Welcome to the 2018 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2018 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. We will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. We will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2018 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed.
What we 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 2018-19 roster of the NHL team in question. We will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who we pick as our dark horse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
New York Rangers Prospects
For years the New York Rangers traded prospects and draft picks for veteran players in an attempt to bolster their lineup. The bill for years of mortgaging the future eventually has to be paid though, and in the last year or so, the Rangers have started doing so. The team has traded away a number of familiar faces, starting with Derek Stepan at the 2017 NHL Draft, and continuing with Rick Nash, Michael Grabner, Ryan McDonagh, and J.T. Miller among others last season. The team hopes that the returns from these trades will minimize the number of years that they have to spend in a rebuild.
2018 Draft Picks: Vitali Kravtsov, K’Andre Miller, Nils Lundkvist, Olof Lindbom, Jakob Ragnarsson, Joey Keane, Nico Gross, Lauri Pajuniemi, Simon Kjellberg, Riley Hughes
Graduations: Pavel Buchnevich, Anthony DeAngelo,
Top Prospect: Filip Chytil
Centre — shoots Left
Born September 5th, 1999 — Kromeriz, Czech Republic
Height 6’2″ — Weight 202 lbs [188 cm / 92 kg]
Drafted by the New York Rangers in the 1st round, #21 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Filip Chytil shocked many at last year’s training camp. The 21st overall pick in the 2017 draft earned a spot on the NHL roster. The Rangers would only keep Chytil up with the big club for nine games, not wanting to burn a year of his entry-level contract. He scored a goal and two assists. Chytil went to the AHL where he was one of the youngest players in the league. He still had a strong season with 11 goals and 31 points in 46 games. Chytil also saw time on the international stage, playing at the World Juniors and Men’s World Championship.
Chytil is an outstanding skater. His stride is near textbook, and it gives him excellent top-end speed, as well as great power. His first step is very good, as is the acceleration. Chytil reaches that top end speed quickly. He wins races to loose pucks. His speed is also a weapon on the rush, where he can beat defenders to the outside. While Chytil looks skinny in his upper body, his lower body is strong. He has excellent balance, making him tough to knock off the puck. Chytil wins battles along the boards and is good at establishing his position in front of the net. His agility is also good and allows him to avoid hits and slip past defenders.
Chytil is willing to play a gritty and physical game. He gets in quickly on the forecheck, pressuring defenders into mistakes, and getting to loose pucks. He can create offence by digging the puck out of the corner and getting it to the front of the net. Chytil is not afraid to throw his weight around, or play in the dirty areas of the ice. He will need to improve his upper body strength to continue this type of game at higher levels.
Chytil is also very skilled. He has a heavy wrist shot. He gets that shot off quickly as well as accurately, with a lightning quick release. It can fool goaltenders from further out with its quickness. Chytil can also play the role of playmaker. He can create openings with his skating and has the stickhandling ability to control the play. He is also a very good passer. Chytil can see openings that others do not, and also possesses the skill necessary to take advantage of those openings.
Filip Chytil has a well developed defensive game. He uses his speed and quickness to chase down loose pucks and to quickly transition to offence. He supports his defence, bringing good back pressure as well as support in containing the cycle. Chytil is used as a penalty killer at the international level, due to his defensive ability. He has good anticipation, and the smarts to read plays. His active stick is very good at poke-checking and stealing the puck off his opponents, as well as intercepting passes and creating turnovers.
Chytil will look to repeat his strong performance at training camp and make the Rangers on a full-time basis. Given what he has done over the last year, there is a very good chance he could make good on this. Chytil’s contract could have a second year of “entry-level-slide” if he plays nine NHL games or less, so the Rangers may have a decision to make once he gets that far.
