is coming off a solid KHL season, with 16 goals and 37 points in 58 games. He split the year between Severstal Cherepovets and SKA St. Petersburg. Buchnevich struggled in the playoffs with just one goal and three points in 14 games.
Buchnevich is a terrific skater. He has very fast top end speed, excellent acceleration and great first step quickness. This makes him extremely dangerous off the rush, and he is not afraid to go wide on a defenceman and then cut to the net. He also has great agility, and good balance on his skates. Buchnevich could stand to add some weight to his frame but even with that, his balance and strength on the puck is decent now. Some added core strength will be needed on a smaller ice surface with more work along the boards though.
Buchnevich is able to play all three forward positions which is a major plus for any prospect. He’s a pure sniper, with a fantastic wrist shot and snap shot. They are both powerful, accurate, and feature quick releases. He also has a very good one timer. Buchnevich is often able to force defenders to give him space due to his skating and it as at this point he can unleash is shot on the rush.
Buchnevich has good stick handling skills and protects the puck very well. He’s not afraid to go through traffic and take the puck right to the net in order to get chances. Buchnevich is a skilled play maker as well, he is very creative and is willing to try things that most players wouldn’t have the skill level to dream about. He also is willing to work hard in the corners and digging for loose pucks.
Buchnevich’s defensive game is improving, but is still a bit of a work in progress. He can often looked lost in the defensive zone as his positioning and fundamentals need a lot of work. He seems willing enough, but will need some major help in coaching going forward.
Expect Buchnevich to make the Rangers this season. He signed to play NHL hockey, and is unlikely to spend time in the AHL. He has spent the last three years developing in the KHL, so it shouldn’t be that big a deal.
#3 Prospect: Brady Skjei
Defense — shoots Left
Born Mar 26 1994 — Lakeville, MN
Height 6’3 — Weight 206 lbs [191 cm / 93 kg]
Drafted by the New York Rangers in round 1, 28th overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Skjei had an excellent first pro season. He played a strong two-way game for the Hartford Wolf Pack, and put up 28 points in 68 games. He also played in seven regular season games for the Rangers, and five playoff games, picking up two assists. Skjei was also part of Team USA at the IIHF World Championships.
Skjei is a very good skater. He possesses excellent edge work and agility for a big man. He has very good mobility, balance, and makes quick pivots. Skjei has very good speed and can use it to join the rush, though he really picks his spots with this. His backwards skating isn’t quite at the same level as his forwards movement, though it is also well above average. He is good defending against the rush as a result.
Offensively Skjei plays a very smart game. He is a good passer, both in starting the rush and from the point, and seems to always make the safe play with the puck. That said, he isn’t a huge point producer as he also isn’t likely to attempt the more difficult and risky dynamic offensive plays, opting for the simple one and allowing his forwards to do the work. As mentioned he will join the rush and will also pinch in from the blue line to make a play, but really picks his spots in these aspects. Skjei’s slap shot needs work and is below average when compared top offensive prospects on the blue line. There is some offence here, but don’t expect a huge producer, more of a two-way player.
Defensively Skjei uses good positioning, hockey sense and skating to keep attackers to the outside. He also is pretty effective at keeping the crease clear and at picking up loose pucks. He uses his size to limit passes and chances against, and to battle for loose pucks, but he isn’t a big hitter. Instead he plays a more patient game, allowing the play to come to him. Skjei possess the ideal height that NHL teams always seem to look for among defencemen. Listed at 6’3 and 206 pounds, Skjei has added muscle over the last several years. As a result, he is much more effective in the corners and in front of the net.
With Yandle and Boyle both gone, there is room for Skjei to make the Rangers roster. Expect him to be given every opportunity to claim the spot in training camp. The Rangers are undergoing a real youth movement this year.
#4 Prospect: Ryan Graves
Defense — shoots Left
Born May 21 1995 — Yarmouth, NS
Height 6’4 — Weight 220 lbs [193 cm / 100 kg]
Drafted by the New York Rangers in round 4, #110 overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Ryan Graves also had a solid first pro season. He scored nine goals and added 12 assists for 21 points in 74 games for the Wolf Pack.
Graves is a solid skater; with decent speed in both directions. He also has good edge work and strong pivots. This allows him to cover a lot of ice, and play a strong two-way game. He is solid on his skates, with good lower body strength and
Offensively, Graves used a good breakout pass and his hard shot to put up sold numbers this past season. Most importantly though, he showed some ability to stick handle and to have some poise with the puck. By taking the time to look for a smart pass, or make a play on the breakout or at the offensive blue line, Graves proved to be much more of a threat, and was able to produce as an AHL rookie.
Blessed with tremendous size, Ryan Graves is a strong defensive defenceman. He is very mobile, and uses his skating to get himself into good positions to block shots, and cut down passing lanes in the defensive zone. Graves will throw a big hit if someone tries to come down his end of the ice with his head down. He’s also been willing to fight when necessary and has done well in this department the past two years. I would like to see a bit more of a mean streak along the boards and a few more big hit from him though given that size.
