The New York Rangers entered this season as the youngest team in the National Hockey League. Despite summoning several players who had yet to play in the NHL, their pool of prospects continues to be one of the deepest in the league. Not too long ago, K’Andre Miller, Tarmo Reunanen, and Vitali Kravtsov were just three highly anticipated Rangers prospects. Today, this group is either in the lineup, or will be in the near future.
Like much of the talent still in the pipeline, the recent prospects-turned-players’ individual roles are being shaped and evaluated. Given the fact that most, if not all, of these players were not fully expected to officially be Rangers this season, the young group of Miller, Reunanen, and Kravtsov are and will be a fun trio to watch.
K’Andre Miller (1st Round, 22nd Overall – 2018)
The 21-year-old defenseman has been with the Rangers since the beginning of this season since he made the 2021-21 finalized roster. However, over a year ago, his chances of securing a spot with the Rangers were largely uncertain. That means the blueliner jumped right from college hockey to the NHL — and he did so with relative ease.
It was his steadiness and quiet confidence that stood out to the Rangers staff during training camp. Those qualities tend to be on display when Miller is on the ice most nights. It certainly helps that his defensive partner is veteran Jacob Trouba, and the pair appear to complement each other nicely. The Minnesota-native had a bit of a shaky transitional phase, but he is noticeably more confident during his strong start on Broadway.
Apart from some rookie errors, Miller has adjusted well and is a reliable presence in the Rangers lineup. The long-term vision for Miller is shaping up to be a shut-down, top-pairing defenseman. Though this young gun specializes in defensive capabilities, in his 29 games thus far, he has garnered eight points, three of which come from goals.
As the second pairing has been averaging about 22 minutes per game recently, Miller quickly became one of the brightest spots on this young squad. His 6-foot-5 frame allows for a more physical approach, which will be key for the Rangers’ identity, especially down the road.
Diving deeper into his numbers, Miller is at 48.3% Corsi for percentage (CF%) halfway into his first season. There’s certainly time for improvement from this rookie defender, but his possession numbers right now are a great starting place, given the rest of the young teammates on the ice with him. On the season, he recorded 39 blocks and 53 hits to fortify his physical game.
Tarmo Reunanen (4th Round, 98th Overall – 2016)
Twenty-three-year-old Finnish blueliner, Reunanen, was another big question mark when it came to his Broadway debut. With the way COVID-19 events played out and phenom Adam Fox on the list, he was recalled from the Hartford Wolf Pack the morning of the March 15 match against the Philadelphia Flyers in New York.
Though the defender has only one Ranger game to his name, he was able to secure a point in his debut, a primary assist on an Artemi Panarin slap shot. Reunanen was a solid, albeit makeshift, fill-in for Fox — both are younger defenders that showcase their puck-moving abilities. The Finn was slotted with veteran Brendan Smith in his debut and showed his offensive thinking can translate over to the NHL.
Reunanen recorded a limited 8:57 of ice time, registered one shot on net and zero hits, blocks, giveaways, or takeaways. His debut was not against a breeze-by team, either. Thus far with the Wolf Pack, the 6-foot skater registered eight points in his 12 games, three came from goals. He has the best offensive numbers of any defenseman in Hartford.
He rejoined the Wolf Pack following his debut, but his brief stint proved the impression he made in training camp stayed with the coaching staff. Coach David Quinn offered his evaluation, “I thought he did a good job, I thought he was composed and made good decisions with the puck. Not just [his assist on] the goal, but I thought he did a lot of good things for us [Monday night].” (from ‘Tarmo Reunanen’s whirlwind first day with Rangers was a success’, New York Post, 3/17/2021)
It was a solid start for the young defenseman and his offensive capabilities will certainly be requested later on from the Rangers. The left-handed blueliner will continue to develop in the pipeline, but will be a welcomed addition when the time is right.
Vitali Kravtsov (1st Round, 9th Overall – 2018)
Following his team’s recent elimination from the KHL playoffs, 21-year-old Vitali Kravtsov joined the team in New York City and had always been one of the more excitable players within the organization. He had spent a year (2019-20) already with the Wolf Pack, but returned to his native country to play for the Russian league with the AHL on pause due to COVID-19.
However, the winger, who adds to the logjam of forwards already within the system, has not exactly been worked into the plan yet. Though as of March 23 he was officially cleared to play, the staff is unwillingly to rush him into the lineup, let alone verbalize a plan for him. The day after his clearance, as per Mollie Walker of the New York Post, Kravtsov was skating with the bottom-six group.
After that, winger Brendan Lemieux was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings for a fourth-round selection in the 2021 NHL Draft. Coach Quinn has since touched on the move, confirming it was to alleviate pressure on the stacked wings. It seems things are falling into place nicely for the young Russian to debut.
Without a timeframe, those are left to speculate when he might make his debut and what sort of impact he will make on the team. The 6-foot-2 skater is experienced playing up and down the lineup, and his noted speed and awareness mean that he could develop into a top-six player someday.
In Hartford, Kravtsov collected 15 points (six from goals) in 39 games last season. In the KHL playoffs alone this season, he garnered four points in five games and despite his clutch production, his team fell flat.
During the KHL regular season, Kravtsov picked up 24 points (16 from goals) in 49 games. Notably, he flipped the narrative in Hartford from leading his points from assists to goals, which is an exciting sign. Though no plan is in place right now for Kravtsov and the Rangers, he will play a smaller role on the bottom-six seeing as the top is just about set in New York.
With the Rangers looking to pull off a playoff push, the rookies will get a glimpse of their NHL future likely sooner than later. With Miller’s strong start, Reunanen proving to be an effortless transition over, and Kravtsov ready at a moment’s notice, the future Blueshirts look pretty thrilling.
Rachel is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. She can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.