December 31-in-31: New York Rangers

Brayden Olafson

2020-12-20

The 31-in-31 Offseason Series is an annual event here at DobberProspects! Every day in December we will be bringing you a complete breakdown of a team’s prospect depth chart, riser & fallers, and top prospect ranking. 

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With yet another shiny new top-two selection coming into the fold in Manhattan, the Rangers’ are poised to take a firmer stance on the progression of their NHL roster over the coming months. Sitting atop the Forbes list of most valuable NHL franchises, the Rangers may be one of the few teams not operating on an internal salary cap over the next number of seasons, which comes at a perfect time in their roster restructuring. 

Unfortunately for some of the depth prospects in the Rangers’ system, the organizations’ ECHL club in Portland, Maine has opted not to participate in the upcoming 2021 season. This leaves a bit of a logjam for the AHL’s Hartford Wolfpack to manage with the club’s younger graduating prospects itching for development ice time in the professional ranks. Strategically, the Rangers’ have done well to diversify their development pool, and still have a number of promising players developing externally, where they’ll be able to continue flourishing while the NHL club works its way back into Eastern Conference contention.

Graduating to the NHL

Alexis Lafreniere, LW 

The highly touted first-overall selection from the 2020 draft will undoubtedly find a home on the Rangers’ opening night lineup. The only question will be how exactly he fits into the top-six group. With the dynamic duo of Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin holding down the top line, it’s possible that David Quinn schemes a second all-star duo with Lafreneiere featured on the second-line to start the season. 

Julien Gauthier, LW/RW 

After coming over in the trade that sent Joey Keane to the Carolina Hurricanes, Gauthier was quickly elevated to a full-time NHL position. His fourth line deployment was relatively sheltered through 12 games with the Blueshirts so he may still be subject to growing pains, but his experience should put him in line to slot in once again in the teams’ bottom-six.

On the Cusp

Vitali Kravtsov , RW

After a year in which Kravtsov was expected to challenge for an NHL job, the former ninth-overall selection has become a bit of a traveling man. His pre-season 2019 demotion to Hartford was followed up by the Russian exercising the European Assignment Clause in his contract. Unfortunately, his return to Traktor did not immediately pay dividends. He’s extended his stay in the KHL, however, for an additional year in which the early signs have been quite positive. 

Morgan Barron, C

Barron’s collegiate run with Cornell Big Red was immensely impressive, and the former sixth-round selection has developed exactly as the Rangers hoped he would. With a spare-parts level of depth signed to two-way contracts within the scope of the NHL lineup, there will be an early opportunity for him to stick with the Rangers’ rather than be assigned to Hartford of the AHL. 

K’Andre Miller, LD

After a decent sophomore season at the University of Wisconsin, the 2018 first-round selection has signed his first pro contract with the Rangers. With a number of defensemen potentially cut out for NHL service, Miller will need to immediately be at his best if he wants to stick with the Rangers for the beginning of the season.  

Nils Lundkvist, RD

Despite summer rumors of a top-drawer contract being available to Lundkvist, the Swede later elected to remain in the SHL for an additional season, amongst COVID uncertainty. Lundkvist’s agility and ability as an offensive catalyst from the blueline make him a potential star defense prospect. The additional season in the SHL to further physically mature and carrier a heavier burden for Luleȧ should nearly walk him into an NHL job next fall. 

Graduating from Jr/NCAA to Pro

In addition to the aforementioned Barron, and Miller, the Rangers have a bevy of prospects who will be transitioning from their collegiate ranks and into the professional spectrum. 

Tyler Wall could have begun the season as the starting goalie for the Maine Mariners, however, with the cancellation of the ECHL club’s season announced a few weeks ago, Wall could be stuck on loan or in an AHL duel with Adam Huska for starting minutes. 

Patrick Khodorenko, Justin Richards, and Austin Reuchhoff were all signed to ELC’s as undrafted free-agents after being lured from various NCAA clubs across the Great Lakes region. While Khodorenko seems to be the closest to competing for an NHL job of the three, each of them have a varying degree of NHL potential in the range of 1-2 years for arrival. 