#2 Prospect: Lias Andersson
Centre — shoots Left
Born October 13th, 1998 — Smogen, Sweden
Height 6’0″ — Weight 204 lbs [183 cm / 93 kg]
Drafted by the New York Rangers in the 1st round, #7 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Andersson also spent time wit the Rangers last season. He scored one goal and one assist in seven regular season games. He started the year in Sweden, spending time in the SHL with Frolunda where he scored 14 points in 22 games. Andersson had a strong world junior tournament with six goals and seven points in seven games but it might be remembered for his controversial moment during the medal ceremony. He joined the Wolfpack scoring 14 points in 25 games. Andersson finished the year with two points in 10 games for Sweden at the Men’s World Championships.
Andersson is a strong skater. He has an excellent first step along with very good acceleration and top-end speed. He can get in quickly on the forecheck and is very effective at tracking down loose pucks. Andersson also shows good edgework and agility, allowing him to avoid defenders, and to make quick changes of direction and beat defenders when working the cycle game. He also has good balance on his skates and strength in his lower body.
The first thing you notice about Andersson is his tenacity. He plays the game with a non-stop motor, digging for loose pucks and trying to make plays in all three zones. He gets to the front of the net and plays in the dirty areas of the ice. Andersson is strong on the puck and has a low centre of gravity. He is able to fight off checks and drive to the front of the net, both on the rush and in the cycle game. Andersson has the soft hands to finish plays in close to the net, to get tip-ins and deflections and to pounce on rebounds. When he gains control of the puck in the corner, he moves the puck quickly to open teammates. He has decent vision and passing skill.
Andersson also has a very good wrist shot. It is very heavy and features a quick release that he can get off in stride, or when set-up by a pass from a teammate. He could stand to be a little more accurate with it though. Andersson plays a simplistic, north/south style, which is also extremely effective.
As mentioned, Andersson’s tenacity extends to all three zones. He is relentless as a back checker, pursuing the puck and looking to create a turnover and transition to offence. He supports his defenders in working down low to contain on the cycle and shows good balance and power in containing his man. Andersson has shown the instincts to read the play and cut down shooting and passing lanes. He has been a good penalty killer at the international level. While he is more than willing to battle for loose pucks, he is not one to initiate contact or throw big hits.
Andersson will also head to Rangers camp looking to make the roster. There should be a few spots up for grabs. A strong camp would earn a job. Even if he doesn’t start the season with the Rangers, don’t be surprised if he gets a few call-ups if injuries hit. Like Chytil, there is a second entry-level slide available on Andersson’s contract and the Rangers will have to make a decision before he plays his 10th game.
#3 Prospect: Vitali Kravtsov
The Rangers drafted Kravtsov with the 9th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Kravtsov. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#4 Prospect: Igor Shestyorkin
Goalie — Shoots Left — Catches Left
Born December 30th, 1995 — Moscow, Russia
Height 6’1″ — Weight 187 lbs [185 cm / 85 kg]
Drafted by the New York Rangers in the 4th round, 118th overall, at the 2014 NHL Draft
Shestyorkin split time with Mikko Koskinen with SKA St. Petersburg. He played 28 regular season games with club putting up a 1.70 goals against and .934 save percentage. However, Koskinen again got the majority of playing time in the playoffs. Shestyorkin was part of the Russian Olympic team but did not play. He got in four games at the World Championships with a 1.46 goals-against average and .942 save percentage.
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 tracks the puck well. His glove hand is outstanding, taking away the top of the net. He can stand to work on his angles and challenging shooters. Shestyorkin prefers to play deep in his crease. Over the last few years, he has improved his rebound control. Even when he gives up a rebound, Shestyorkin is good at staying square to the puck and being in a position to make the next save.
Shestyorkin has the mental make-up to be a goaltender on the big stage. He shakes off goals quickly and is ready to make the next save. Shestyorkin is not intimidated or distracted by traffic and chaos around his crease. He remains the calm port in the storm for his teammates in times of crisis.
EliteProspects indicates that Shestyorkin has a contract through the 2018-19 season. Talent wise, he is one of the top goalie prospects in the world and could be the eventual successor to Lundqvist, but the Rangers will need to get him out of Russia. With Koskinen heading to the Oilers, Shestyorkin is expected to be the starting goalie for SKA St. Petersburg.
