Welcome to the 2017 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. During the summer, I will feature 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.
I will link 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 2017-18 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 a dark horse to make the NHL. 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old is the cut-off for prospects. 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. They came out of the gate red-hot, scoring a ton of goals, and challenging for first place in a tough Metro Division. The momentum would not last though. They cooled considerably in the second half of the season. Even star goalie Henrik Lundqvist struggled. The team would end up with the first wild card. They would defeat the Montreal Canadiens in the first round, before falling to the Ottawa Senators in the second.
The off-season brings change, with Derek Stepan, and Antti Raanta traded to the Arizona Coyotes; and the cap savings spent largely on free agent Kevin Shattenkirk. The Rangers have also added Ondrej Pavelec and David Desharnais from the free agent market. Dan Girardi was bought out, and Kevin Klein has retired from the NHL, to sign in Switzerland. He joins Brandon Pirri, who also signed with ZSC Zurich.
Top Prospect: Pavel Buchnevich
Right Wing — Shoots Left
Born April 17th, 1995 — Cherepovets, Russia
Height 6’2″ — Weight 193 lbs [188 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the New York Rangers in the 3rd Round, #75 overall at the 2013 NHL Draft
Buchnevich had a solid rookie season with the Rangers, although one that was marred by injuries. He finished with eight goals and 20 points in 41 games. Rangers coaches still didn’t fully trust Buchnevich defensively though. He played in just five playoff games, with a single assist; as he was often a healthy scratch.
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.
In Russia, Buchnevich played all three forward positions. He was mainly a winger with the Rangers. 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 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.
Buchnevich will play in the NHL again this season. Look for him to move up the lineup as he gains experience. Its a matter of when, not if, he is a top six forward for the team.
#2 Prospect: Lias Andersson
The Rangers drafted Andersson with the 7th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Andersson. No games were played since that report; so we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#3 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 39 regular season games with club putting up a 1.64 goals against and .937 save percentage. However, despite a .940 save percentage in five playoff games, it was Koskinen who played the majority of the time as Ska won the Gagarin Cup.
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. He also needs some work on his rebound control.
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.
Elite prospects indicates that Shestyorkin has a contract through the 2019-20 season. It is unknown if there are any out clauses which could get him to North America sooner. 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.
#4 Prospect: Filip Chytil
The Rangers drafted Chytil with the 21st overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Chytil. No games were played since that report; so we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#5 Prospect: Anthony DeAngelo
Defense — shoots Right
Born October 24th, 1995 — Sewell, New Jersey
Height 5’11″ — Weight 182 lbs [180 cm / 83 kg]
Drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1st round, #19 overall at the 2014 NHL Draft
Traded to the Arizona Coyotes in June 2016
Traded to the New York Rangers in June 2017
DeAngelo split time between the Arizona Coyotes and Tucson Road Runners last year. In 39 NHL games, he scored five goals and 14 points. He also had 16 points in 25 AHL games.
DeAngelo is a star offensively from the blue line. He has good skating and puck handling skills and can lead the rush or join as a trailer. He has high-end speed and excellent acceleration which can allow him to make these types of plays. DeAngelo also has excellent edge work and agility. He uses this agility to get past defenders in one-on-one situations. That said he could make better use of his agility in helping him defend against the rush.
DeAngelo has a good assortment of shots, including an excellent wrist shot and release, a hard slap shot and a booming one-timer. He is a natural power play quarterback who shows poise with the puck and excellent passing skills. DeAngelo has patience to wait for the right play, and can use good lateral agility and mobility to walk the line and open up lanes. He often pinches into the slot in order to get into a better position to shoot. He sometimes gets caught doing it too often and this hurts his defensive game.
Defensively his game is very much a work in progress. He can be overpowered in front of the net and in the corners. At 5’11” he is a little short for an NHL defenceman, but this can be overcome. More and more defencemen are succeeding in the league despite being less than six-feet tall. However he really needs to add some muscle to a small and slender frame, and could stand to become stronger on his skates in board battles and in front of the net. He also needs work on his positioning and fundamentals.
DeAngelo has a tendency to puck watch and can lose his man in the defensive zone. He is also beaten far too often one-on-one, especially given his skating ability. He takes a lot of chances. DeAngelo can be burned with giveaways and bad decisions. While he has a ton of offensive skill and is a threat to create a scoring chance every time he is on the ice in the offensive end; he needs to improve his defensive game.
DeAngelo’s potential is extremely high. However, defensive issues will drive his coach’s nuts. There is a spot open on the Rangers blue line, and he will look to take that position in training camp. How much icetime he can handle, and how sheltered he will need to be, remains to be seen.