  • Morgan Barron
  • K’Andre Miller 
  • Tyler Wall
  • Patrick Khodorenko
  • Justin Richards
  • Austin Rueschhoff

Risers

Nils Lundkvist, RD

The Rangers’ prized right-shot defenseman has gone from an A grade prospect to an A+ grade prospect over the last 12 months. His explosive production as an under-20 defenseman in the SHL was record-breaking. In addition, Lundkvist’s experienced  some noticeable physical 

Lauri Pajuniemi, RW

The 2018 fifth-round pick had a tremendously productive D+2 campaign in the Liiga with TPS. His 40 points in 49 games were the most among under-21 players in the league and trailed Kärpät’s Jesse Puljujärvi by a mere 0.13 points per game. As a former fifth-round selection, Pajuniemi has shown incredible growth and will likely be brought into the Rangers’ internal development system within a year. 

Fallers

Patrick Newell, LW

The former Hobey Baker nominee had a respectable rookie showing in the AHL in terms of his shot suppression. Unfortunately, the Wolfpack could have used more significant contributions from the left-winger. His sophomore season in the league will likely determine whether or not his career will continue in the Rangers’ organization. 

Jake Elmer, RW

Elmer’s rookie season as a pro saw him quickly demoted from the AHL’s Hartford Wolfpack to the ECHL’s Maine Mariners. His performance in Maine was respectable, but he’ll need to demonstrate some significant growth in this truncated season in order to justify his pro contract. As a more recently undrafted free-agent signee, Elmer has a little more runway left allowing him to regain some composure and respect in the organization before his deal expires in 2022. 

Prospect Depth Chart

The Rangers’ prospect depth has seen immense turnover in the course of the last 18 months. With graduations of players such as Brendan Lemieux, Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko, and Adam Fox, the top layer of last years’ chart has been shaved quite evenly. With Igor Shestyorkin as much on the cusp of graduation as anyone could be, that will leave the team with a graduate from each position, except left-wing since last August – truly a testament to the Rangers’ asset management. 

In addition, the teams’ depth at center has ballooned with the additions of undrafted free-agent signee from Michigan State, Patrick Khodorenko, recent draft pick Evan Vierling and more. 

The subtractions of Vinni Lettieri, Ville Meskanen, Steven Fogarty, and Danny O’Regan really just serve to prune the teams’ right-wing depth. This should allow for the promotion and recognition of some of the organizations’ project forwards like Riley Hughes, Jake Elmer, and Ty Ronning

Finally, as has been the teams’ apparent mandate for the last number of years, the depth of their goaltending pool continues to flourish, despite the pending graduation of Igor Shestyorkin. 

Prospects ranked as a combination of upside and NHL ETA 

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Alexis Lafreniere Morgan Barron Vitali Kravtsov
Tim Gettinger
Patrick Khodorenko
Julien Gauthier
Leevi Aaltonen Karl Henriksson Lauri Pajuniemi
Brett Berard Evan Vierling Justin Richards
Will Cuylle Oliver Tärnström Ty Ronning
Patrick Newell Adam Edstrom Jake Elmer
Austin Rueschhoff Riley Hughes Eric Ciccolini
Gabriel Fontaine
Matthew Rempe
Left Defence Right Defence
K’Andre Miller Nils Lundkvist
Zach Jones Braden Schneider
Matthew Robertson
Hunter Skinner
Libor Hajek
Tarmo Reunanen
Yegor Rykov
Darren Raddysh
Jacob Ragnarsson
Calle Själin
Simon Kjellberg
Goaltenders
Igor Shestyorkin
Alexandar Georgiev
Dylan Garand
Olof Lindbom
Adam Huska
Tyler Wall
Hugo Ollas

For reference, here is last year’s twin article.

Top-20 Fantasy Prospects

This section is intended to paint a picture of the Rangers’ prospects whose current trajectory projects them making the most positive fantasy impact at the time that they reach the NHL. Arrival date and NHL certainty have been taken into consideration, however, potential upside is the most important factor in determining this list.

1.Alexis Lafreniere

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2. Igor Shestyorkin
3. Vitali Kravtsov
4. K’Andre Miller
5. Nils Lundkvist

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6. Alexandar Georgiev
7. Julien Gauthier
8. Morgan Barron
9. Braden Schneider

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10. Zach Jones
11. Lauri Pajuniemi
12. Evan Vierling
13.