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Rangers hope top 10 prospects can fill roster holes

by Mike G. Morreale

Despite not having the luxury of a first-round pick in each of the past two NHL Drafts, the 2014 Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers feel they've made all the right moves to solidify the organization's prospect pool.

The Rangers hope they can take it one step further and bring the Stanley Cup back to Madison Square Garden in 2014-15 after losing a five-game Final to the Los Angeles Kings, but it won't happen without some major retooling to the lineup. The Rangers lost forwards Benoit Pouliot and Brian Boyle and defenseman Anton Stralman to free agency and used a buyout on center Brad Richards, so there are spots for the taking.

Director of player personnel Gordie Clark believes that there may be a few good NHL players in the pipeline ready to take those spots.

"We've lost first-round picks with some of the trades we've made, but that's the price you pay going for a Stanley Cup ring," Clark told "Somehow we have had to make our mid-round picks work for us. We believe that, as an organization, we're doing just that."

Entering the 2014 NHL Draft, Clark and his staff were determined to select a goalie. Henrik Lundqvist is 32 years old, so the time is now to begin grooming a goalie with an eye toward the future.

"We've always had the philosophy that we don't want to take [a goalie] if we think he's just going to be a backup someday," Clark said. "It has to be a number one, and this is really the first year we thought there were four or five of them, so in the end it was about the best player available."

The Rangers selected two goalies, Brandon Halverson of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League in the second round (No. 59), and Russian Igor Shesterkin in the fourth round (No. 118). Halverson was regarded as the best puck-handling goalie in the 2014 draft class. Scouts liked the fact he served as a third defenseman in most viewings.

 Brady Skjei

Rangers prospect Brady Skjei (Click to enlarge)

Here's a look at the Rangers' top 10 prospects, according to

1. Brady Skjei, D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 28), 2012 draft

Last season: 40 GP, 6-8-14, University of Minnesota, Big Ten

The 20-year-old native of Lakeville, Minn., tied for second among Minnesota defensemen in goals and ranked third in points while helping the Gophers advance to the championship game at the Frozen Four. He's a fantastic skater with the potential to be a top-four defender. Clark believes Skjei, who was plus-15 last season, is ready to turn professional but he'll return to Minnesota for his third season and a chance at capturing an NCAA title.

"He's a very dominant-plus player with natural size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds), and he's in the category of [Chris] Kreider and [Ryan] McDonagh when it comes to a physical specimen with mobility and skating," Clark said. "Kreider stayed for his junior season with Boston College [in 2011-12] and won a national championship and then joined the Rangers in the playoffs that same season and had five goals. Players know when they're ready."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

2. Anthony Duclair, LW

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 80), 2013 draft

Last season: 59 GP, 50-49-99, Quebec, QMJHL

In his third season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Duclair (5-11, 185) finished with career highs in goals, assists, points, power-play goals (15), shorthanded goals (three) and game-winning goals (seven). He had at least one point in 45 of 59 regular-season games. The 18-year-old sustained a concussion with less than 10 games remaining in the regular season, and the Remparts were eliminated in the first round. He'll likely go back to the QMJHL for a fourth junior season to continue refining his game and confirm his clean bill of health.

"Everybody thought he was going to have a different year in his draft year but he didn't and that may have been the reason he slipped to us in the third round," Clark said. "But he did what we thought he would do last season in Quebec. He really bulked up and put on some muscle and he's an animal in the weight room. Quebec will host the Memorial Cup next year so whether they win or not, they're in it and we're looking at that run. We want Duclair to have a healthy year."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

3. Jesper Fast, RW

How acquired: 6th round (No. 157), 2010 draft

Last season: 48 GP, 17-17-34, Hartford, AHL

Fast played a bottom-six role in eight regular-season games for the Rangers after earning a spot in the lineup out of training camp. He returned for three more games in April. Fast, 22, is a solid two-way player who's responsible in the defensive end. He played alongside Richards during a three-game call-up in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While not considered a power forward at 6-foot and 185 pounds, he is fast and consistently in position to snipe.

"When he was promoted to the big club he played on the third and fourth lines but I think there will be a time when he'll be ready to play up in a more offensive situation," Clark said. "He has a two-way game, has good hands and a sense for playing on the other side of the puck. Jesper isn't a top line player but can play with those guys because he adds speed and playmaking skills."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

4. Danny Kristo, RW

How acquired: Trade (Montreal Canadiens), July 2, 2013

Last season: 65 GP, 25-18-43, Hartford, AHL

The 24-year-old native of Eden Prairie, Minn., completed his first full pro season in 2013-14 after four seasons at the University of North Dakota that saw him total 68 goals and 161 points in 157 games. Kristo (6-foot, 195) has shown some skill and is progressing nicely since his trade from the Canadiens, who drafted him in the second round (No. 56) in 2008.