#5 Prospect: Libor Hajek
Defence — shoots Left
Born February 4th, 1998 — Smrcek, Czech Republic
Height 6’2″ — Weight 210 lbs [188 cm / 95 kg]
Drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2nd round, #37 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Traded to the New York Rangers in February 2018.
Hajek split the season between the Saskatoon Blades and the Regina Pats as he was traded to the Memorial Cup hosts at the WHL Trade Deadline. He put up 12 goals and 39 points in 58 WHL games this season. He only scored one goal in four playoff games as the Pats lost in the first round. However, after a long lay-off Hajek had a strong Memorial Cup with three points in five games. He also scored a goal and eight points in seven games as the Czechs finished fourth at the World Juniors.
Hajek is a smooth skater. His top end speed is good, but not great. The rest of his skating makes up for it though. He an excellent first step and good acceleration in both directions. He also has excellent pivots and agility allowing him to cover large areas of the ice effectively, and transition well from offence to defence and vice-versa. Hajek has a powerful stride and good balance. He uses that balance to effectively clear the front of the net and battle for loose pucks in the corner. While Hajek shows good core strength, he could improve that as well as add some upper body strength as he gets ready for the bigger opponents he will face next season.
Hajek shows the ability to move the puck, transitioning quickly out of his own end and making a strong first pass. He is not a huge producer at the blue line on the power play, but he has shown some ability to make plays there. Hajek shows good vision and passing ability. Over his junior career, he improved his stickhandling, poise, and patience with the puck. He uses his agility to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes or work to make a better play with the puck. His slap shot has also improved, but could still use some work on accuracy going forward. He is not one to lead the rush, instead looking to pass the puck forward and stay at home in his own end. He does pick his spots to join as a trailer or pinch in at the line.
Hajek is a strong defensive defender. He is difficult to beat off the rush and forces attackers to the outside. He has good gap control and can land a big hit if an opponent tries to beat him to the outside but does not go around chasing hits and getting himself caught out of position. In fact, his positioning in his own end is a real strong point.
Hajek uses his size and long stick to cut down passing lanes. He keeps himself between the puck and the front of the net and keeps his opponent to the outside not just off the rush, but in defending against the cycle as well. Hajek is not afraid to battle for loose pucks and works well to keep the front of the net clear. He anticipates plays extremely well. Hajek has high-end hockey IQ and seems to be a step ahead of opponents.
Hajek has put his junior career behind him. Hajek is likely headed to the AHL to play for the Wolfpack this season. He is a potential top-four defender but is likely a year or two away from being NHL ready. The Rangers have a lot of young defencemen fighting for spots right now and can afford to take their time with Hajek.
#6 Prospect: K’Andre Miller
The Rangers drafted Miller with the 22nd overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Miller. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#7 Prospect: Brett Howden
Centre — shoots Left
Born March 29th, 1998 — Oakbank, Manitoba
Height 6’3″ — Weight 191 lbs [191 cm/87 kg]
Drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1st round, #27 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Traded to the New York Rangers in February 2018
The Moose Jaw Warriors captain had another strong season. The Warriors were the best team in the WHL regular season and Howden’s 75 points in 49 games was a big part of that. He also had 15 points in 14 playoff games. Howden helped Canada win gold at the World Junior Championships, putting up seven points in seven games.
Howden is a good skater. While his first step and acceleration could use a little work, he does have good top=end speed. He excels in other areas though, as his agility and edgework are very good, allowing him to maneuver through traffic on the rush, and in the zone. Howden also has very good lower body strength. He has excellent balance and is tough to knock off the puck. Howden’s strong stride allows him to fight through checks and get to the front of the net. He could stand to add some weight though as he heads to the next level.
