You guys and girls all seemed to enjoy the last six questions I asked Jess Rubenstein from The Prospect Park but a few of you said that you wanted to hear more about the Europeans that the Rangers have in the system. Jess was kind enough to tolerate some more poorly-phrased questions about Rangers prospects so let's jump right into seven more questions with Jess!
Last time we focused on the North American prospects (particularly the Americans) so now let's turn our focus on the Europeans that the Rangers have in the system. The three big European Ranger prospects that have Rangers fans excited are Marek Hrivik, Oscar Lindberg, and Jesper Fast, what can you tell us about them?
Jess: Right from the start I have to say that I don't watch the AHL during the season so I really cannot give a report on Hrivik. Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast are a different story and I have to say that Lindberg would be the one who I think has the better shot at earning a spot right from training camp.
Last season was a breakout season for Lindberg, he found his offensive game with a 17-25-42 year which was a nice surprise considering most felt Lindberg would be more of a Craig MacTavish defensive-minded forward. Still, defense is what I think gets Lindberg to the NHL especially because of his strong faceoff skills.
Lindberg is a sound two-way player who has a strong grasp of the basic fundamental part of the game. His skating, while not speedster fast, is better than average and his decision making process is also above average. My main concern is going to be how much weight he will be able to add this off-season as I would prefer seeing him around 200 to be able to withstand the physical side of the game.
Jesper Fast is the more exciting player of the duo as his willingness to attack through traffic will make him a crowd favorite. It will be interesting to see Fast and fellow Swede Carl Hagelin both on the forecheck down the road. I do think Fast will need some time in the AHL to fully adapt but when he does get the call I think Fast will be a solid performer at both ends.
Fast needs some work on the technical aspects of the game as he does need to see the ice better and speed up his decision making speed. I would like to see Fast put some muscle on as well as I think his shot selection is solid but could use some more power on it.
Thomas Spelling who was the Ranger's 5th round pick in the 2012 draft had a rough time in Sweden and is heading back to Denmark which has to be seen as a big step backwards. It's funny, I watched Spelling's former teammate Oliver Bjorkstrand play for the Portland Winterhawks last season and he was a rock solid performer.
Spelling did well at the Swedish junior level but he never found his game playing against adults and I think he would have been smarter to come to North America to develop his game. While I am not going to call him a bust because he is just 20, Spelling needs to bounce back strong and return to Sweden before the Rangers even think about offering him a contract.
What can you tell us about Mikhail Pashnin and Calle Andersson? What kind of blueliners are they and how are they developing?
Jess: OK first off I do not consider Pashnin a serious Ranger prospect as he has been more of a con-man using the Rangers to get a better deal in the KHL. Nothing about his game even remotely says NHL because of his smallish size (6' 185) as a stay at home defender. The lack of any real offense in the KHL also does not say that he has any legit NHL potential.
Calle Andersson, on the other hand, had a mixed season as he played well when he was playing in the junior version of the Swedish Elite League. The results were not as strong when Andersson was playing in either the Swedish Elite or the 2nd level HockeyAllsvenskan. Andersson is just 19 so time is on the Ranger's side here as they can let Andersson play in Sweden for a couple more years before deciding whether or not to sign him.
The skill set is there for Andersson to develop into a good two-way defender as he plays a "smart" game for someone just 19 years of age. It is going to tough to see how well Andersson improves unless Malmo (his 2013-14 team) makes their way back to the Swedish Elite league.
Obviously Brady Skjei isn't European-born but I was wondering if you could give us your thoughts on how he has looked in the year since the Rangers drafted him in the first round?
Jess: I think too many Ranger fans got hung up on stats and because of that thought Skjei had a weak season. I would call it an inconsistent season, part of the growing pains of jumping from the USNTDP to the NCAAs. Toss in that Skjei was playing on a Minnesota team that was expected to contend for the NCAA championship and you got a player who the numbers say had a bad season.
I look at Skjei by who he was paired with and that was Nate Schmidt who was the leading scorer among the Minnesota defenders. That to me said a lot about Skjei's defensive skills. That said there is a need for Skjei to show some improvement as he enters his sophomore season starting with playing with more confidence in himself.