"We liked him in college," Clark said. "It wasn't working out for him in Montreal and he turned out to be our No. 1 right wing in Hartford in his first full season. He's got speed, skill and knack of the puck somehow following him around. We're hoping to improve our pool of prospects at the center position where we weren't very deep as an organization in Hartford. We hope Danny can help us in that area."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

5. Dylan McIlrath, D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 10), 2010 draft

Last season: 62 GP, 6-11-17, Hartford, AHL

A serious knee injury in December 2012 put a crimp in the development path of the 6-5, 230-pound defender, but he did complete his first full pro season with the Wolf Pack in 2013-14 with a career-high in goals as well as 165 penalty minutes. Another full season in the AHL will go a long way for the 22-year-old, who needs to continue to round out his game.

"McIlrath has played about 100 games in two years so it's about one season and a playoff and he has injuries. And even in those 100 games he didn't play much in some of them because he had to fight everyone in the AHL and he beat them all up and he really has less than a year of experience," Clark said. "Our division has more scraps than the other divisions, and until I see that stopping I just don't believe it will end. [McIlrath] can do that well. This will be a key year for him."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

6. Pavel Buchnevich, LW

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 75), 2013 draft

Last season: 40 GP, 7-11-18, Cherepovets, RUS

Buchnevich, 19, split the 2013-14 season between the Kontinental Hockey League and the Russian junior league. He also had two goals and seven points to help Russia win the bronze medal at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden. He can handle the puck with ease and has good hands in his role as a playmaking forward. Sometimes compared to Alexander Semin, Buchnevich (6-1, 176) likely will spend one more season in the KHL, represent his country at the 2015 WJC and then make the jump to North America in 2015-16.

"He's a very highly skilled Russian forward who can play any three forward positions," Clark said. "He has skill, hands and good smarts. He's been working out in our summer camp [in North America] and made great strides from last summer. He's been one of our best forwards at training camp. He plays in a skilled league and will spend another season in the KHL before getting ready to go for a pro career."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

7. Conor Allen, D

How acquired: Signed as free agent, March 29, 2013

Last season: 72 GP, 6-25-31, Hartford, AHL

Allen got into three NHL games last season and may get some more time with the big club this season, but only as seventh defenseman because of the Rangers' depth along the blue line. He probably would have produced a bit more in the AHL, but he was a left-handed shot who usually played the right side. Allen has good vision, is a good skater and could develop into a player similar to Stralman.

"I love the fact he was 23 when we signed him because we had more time to work with him," Clark said. "The gap between college and pro is getting further apart than it used to be so you need development time. He stuck with our team as one of the last defensemen sent down and was the first guy called up."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

8. Oscar Lindberg, C

How acquired: Trade (Arizona Coyotes), May 8, 2011

Last season: 75 GP, 18-26-44, Harford, AHL

The 6-1, 190-pound Swede is a prototypical shutdown center, exhibiting good hockey sense and is responsible defensively. The 22-year-old isn't overly physical but doesn't shy from contact when the situation presents itself. Clark would like to see Lindberg continue to perfect his game in the faceoff circle.

"I thought [Dallas Stars forward] Valeri Nichushkin was the best prospect at the 2013 Traverse City Prospects tournament, but Lindberg might have been the best player," Clark said. "He'll be pushing guys at the center position very soon. He has a good work ethic and a good two-way game."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

9. Brandon Halverson, G

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 59), 2014 draft

Last season: 19 GP, 12-6-1, 2.96 GAA, .904 SVP, Sault Ste. Marie, OHL

Halverson might turn out to be the best puck-handling goalie since Martin Brodeur once he establishes himself in the NHL. The 6-4, 176-pound teenager will receive plenty of schooling and advice from Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire, beginning with the Traverse City Prospects tournament in September.

Halverson went 4-0-1 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .940 save percentage in five games during March for the Greyhounds; however, he received limited action as a rookie in Sault Ste. Marie while serving as the backup to Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Matt Murray. With Murray having turned pro, Halverson could have as many as three seasons to develop in the OHL if that's the route the Rangers prefer to take.

"With the speed of the game and the forechecking involved, we believe we need a goalie who can, number one, stop the puck and, two, can handle the puck; that's the future of the game," Clark said. "Brandon is like a third defenseman and his skating is outstanding."

Projected NHL arrival: 2018-19

10. Ryan Graves, D

How acquired: 4th round (No. 110), 2013 draft

Last season: 65 GP, 5-17-22, Charlottetown/Val-d'Or, QMJHL

Graves has size (6-4, 220 pounds) and a tremendous work ethic. He began 2013-14 in Charlottetown before his trade to Val-d'Or in January and was considered a key player in the Foreurs' run to the QMJHL championship, with one goal, eight points and a plus-12 rating in 24 playoff games. Graves spent his first two seasons in the QMJHL with the PEI Rocket. After one more season of junior hockey, Graves will take his game to the pros in 2015-16.

"He had a lot of playing time there and was a plus-20 in the regular season," Clark said. "He's always out there against the best and I think there's definitely some offensive-defenseman in him. He can skate and is strong. The thing he'll have to learn is the proper time to go, but that's what development is for."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17


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