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It’s hard to think of a team that sped through their rebuild as quickly as the New York Rangers. While they missed the 2021 Playoffs, the talent on their roster became evident as the season went on, and as a result, they are expected to be very competitive in the upcoming campaign.
Of course, bringing in Artemi Panarin via free agency and the emergence of Mika Zibanejad has helped, but their young talent has played a part as well. Players like Igor Shesterkin, Adam Fox, Alexis Lafrenière, K’Andre Miller, and to an extent, Kaapo Kakko have shown how important it is to acquire young talent through the draft or trade and properly develop them to build a successful team.
While some teams have chosen to trade their brightest prospects for experienced NHL talent, the Rangers were patient and are beginning to reap the rewards. Given that some of their young players have since become regular NHLers, their prospect pool isn’t as strong as it once was. However, it is still one of the best in the league and includes a few players who could become high-impact NHLers. That said, here are the ‘untouchable’ prospects the Rangers need to hang on to if they hope to see long-term success.
Since he was drafted in the first round (28th overall) in 2018, Nils Lundkvist has been considered one of the best prospects in the Rangers’ pipeline, and he continues to get better. The mobile 21-year-old defenceman has incredible offensive skills, proven by his 14 goals and 32 points in 52 games for Lulea HF in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) this past season.
The one issue is that Lundkvist is relatively small for a defenceman at just 5-foot-10, 174 pounds. He will likely spend some time in the American Hockey League (AHL) before jumping into the Rangers’ lineup so he can adapt to the North American game, and hopefully, he will adjust seamlessly. Based on his skills alone, however, he should have a very bright NHL future.
While the Rangers believed in Zac Jones when they drafted him in the third round (68th overall) in 2019, they unlikely projected him to become so good so quickly. The 20-year-old spent two seasons with the University of Massachusetts Amherst, posting north of 20 points in both. After his 2020-21 collegiate season, Jones suited up for 10 games with the Rangers and did not look out of place.
Despite averaging a modest 14:59 minutes of ice time through 10 games, his offensive skill was on display with four assists. After getting into those games, he may be able to earn a spot on the Rangers’ blue line out of training camp this season, but it will not come easy with the number of defencemen the team has under contract.
The Rangers chose to add to an already stacked list of blueline prospects when they selected defenceman Braden Schneider in the first round (19th overall) of the 2020 Draft. At the time, his seven goals and 42 points in 60 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League were modest, but he has proven why he was selected so high after taking a huge jump this past season.
In 22 games with the Wheat Kings in 2020-21, Schneider scored five goals and 27 points, which was tied for third in team scoring, and led all blueliners by a sizeable amount. He also gave Rangers fans a glimpse of his talent at the 2021 World Juniors, where he recorded a goal and two assists in six games for Team Canada. He isn’t as close to NHL ready as the two listed above but is still a valuable prospect and one the Rangers need to hold on to.
The most intriguing prospect in the Rangers system right now is Vitali Kravtsov, who has been very hard for both the organization and fans to get a read on and what type of player he projects to be moving forward. Since he was drafted ninth overall in 2018, he has struggled with consistency, particularly playing in North America.
During the 2020-21 season, Kravtsov appeared to have taken a big step in his development, scoring 16 goals in 49 games with Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL before returning to North America. He then suited up for his first 20 NHL games but was unable to maintain the success he had in Russia. In those 20 games, he recorded just two goals and two assists. The talent is clearly there, but he will need to produce more in 2021-22.
All signs indicate that the Rangers had a steal at the 2017 Draft when they selected Morgan Barron in the sixth round (174th overall). The 22-year-old spent three seasons with Cornell University, where he showed potential; however, it was last season as a rookie in the AHL that really drove his stock up.
In 21 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack, he tied for the team lead in goals with 10 and led all of his teammates in points with 21. He also suited up for his first five NHL games, scoring one goal. Not only is he offensively gifted, but he gives the Rangers size upfront at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, and is capable of playing both at center and on the wing.
More Gems in the System
While these are the prospects that I believe should be untouchable this season, they aren’t the only promising players in the Rangers organization. One in particular from last year’s list is Tarmo Reunanen, who is missing but had an impressive season in Hartford with 17 points in 21 games. The reason he was left off the list is simply that the Rangers have so many high-end prospects on the blue line.
Another very exciting prospect in the fold is Brennan Othmann, who was taken with the 16th pick at the 2021 Draft. He was forced to play professionally in Switzerland last season after the OHL’s season was canceled due to the pandemic, and he didn’t look out of place despite playing against competition much older than himself.
Rangers fans may believe a few other prospects should have been included on this list, proving how strong the team’s prospects are. It is an exciting time for the organization and assuming these players turn out as expected, the Blueshirts could be a very good team for a very long time.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.