What people might not realize is that Skjei is the player who his coaches' team with their best offensive player as it was Schmidt last season. In 2011-2012 season it was Seth Jones.
Skjei should show some more offense, become a more vocal player on the ice, and use being scratched in the NCAA tournament game as a motivator for the 2013-2014 season.
Out of all the blueliners in the system which two (or three) are your favorites to have careers in the NHL and which of those guys should Rangers fans expect to see first?
Jess: I think the first is a no-brainer and that is Dylan McIlrath. McIlrath the first time he drops the gloves or hits someone with the body will silence anyone who wanted Cam Fowler. Brady Skjei is second even though it will be a couple of years before we get to see him. I want to say Sam Noreau is my dark horse right now as his improvement over each of the last two seasons has been impressive.
In our last set of six questions you said that Steven Fogarty is a "dark horse" of a prospect that could surprise people and have a solid NHL career if he improves his skating and polishes his game. Out of all the European prospects who is that dark horse prospect that isn't being talked about nearly as much as he should be?
Jess: I do not have one as the Rangers European prospects are where they should be which is Lindberg and Fast just arriving and others still in Europe trying to develop their game.
Which Rangers prospect in the last ten years is the "one that got away" (whether his development was poorly managed and he turned into a bust or another team snatched him away from us)?
Jess: That is not a fair question to ask because development is a two-way street. Evgeny Grachev and Michael Del Zotto were both rushed to the pro ranks by the Rangers. Del Zotto was clearly not ready on the defensive side but yet the Rangers ignored that.
Stan Butler who was Grachev's coach at Brampton said that Grachev needed to learn to work hard every day something even Grachev acknowledged. Yet the Rangers rushed him to the pro ranks for reasons unknown and Grachev became a bust.
Some excellent points and insight by Jess!
What did I take away from this second look into Rangers prospects? Rangers fans should be really excited about Lindberg, Fast, and McIlrath but they also should keep their expectations within reason. I agree with Jess that Lindberg is the guy to watch out of training camp. He could really surprise some people by fighting for a roster spot and earn a spot in the bottom six out of training camp. Fast's speed (appropriately) might be all he needs to get a crack at the roster this year as a call-up. I'm sure both of them will turn a few heads at camp and certainly at the AHL level. Jess seems quite high on McIlrath but I don't think he is overselling the 6'5" hulk from Winnipeg. McIlrath's physicality and ultimate potential are very encouraging and Rangers fans might finally stop muttering about how they could have had Cam Fowler when McIlrath skates as a Ranger for the first time and crushes someone into the boards.
Mikhail Pashnin (24 years old) sounds like a guy that will never make it to North America and certainly not the NHL after what Jess had to say about him. I had heard some questions over the past few months about where Pashnin was and what his "status" was... I hope Jess' rather scathing take on him answers any questions you guys might have had. Looks like it is time for the Rangers and their fans to move on from Pashnin and onto other prospects.
Even without a first or second round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft it appears that the Rangers have plenty of promising and interesting prospects in the system. With that being said it is not something that the Rangers or any other team can afford to make a frequent event. There are guys in the system that need more work and seasoning (like Skjei, Andersson, and Fogarty), there are guys that need to have big years to show that they have what it takes to be professional hockey players (Ryan Bourque and Andrew Yogan), and there are guys who look like that they are right on the cusp of being ready for the Rangers either this season or in the immediate future (Kristo, Miller, Lindberg, Fast, and McIlrath).
I want to thank Jess Rubenstein again for doing this with me. As much as I love researching and studying all things relevant to Rangers hockey I lack the wisdom and insight to discuss prospects with any sort of authority... thankfully Jess is around for me to ask questions to. Please go check out Jess's outstanding site,The Prospect Park, for outstanding coverage of Rangers and Islanders prospects and great hockey talk and analysis. Jess also contributes to a nifty hockey newsletter called Hock.ly.
Who do you think is the "prospect that got away"? Who do you guys think has the best chance of making the team out of Miller, Kristo, Lindberg, and Fast? Is there a prospect that Jess and I didn't touch on that you were really hoping to hear more about? Let me know what you guys think in the comments!
Let's go Rangers.