Howden has good size. He takes advantage, using leverage and working hard in the dirty areas of the ice. Howden creates offence by winning battles along the boards, as well as establishing position and getting tip-ins and rebounds in front of the net. He also has a strong wrist shot and good release. Howden protects the puck well in the cycle game, extending plays, and keeping the puck down low in the offensive zone to create for teammates. He uses his body, and long reach to shield defenders from the puck.
Howden has excellent vision and hockey IQ, finding teammates for good scoring opportunities and finding openings in the defence to get himself open for a pass. Not usually one to try for a high-risk play, Howden plays a simple straight line game. However, this is very effective. He has a non-stop motor that puts pressure on opposing defenders. He also has the skills to produce offensively when his hard work creates opportunities.
Howden is a strong defender. He is willing to backcheck hard and does all the little things that will make him a coach’s favourite in his own end of the ice. Howden cuts down passing lanes and blocks shots. He supports his defence in the corners and can pin his man on the boards and take him out of the play. One-on-one he forces attackers to the outside and takes away good scoring opportunities.
Howden is set to move up to the pro ranks this season. He will likely need some time in the AHL before he is NHL ready, and will head to Hartford. The main question with Howden concerns how well the junior offence will translate at the professional level. Those skills will face their next test as he faces stronger, faster defencemen this year.
#8 Prospect: Ryan Lindgren
Defence — shoots Left
Born February 11th, 1998 — Burnsville, Minnesota
Height 6’0″ — Weight 198 lbs [183 cm / 90 kg]
Drafted by the Boston Bruins in the 2nd round, #49 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Traded to the New York Rangers in February 2018.
Lindgren put up nine points in 35 games with the University of Minnesota in his junior season. Following that campaign, he signed his first pro contract and put up two goals and four points in 10 AHL games. Lindgren may have only put up one point in seven games for Team USA at the World Juniors but was one of the team’s most used defenders, matching up against other countries’ top lines. This is a common theme, as Lindgren’s value isn’t seen on the scoresheet, but in his play in the defensive end of the ice.
Lindgren’s game is based around his mobility. He has a long and powerful stride that generates good speed in both directions and solid acceleration. This stride and his strong lower body also give him excellent balance on his skates. He uses this to protect the puck when it is on his stick, as well as to get leverage in battling for loose pucks in the corners and in clearing the front of the net. Lindgren has good pivots, which allow him to smoothly transition from defence to offence and vice-versa. His agility is good, but he can continue to work on his footwork and improve this area of his game.
Offensively, Lindgren has some ability, but it is a work in progress. He has a decent shot but doesn’t always use it to his full advantage. He also shows good passing ability, both in his own zone and at the point in the offensive end. He could stand to be a little more patient with the puck and wait for the offensive opportunities to present themselves though. Lindgren does not often look to lead the rush, but if the opportunity presents itself he is willing to join in as a trailer and shows off a good wrist shot if the puck is dropped back to him.
Lindgren has strong positioning, keeping himself between his man and the net. He reads the play well and uses a quick stick to cut down passing lanes and create turnovers. Lindgren is not a huge hitter but he is physically involved in the corners and in front of the net, establishing leverage and using his strength and balance to its full advantage. He makes a good first pass out of the zone and gets the transition game going. He also has enough puckhandling ability to protect the puck while avoiding forecheckers.
Lindgren will likely find himself back in Hartford this season, looking to continue playing strong defence against bigger and quicker pro opponents. He could also work on developing a bit more of an offensive game. Lindgren is likely a year or two away from the NHL.
#9 Prospect: Neal Pionk
Defence — shoots Right
Born July 29th, 1995 — Hermantown, Minnesota
Height 6’0″ — Weight 190 lbs [183 cm / 86 kg]
Signed as a free agent on May 1st, 2017
Pionk had an excellent first pro season split between Hartford and New York. He scored his first NHL goal and put up 14 points in 28 games for the Rangers. He also had a goal and 17 points in 48 games with the Wolfpack. Pionk earned a spot with Team USA at the Men’s World Championship with two goals and three points in 10 games.
