The New York Rangers were successful in recent years because of the amount of young players that were drafted and developed by their organization. While some of the Rangers top prospects are now a part of the NHL club, the Blueshirts do have a plethora of young talent that has yet to reach hockey’s top tier.
Here are five prospects in the Rangers system that could become household names at the renovated Madison Square Garden within the next few seasons:
1. Chris Kreider
If there wasn’t a work stoppage, Kreider would be the only member of this list to start the season with the Rangers. However, since the 21-year-old hasn’t played in a regular season NHL game, he is considered a prospect for this list (and The Hockey News concurs).
The Boston College product will start the 2012-13 season with the Connecticut Whale of the AHL. Kreider’s combination of size and speed makes him a scoring threat whenever he is on the ice. The Rangers’ first round pick in 2009 benefited from this last Spring, as he scored five goals in eighteen playoff games.
Rangers head coach John Tortorella was looking forward to working with Kreider in training camp before the players were locked out on September 15th. “I want to do a lot more coaching with him than I could do during the playoffs,” the Rangers bench boss said. “He’s got to learn to be a pro and not miss any steps along the way.”
In the interim, Kreider will benefit from the tutelage of Whale head coach, and 2013 AHL Hall of Fame inductee, Ken Gernander.
2. J.T. Miller
The Blueshirts had high expectations for Miller when they selected him in the first round of the 2011 NHL Draft. But not even general manager Glen Sather or director of player personnel Gordie Clark could have predicted Miller’s acceleration on the Rangers’ depth chart.
Miller bypassed the University of North Dakota, and played for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL last season. The 19-year-old registered 62 points in 61 regular season games for the Whalers, and added ten more points in thirteen playoff games.
The right winger had an outside chance to make the Blueshirts opening night roster out of training camp with Marian Gaborik sidelined until November. Miller, who played eight playoff games for the Whale when his OHL season ended, was invited to Connecticut’s training camp this Fall, and will play with either Plymouth or Connecticut in 2012-13.
3. Christian Thomas
Kreider and Miller are potent goal scorers, but neither of them put up the goal scoring numbers that Thomas did for the OHL’s Oshawa Generals. In his last three years of junior hockey, the Rangers’ second round draft pick in 2010 tallied 129 goals and 232 points in 185 games.
The son of former NHL player Steve Thomas, the 20-year-old has had to answer questions about his small stature (5-9, 165 pounds), and whether his scoring ability will translate into pro hockey. However, Rangers management and coaches alike feel that Thomas’ transition from the junior game will be a smooth one.
This summer, Whale assistant coach and former Ranger defenseman Jeff Beukeboom had this to say about Thomas: “I know he’s a good kid; he’s willing to work, learn, and try new things. His skill set translates well to the NHL.”
Thomas will start the season in Connecticut.
Many in the Rangers organization believed that McIlrath had an outside chance at making the Blueshirts’ third pair this season. Even with a halt to NHL play, McIlrath’s start of the season was derailed at the Rangers’ prospect camp in earl July, when he suffered a dislocated kneecap.
Despite the injury, McIlrath remains the best defenseman in the Blueshirts’ system. Although the Rangers defense corps is one of the best in the NHL, the 20-year-old blueliner has size (6-5, 220 pounds), which would a new dimension to the group of defensemen.
Last season with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL, McIlrath racked up 127 penalty minutes in just 52 games. When he recovers from his dislocated kneecap, the Rangers’ first round draft pick in 2010 will start his first season of pro hockey in Connecticut.
5. Michael St. Croix
The Rangers’ fourth round draft pick in the 2011 Draft, St. Croix has developed into one of the top scorers in the WHL. In his first three years with the Edmonton Oil Kings, St. Croix’s goal total increased from 18 to 27 to 45, and his point total increased from 46 to 75 to 105.
Like Thomas, St. Croix needs to get stronger in order for his offense to translate to the NHL game. Fortunately for the 19-year-old center, he still has another year of junior eligibility before he transitions into pro hockey.
St. Croix is playing out his last year of junior hockey in Edmonton, but since the Rangers signed him to an entry-level contract last Spring, he can join the Whale once the Oil Kings’ season is over. In the first four games of the Oil Kings’ season, St. Croix has three goals and three assists.