The New York Rangers have done an outstanding job of developing their prospects and turning them into major NHL contributors: Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin among them.
Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller, the team's first-round NHL Draft picks from 2009 and 2011, were integrated into the roster last season and likely will continue on that path in 2013-14. In light of that, and the veteran defensive corps that is one of the team's strengths, it's unlikely too many prospects will be skating at Madison Square Garden this season.
Here's a look at New York's top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:
1. Danny Kristo, RW: Kristo has been a Rangers prospect for a couple of months. New York was thrilled to acquire the skilled forward from the Montreal Canadiens in July in exchange for forward Christian Thomas.
Danny Kristo, who had an impressive senior season at the University of North Dakota, is knocking on the Rangers' door as the 2013-14 season approaches. (Photo: Getty Images)
A second-round pick (No. 56) in 2008, Kristo (5-foot-11, 172 pounds) had an excellent senior season at the University of North Dakota. He led the Fighting Sioux in goals (26), points (52), shots (161) and plus/minus (plus-17) and was a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award as college hockey's top Division I player. The 23-year-old was named a first-team All-American and College Hockey News' Player of the Year, along with winning bronze for the United States at the 2013 IIHF World Hockey Championship.
"Danny's a little older. He's a little more experienced playing a lot in college," Rangers director of player personnel Gordie Clark told the team's website following the trade. "We have a situation where Hagelin and Callahan are going to be out [with injuries], at least in the beginning. We feel he has a good chance to fill in one of those roles."
2. Dylan McIlrath, D: The Rangers knew what they were getting when they took McIlrath with the 10th pick at the 2010 draft. At 6-5, 215, the stay-at-home defenseman earned a reputation with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League for being one of the most physical and feared players in junior hockey. That reputation didn't subside once he ended his junior career.
In his first full season with Connecticut of the American Hockey League, the Winnipeg native had 125 penalty minutes in 45 games while posting a plus-7 rating. After being sidelined with a knee injury, McIlrath, 21, didn't start the 2012-13 season until late-December. But with that injury behind him, he's looking to take the next step in his development.
"It was tough sitting out the first half watching. Hopefully this season I can stay healthy and try to crack this roster," McIlrath said in July at rookie development camp. "They're not going to hand a spot to me. I've got to earn it. It's going to be a challenge."
3. Brady Skjei, D: After playing for two years with the U.S. National Development Team, Skjei, 19, started his college career last season at the University of Minnesota. The Rangers' first-round pick (No. 28) in 2012 was thrown into a great situation with the Golden Gophers.
Skjei (6-2, 196), a Minnesota native, had one goal and three points in 36 games and gained invaluable experience playing in a pairing with Nate Schmidt, who was named a second-team All-American and team MVP.
"I think I play a solid two-way game. I want to show them I can play at both ends of the ice. Stay calm out there and make the right play," Skjei said at rookie camp. "Coaches wanted me to be a shutdown guy. I thought I played well. My plus/minus was good. Playing against 24-years-olds was tougher. You have to use your body well."
4. Samuel Noreau, D: It was easy to see what the Rangers saw in the Montreal native when they took a flyer on the 20-year-old in the fifth round (No. 136) of the 2011 draft. At 6-5, 206, he was a giant on the blue line for Baie-Comeau of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Adding some muscle to his massive frame, Noreau was able to develop his game, enjoying a successful final season with the Drakkar, finishing second among the team's defensemen with 32 points and leading a strong Baie-Comeau team to the QMJHL final, where it lost in five games to a Halifax team that won the Memorial Cup.
5. Marek Hrivik, LW: An undrafted free agent who signed an amateur tryout agreement with the Rangers' AHL affiliate in 2012, the Slovakia native has been an established scorer since coming to North America as an 18-year-old to play for the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL. In his second season in Moncton, he led the team with 38 goals. His 70 points in 54 games convinced the Connecticut Whale to give him a shot.
Though he scored one goal in eight AHL games in 2011-12, they brought him back and Hrivik, 21, enjoyed a breakout season in 2012-13. In his first full pro season, Hrivik (6-1, 195) led Whale rookies with 19 assists despite missing three months with injuries.
6. Jesper Fast, RW: The Swede has developed nicely since the Rangers chose him in the sixth round (No. 157) of the 2010 draft. Undersized at 165 pounds when he was drafted, the speedy wing spent the next three seasons playing with men as a member of HV71 of the Swedish Elite League. It all came together last season, when the Fast (5-11) finished third on the team with 35 points despite missing time with injuries. He had five goals in five playoff games to establish himself as a player to watch.
Following the SEL season, Fast came to North America, where he scored the game-winning goal in the one game he played with Connecticut. That scoring touch has become the signature skill for the 21-year-old, who was the top scorer for the Swedish team that finished fourth at the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship.
7. Oscar Lindberg, C: Of all the players on the list, perhaps no one has made a bigger jump in the past year than this Swedish center. A second-round pick (No. 57) by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2010, Lindberg, 21, developed his game by playing for Skelleftea of the SEL. But his breakout season last year took everyone by surprise.
Despite being several years younger than most of his teammates, Lindberg (6-1, 190) finished third on the team with 42 points in 55 games. He took off in the postseason, where he led Skelleftea to its first league championship in 35 years. His 12 points earned him the Stefan Liv Memorial Trophy as playoff MVP.
Also among his team's best performers in the faceoff circle, Lindberg was invited to Sweden's Olympic camp.
8. Conor Allen, D: There isn't much flash in this Chicago native's game, but there are some things to like. A two-time member of Hockey East's All-Academic team while at the University of Massachusetts, Allen enjoyed a strong junior season with the Minutemen. Allen (6-1, 210) led the team with 57 blocked shots and ranked eighth in Hockey East in defenseman scoring. It was enough to convince the Rangers to sign him as a free agent.
Considering the depth the Rangers already have on their blue line, there isn't a concrete plan for Allen's immediate future. But if the 23-year-old can continue to develop, he could someday find a spot in the NHL. After all, the Rangers had success with another undrafted defenseman: Girardi, who was a 2012 All-Star.
9. Adam Tambellini, C: The Rangers didn't have any picks in the first two rounds of this year's draft, but they did have three third-round selections. The first of those was used on Adam Tambellini at No. 65. The lanky center (6-2, 169) didn't have a standout junior career, although he was a key contributor with Vernon and Surrey of the British Columbia Hockey League. Tambellini does have a strong bloodline; his father, Steve, played nine NHL seasons and was Edmonton Oilers general manager, and his brother Jeff was a first-round pick in 2003.
The youngest Tambellini, the 18-year-old showed the ability to make plays as he developed in the BCHL. Now that he's committed to the University of North Dakota, one of the top Division I programs, he should further develop as a player, although it likely will be a while before he laces up for the Rangers.
10. Cristoval Nieves, C: Known more by his nickname, Boo, Nieves grew up in Western New York and appears to have all the tools needed to someday play in the NHL. Selected by the Rangers in the second round (No. 59) of the 2012 draft, he had a strong freshman season with the University of Michigan.
Playing for the Wolverines, Nieves, 19, was an honorable mention on the CCHA's All-Rookie team and led the team with 21 assists. He was named CCHA Rookie of the Month in February, when he led all freshmen in the nation with 10 points. With good size (6-3, 192) and established playmaking ability, he figures to be a Wolverine to watch.
"I think I did pretty well. The adjustment was pretty quick to college, which is nice for me," said Nieves, who gained some muscle over the past year. "We had to stay for spring. We worked out every day, so I feel like I'm getting there strength-wise. A few more years and I think I'll be ready for a big jump."
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