Pionk is a very good skater. His mobility allows him to play an excellent two-way game. Pionk has good speed in both directions, as well as good acceleration. His edgework and pivots are top-notch. This allows him to transition quickly from offence to defence and vice-versa. Pionk has added lower body strength and improved his balance this year. He can still do more though. This will help him battle in the corners and in front of the net in the pro game.
Pionk is an excellent offensive defenceman. He has an absolute rocket of a slap shot from the point. Pionk is also able to play the role of power play quarterback, possessing good poise with the puck, excellent vision and good passing skill. He walks the line in the offensive zone opening up passing and shooting lanes. Pionk also uses his passing skill to start the transition game. He is a good stick-handler and can get by forecheckers and skate the puck out of danger in his own end of the ice.
He might be a little bit undersized, but Pionk is also good defensively. He is very gritty, willing to battle in front of the net and in the corners. His strength will be tested by stronger forwards found in the pros. Pionk’s skating allows him to maintain good gap control, keep attackers in front of him, and funnel them to the perimeter. He has good positioning and cuts down passing lanes.
After a strong audition in the NHL, Pionk will go to training camp looking to win a full-time job with the Rangers. If he continues the strong play that he had at the end of last season, he will get that spot. Pionk might not have the upside of some of the other defencemen on this list, but he is the closest to being NHL ready.
#10 Prospect: Nils Lundkvist
The Rangers drafted Lundkvist with the 28th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Lundkvist. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Sleeper Prospect: Yegor Rykov
Defence — Shoots Left
Born April 14th, 1997 — Vidnoe, Russia
Height 6’2″ — Weight 216 lbs [188 cm / 98 kg]
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 5th round, #132 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Traded to the New York Rangers in February 2018.
Rykov had another strong season for SKA St. Petersburg, picking up two goals and 14 points in 53 games. He also added two assists in 13 playoff games.
Rykov is a strong skater. He has good speed in both directions and quick acceleration. He also has very good edge work and pivots. Rykov transitions quickly from offence to defence and vice-versa. He is solid on his skates and has good balance. It is difficult to move him off the puck.
Rykov has very good vision and passing skill. He starts breakouts with a strong and crisp first pass. He also has the stickhandling skill to skate the puck out of danger and make plays off the rush. Calm and poised with the puck, he quarterbacked the power play for the World Junior Team. However, Rykov needs to work on his shot. He could add upper body strength, which would give him better power.
Rykov cleaned up many of the defensive lapses that he had in 2016-17 with SKA. He wasn’t perfect, but it is clear that his game has improved. He shows good positioning, and an active stick to create turnovers and transition to offence. He should continue to improve his defensive game as he gains experience.
Rykov signed with SKA until the end of the 2018-19 season. The Rangers hope he can continue to develop and get even more minutes with the club. At that point, they will likely try to bring him to North America.
Once criticized as one of the weakest prospect systems in the league, the Rangers have added a ton of depth in the last two years. Five first round picks in two years, as well as a number of prospects picked up in trades, and a solid free agent signing in Pionk have really built depth. The Rangers defence is particularly deep. In addition to the prospects named above, they also have Sean Day, John Gilmour, Jacob Ragnarsson, Rob O’Gara, Nico Gross, and Chris Bigras. In goal, the Rangers also feature Alexandar Georgiev, Adam Huska, Olof Lindbom, and Brandon Halverson which provides plenty of competition.
The Rangers still need to build their depth upfront. While Chytil, Andersson, and Kravtsov are blue-chip level prospects, and Howden is a nice second tier pick-up, things really thin out after that. Ty Ronning and Vinni Lettieri also had strong seasons this year. Boo Nieves is knocking on the NHL door, but the upside is a question mark. Ville Meskanen, Patrik Virta, and Morgan Barron are dark horses.
Overall, the Rangers system has greatly improved in the last year, but there is still more work for the rebuilding club to do.
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