When the New York Rangers were sitting atop the NHL standings in February, it was clear they were a team that could contend for a Stanley Cup. Sure, the Rangers could've used some more offense, but they wouldn't acquire it at the expense of their elite prospects.
Instead of including Chris Kreider in a deal for Rick Nash, general manager Glen Sather refused to part with him. The Rangers fell short of the Cup when they lost in the Eastern Conference Finals, but Kreider's five goals in 18 postseason games showed why the Rangers were so high on the 19th pick of the 2009 NHL Draft.
Do the Rangers have another player in their system who can make an impact this season the way Kreider and Carl Hagelin did last season? With Marian Gaborik missing the start of the season while recovering from shoulder surgery, there could be an opening.
J.T. Miller had 25 goals and 62 points in 61 games of his first season with the OHL's Plymouth Whalers. (Photo: Getty Images)
The Rangers have lost some of their better prospects in the past couple seasons -- Tim Erixon, Roman Horak, Evgeny Grachev -- but there's still plenty of talent to be excited about within the system.
Here's a look at New York's top 10 prospects:
1. J.T. Miller, C: A product of the U.S. National Team Development Program, the 19-year-old had 25 goals and 62 points in 61 games for the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League, Miller's first season in that league.
He joined the Connecticut Whale for the American Hockey League playoffs, but was held to one assist in eight games. At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Miller has the size to play in the NHL right now, but another season of development wouldn't hurt.
2. Christian Thomas, RW: The 40th pick of the 2010 NHL Draft has nothing left to prove at the junior level after seasons of 41, 54 and 34 goals with the OHL's Oshawa Generals. The 20-year-old is just 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, but he has the speed and skill to be a scorer in the NHL.
If Thomas doesn't make the Rangers out of training camp, he'll begin the year with Connecticut.
3. Dylan McIlrath, D: There was some surprise when the Rangers used the 10th pick of the 2010 draft to take the hulking blueliner, but he's proving to be quite the force at the junior level. Now 20 years old, McIlrath had three goals and 20 assists in 52 games for the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League.
McIlrath is 6-foot-5, 220 pounds and projects to be a physical defenseman in the NHL. The Rangers have plenty of depth on the blue line right now, but McIlrath's time will eventually come.
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4. Michael St. Croix, C: The 19-year-old has exceeded expectations since he was taken in the fourth round of the 2011 draft. In 72 games with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League last season, St. Croix had 45 goals and 60 assists.
The Rangers will likely want to see another season like that out of St. Croix before getting too excited, but there is potential there.
5. Ryan Bourque, C: The undersized center (5-9, 170) had six goals and eight assists in 69 games with the Whale, his first season at the AHL level. The 21-year-old fits into the Rangers' mold as a gritty player with more grind than flash.
If there's an opening on the third line coming out of training camp with Gaborik out, Bourque is not the most-talented prospect, but he may be the one who fits best in that role.
6. Andrew Yogan, C: The 21-year-old possesses size (6-3, 201) and grit (199 PIMs in 139 games over his past two OHL seasons) the Rangers love. He'll probably get his first full season with the Whale this year.
7. Brady Skjei, D: The 28th pick of this year's draft is a product of the U.S. National Development Team. He's 6-1, 183 pounds and still growing, but remains a long way from the NHL. Skjei will play at the University of Minnesota this season, where he'll be part of a loaded Gophers squad.
8. Jesper Fast, RW: The sixth-round pick in the 2010 draft has been plying his trade in Sweden with Jonkoping. He had five goals and 11 assists in 26 games with the big club last year.
9. Pavel Valentenko, D: The 6-2, 219-pound defenseman had a chance to make the Rangers out of camp last year but failed to impress. He will turn 25 in October.
10. Steven Fogarty, C: A third-round pick of the Rangers in 2011, the 6-2, 195-pound forward had 33 goals and 81 points in 60 games for Penticton of the British Columbia Hockey League last season. He'll be a freshman at Notre Dame this season.