Strengths: The Blueshirts' blueline is the jewel of the system. Ryan McDonagh was a key acquisition in the offseason from Montreal, and welcome defensive addition to go with Michael Del Zotto, Bobby Sanguinetti, and Hobey Baker winner Matt Gilroy. Russian power forward Evgeny Grachev has begun to emerge as a powerhouse in junior. The 19-year-old is the organization's top-flight scorer. Fellow Russian Artem Anisimov is also highly prized, and has begun his rookie campaign this season after a dominant year last year in the AHL. McDonagh's teammate with the University of Wisconsin, forward Derek Stepan, also turned heads as a freshman last year.
Weaknesses: The biggest deficit in the system is in goal. With three netminding prospects in the organization, none have distinguished themselves. With difficulty as of late cultivating their own draft choices at the position, free agent Chad Johnson, a Hobey nominee, is the team's best bet as of now.
Top 5 prospects: 1. Evgeny Grachev, C, 2. Artem Anisimov, C, 3. Ryan McDonagh, D, 4. Derek Stepan, C, 5. Michael Del Zotto, D.
I know for a lot of us this is a big change as to where our prospect system has ranked for many years and it is also very encouraging to think a player like Del Zotto who is playing as well as he is supposedly has four players better than him in the system. Also that a player like Gilroy, mostly for his age, was ranked 9th in our system with as solidly as he is starting to play in his own zone is a great sign as well. There are a couple of things about our system right now that i really love and that is that there is high end talent, but there is also tremendous depth in terms of real quality talent. I have not looked at the HF rankings of every team, but of the ones I did look at no team had more players that HF ranked as at least a 7 as there are 15.
The D is the as they said the gem of the system when you have guys like Zots, and Gilroy who can step in now and be successful while still have McDonagh, Sangs, Williams, Sauer, who are all still young and developing that could be ready in a year or two. Personally i do like Sauer, but i expect him to be traded unless he changes his style because he doesnt fit with this system. We also have players like Sam Klassen, Kundratek and Dan Maggio who are playing solidly in juniors.
As much as everyone praises the D, the forward prospects that we have are our best in a long time both as individuals and as a group. Artie is going through some growing pains at the big level, but has shown flashes of his promise and potential and once the game slows for him even a half second he will be a very good player for us. Grachev clearly has as much talent to score as any prospect we have developed in years, outside of Cherepanov, and it is exciting to wait for later in the year or next year to see what he can do on this level. That said Derek Stepan, I believe, is only a year away from being able to challenge for an NHL spot just after turning 20 years old. The forward class that we drafted this year with Werek, Bourque and this year's sleeper in Horak are all off to solid to excellent starts in Juniors while being able to add a jolt to the system in 2-3 years. Also in 2-3 years hopefully we will see the development of our first rounder Chris Kreider who is a speed demon who just needs to adjust to the step up in competition which he will get at BC.
The weakness as noted is out goaltending pipeline, though luckily for us we have a pretty solid number one, hopefully for a long time to come. I liked what I saw out of Chad Johnson in the preseason to have faith he is good enough after a year at Hartford to be Henrik's backup next year so the rest of it depends on Stacjer, Zaba and Wiki.
So as we are all excited with good reason for the great start we have had, dont forget and be encouraged that reinforcements are on the way. Also, in giving credit as we give blame we must give credit to Sather and his team for the job they have done in rebuilding this system to the place it is today.