After years of not progressing like they wanted to in the playoffs, the Broadway Blueshirts, under Alain Vigneault, made it to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1994. They lost to the eventual winners (Los Angeles Kings), but are still one of the more formidable opponents in the East. The Rangers have done admirably at being incredibly patient in developing their prospects. Players like Ryan McDonagh, Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin, and Derek Stepan weren’t rushed into the Rangers lineup and took time in buffering their games. Now they’re contributors to Vigneault’s system that are looking to get back to the top of the league. What’s better is the caliber of prospects they have. Here is a look at their top five.
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5. Mat Bodie – AHL – Hartford Wolf Pack – D
Mat Bodie helped lead a small-town college from Schenectady, New York all the way to a National Championship in 2014. The captain for Union College, Bodie wasn’t talked about much compared to the offensively talented, Shayne Gostisbehere, but he is a defensemen that makes few mistakes and does everything right. His positioning is impeccable and Bodie plays an astute scoring style of play. But his knack for being at the right place at the right time shouldn’t go unnoticed either. Last season he scored 39 points in 40 games, his best statistical season in the NCAA. He’s physically and mentality mature to start his professional career with the Hartford Wolf Pack this season where he will be looking to find his name on the scoresheet as frequently as he did in his senior year in college.
4. Kevin Hayes – AHL – Hartford Wolf Pack – RW
The big news surrounding the New York Rangers was their ability to sign coveted free agent, Kevin Hayes. After playing a full four years at Boston College, Hayes made it clear he wasn’t going to sign with the team that drafted him, the Chicago Blackhawks. It’s difficult to gauge just how much potential Hayes may have because during the first three years at BC, he wasn’t much of a point scorer. It wasn’t until he was placed on Johnny Gaudreau’s line that his numbers skyrocketed. Whether he’ll be a point producer or a grinder is yet to be determined, but the Rangers are going to give him a fair shot in making him a consistent NHLer soon.
3. Jesper Fasth – AHL – Hartford Wolf Pack – RW/LW
If the chips fall correctly, Jesper Fasth has an outside shot at making the New York Rangers directly out of camp. They used him in 11 games last season, but he wasn’t able to register a single point – something he’s grown accustomed to in Sweden and the AHL. Fasth might be on par with Carl Hagelin in terms of skating. A fluid forward with game-changing speed, Fasth’s bread and butter is his acceleration and quickness. He’s still a bit lanky, but can hold his own even against bigger competition. It’s taken a long time for Fasth to develop into the player he is today, but the Rangers are hoping to see him inserted into the lineup more frequently this season.
2. Brady Skjei – NCAA – Minnesota Golden Gophers – D
The Rangers went once again the way of the USNTDP when they picked Brady Skjei in the 1st round of the 2012 draft. Skjei has proved himself as a rock on the Golden Gophers’ blueline. The smooth-skating two-way defenseman, Skjei isn’t flashy and plays a straightforward style. He gained more responsibility for Minnesota last year compared to his freshman season and will be looked at to contribute even more in 2014-15. His transition game stands out as Skjei is shows patience and poise in every situation. His defensive game has grown leaps and bounds since his NTDP days and was a big part as to why the Golden Gophers made the Frozen Four this year. Returning to Minnesota is the right course of action for Skjei as he continues to develop his game.
1. Anthony Duclair – QMJHL – Quebec Remparts – LW
The 2013-14 campaign was Anthony Duclair’s coming out party. After scoring close to a point-per-game that past two seasons, Duclair exploded with 99 points (50 goals and 49 assists) in 59 games. Considered a possible 1st or 2nd round pick in 2013, Duclair fell to the 3rd round before being taken by the Rangers 80th overall. Duclair’s strong legs allow him to be agile and quick around the ice while using his quick release to beat netminders. A dangerous stickhandler in the offensive zone, Duclair is creative and willingly goes to the traffic areas. Things are looking up for the Quebec-native who is looking to build upon last season’s success and continue to be the Remparts’ “go-to” goal scorer this year.
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