Graves will compete with Skjei for the open spot on the Rangers blue line. He is not as advanced as Skjei though, and will likely spend the season in the AHL, with some call-ups due to injuries.
#5 Prospect Brandon Halverson
Goalie — Shoots left — Catches left
Born Mar 29 1996 — Traverse City, MI
Height 6’4 — Weight 203 lbs [193 cm / 92 kg]
Drafted by New York Rangers in round 2, 59th overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Halverson had another solid season with the Sault Greyhounds, putting up a .907 save percentage in the regular season and .905 in the playoffs. He also played for Team USA at the World Juniors, appearing in two games with a .973 save percentage.
Halverson has excellent size at 6’4. He takes advantage of it by coming out to challenge shooters and taking away what they see of the net. Halverson has quick legs and takes away the bottom of the net very effectively. He gets in and out of the butterfly quickly. His size means he takes up the top of the net, even when he is on his knees. A good glove hand also covers the top of the net. Halverson gets post-to-post extremely quickly, and tracks the puck extremely well.
Halverson needs to work on his rebound control. This is a common problem for many young goalies though, and will come with good coaching. He needs to work on either swallowing up more pucks, or pushing them into the corners. Right now he kicks out too much to the slot, which makes life more difficult for his defense.
Halverson is ready to move up, and should be with the Wolf Pack this season. Like most young goaltenders he will take time. He has talent though, and could be ready to take over as the Rangers starting goalie one day. Henrik Lundqvist is still great, but he will not play forever.
#6 Prospect Ryan Gropp
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born Sep 16 1996 — Kamloops, BC
Height 6’2 — Weight 189 lbs [188 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by the New York Rangers in round 2, #41 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Gropp had his second straight 30 goal season, putting up 34 goals and 70 points for the Seattle Thunderbirds. He would add another six goals in 11 playoff games, finishing what might be his final season of junior hockey.
Gropp has very good speed and great acceleration that allow him to keep up with Barzal as the two form an excellent combination on the rush. He has the agility and the solid stick handling to make plays with the puck at high speed and get around defenders. An area where improved lower body strength would really help is in giving Gropp more balance and allowing him to be stronger on the puck.
Ryan Gropp has good size and is willing to use it to protect the puck and to battle in and around the net. Gropp is a pure sniper with the soft hands to finish plays in close, and an excellent wrist shot and release to score from further out. Many may see the size and think of Gropp as a potential power forward in the making and he does love to drive the net. There are times he can dominate the game physically getting in quickly on the force check and punishing defencemen, but there are other times where he appears dis-intrested in going to the tough areas.
He needs to get out of the habit of staying on the perimeter and relying solely on his powerful shot and release to do the work, as this will not wor at higher levels. He has the vision to make plays off the wing, and some solid passing skills, but he does prefer to shoot if given the choice. Gropp could do better in battles for loose pucks along the boards, and in establishing position in front of the net if he can add more lower body strength. This would also improve his cycle game.
Gropp’s defensive game is hit and miss. He shows good positioning and he reads the play well. He cuts down passing lanes with an active stick, and is willing to get his body into good shot blocking positions. However he would be well advised to play a more physical and aggressive game in his own end of the ice. If he were to get his big frame involved in more battles for loose pucks and plays along the boards, he could vastly improve his game. Again Gropp is a big body player, who just seems to leave one wanting more from his game.
A late 1996 birthday, Gropp is eligible to go to the AHL next season. While he could go back to Seattle for an overage season, that seems unlikely.
#7 Prospect Sean Day
The Rangers drafted Day with the 81st overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Day. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Sleeper Prospect: Igor Shestyorkin
Goalie — Shoots Left — Catches Left
Born Dec 30 1995 — Moscow, Russia
Height 6’1 — Weight 187 lbs [185 cm / 85 kg]
Drafted by New York Rangers in round 4, 118th overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Shestyorkin continues to try to break into the main KHL roster with SKA St. Petersburg. He played seven games with the big club putting up a .912 save percentage. Playing for the affiliate in the second division, he had a .954 save percentage in 25 games.
Shestyorkin is a smaller goaltender who relies on his outstanding reflexes to make saves. His technique is very raw, but he is lightning quick. He never quits on a play and gets across the crease quickly to make a lot of very acrobatic saves. He can stand to work on his angles and challenging shooters. Shestyorkin also needs some work on his rebound control.
Shestyorkin is will stay in Russia for at least one more season. Its unclear when the Rangers will be able to get him under contract and bring him to North America, but he has the talent to challenge Halverson for the title of goaltender of the future.
Beyond what has been reviewed, there is just not a lot of depth in the Rangers system. Years of trading draft picks and prospects have really taken their toll. There are still a few good projects though. Goaltending is a position of strength and also includes Magnus Hellberg, and Mackenzie Skapski. Up front Robin Kovacs, Adam Tambellini and Cristobal “Boo” Nieves are darkhorses. Defencemen to watch include John Gilmour and Dylan McIlrath.