#6 Prospect: Sean Day
Defense — shoots Left
Born January 9th, 1998 — Leuven, Belgium
Height 6’2″ — Weight 224 lbs [188 cm/102 kg]
Drafted by the New York Rangers in the 3rd round, #81 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
Day finally took some of the steps forward that many have been waiting for since he was named an exceptional player by Hockey Canada. An early season trade to the Windsor Spitfires provided a change of scenery, and Day benefited. He put up 15 goals and 37 points in 63 games last season. He also helped the Spitfires win the Memorial Cup.
Day has all the tools to be a quality defenceman. He has ideal size, and is one of the best skaters in the CHL. His stride is smooth, and he seems like he is gliding just above the ice instead of digging into it. He has outstanding speed and acceleration as he is able to fly in both directions. His pivots are crisp, and his edge work is outstanding, as he can change directions or make quick cuts on a dime. Day also has power and balance in his skating and is strong on the puck.
Day has an excellent slap shot and wrist shot. He took a step forward by using his shot more this year. The passing skill and vision are also there. He is not the most creative player from the point, but this is another area that improved in Windsor. Day often utilizes very simple passes and does not try the types of plays that can truly make something happen offensively, but has shown flashes of doing more this year. He handles the puck well, and improved his poise this season. Day is now more patient, and does a better job of taking advantage of time and space.
Day has the footwork, the long reach, and the physicality to be effective in his own end. His skating makes him tough to beat one-on-one. He has the size to battle in the corners, and he’s not been afraid to go after bigger and stronger opponents.
Day continues to be a boom or bust prospect, but the steps he took this past season are extremely encouraging. He heads back to Windsor this fall. Day could find himself traded again, as Windsor will want to re-coup draft picks and young players after giving up so many in their chase of last year’s Memorial Cup.
#7 Prospect: Ryan Graves
Defense — shoots Left
Born May 21st, 1995 — Yarmouth, Nova Scotia
Height 6’4″ — Weight 220 lbs [193 cm / 100 kg]
Drafted by the New York Rangers in the 4th round, #110 overall at the 2013 NHL Draft
Ryan Graves improved in his second pro season. He scored eight goals and added 22 assists for 30 points in 78 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 power. Graves wins battles for loose pucks along the boards, and does a good job of clearing the front of the net.
Offensively, Graves uses a good breakout pass and his hard shot to put up solid numbers in the AHL. 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 gave defences issues.
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 come to camp looking for a spot on the Rangers blue line. There is likely one spot available on the roster, and so he will have to beat out DeAngelo to take the position. It is more likely that Graves is in the AHL, ready to be the first defenceman called up in case of injury.
Sleeper Prospect: Neal Pionk
Defense — 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 Sophomore season with the Universiy of Minnesota-Duluth, putting up seven goals and 34 points in 42 games. He helped the team to the NCHC Championship. Pionk was named to the conference all-tournament team. He was also part of the Frozen Four all-tournament team.
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 edge work and pivots are top notch. This allows him to transition quickly from offense to defense and vice-versa. Pionk needs to add lower body strength and improve balance. 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 fore checkers 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.
Just 22-years-old, Pionk could use some seasoning at the AHL level. He will need to adjust to the faster speed of the pro game, as well as the more rigorous pro schedule. He is a year or two away from the NHL.
The picks of Andersson and Chytil, along with the trade for DeAngelo added some much needed top end talent into the Rangers system. After years of trading away prospects and high draft picks, this was badly needed. The Rangers have also done a good job of attracting free agent prospects in recent years.
Russian defenceman Alexei Bereglazov joins their defence stable which is the strongest part of their system. The big (6’4″) defender is a good skater. He is more of a defensive defenceman, but has some offense as well. He will also be involved in the camp battle for spots. Further down the depth chart, the Rangers have Sergey Zborovskiy and Calle Sjalin. They drafted Brandon Crawley this year.
Upfront the Rangers have a potential power forward in Ryan Gropp. He must work on his skating. They are also waiting for Cristobal “Boo” Nieves to take the next step. He played his first NHL game last season. Robin Kovacs disappointed this season, with just 12 points for the Wolf Pack. He must improve quite a bit to retain his status as a prospect in the organization. Tim Gettinger had 31 goals for Sault Ste. Marie, but projects as a bottom sixer in the NHL. Nicklas Jensen had a nice year in the AHL. At 24 years old, he must take the next step soon, or fall by the wayside.
In goal, Adam Huska had a solid freshman campaign at the University of Connecticut. He is a long-term project, but one with some potential. Fellow goalie Tyler Wall also had a good freshman season. The UMass-Lowell goalie put up a .918 save percentage. Alexandar Georgiev spent last season in Finland. The Rangers have brought him to North America as another free agent prospect signing. Brandon Halverson had a very disappointing year. He spent most of last season with Hartford, but needs to be better than the .887 save percentage he put up.
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