We move on to the second portion of my prospect rankings. I won't bore you with a superfluous, extensive introduction. You can view Part One of my rankings (players 36 through 25) via this link. The final article, ranking the top 12 prospects in the Rangers' system, will be published Friday. As always, leave thoughts or questions in the comments section and I'll do my best to address them. This is a reminder that the number in parenthesis is where I had each player ranked in July.
24 (21). Petr Zamorsky, Defenseman, 22 Years Old, Free Agent Signing
Zamorsky's signing was announce right in the middle of last year's Stanley Cup Finals, which has contributed to him falling under the radar. He's an interesting prospect, however. He was a standout for the Czech Republic at last year's World Championships and this year is logging big minutes for the Espoo Blues in Finland. Like Nanne, Zamorsky is a smaller defenseman but owns a huge shot. Unlike Nanne, Zamorsky turned 22 in August and thus is more refined. Despite his smaller stature, he's willing to engage physically and is a true European defenseman in how he uses stick positioning to break up rushes. For whatever reason, the offense isn't happening for him this season, with only three points through 21 games. He is taking a lot of shots, though, so he's certainly active. I've seen Zamorsky in parts of a couple games this year, so I'll again let Alex Nunn, who has watched him a fair amount, provide better information.
"Zamorsky’s season with Swiss side Espoo has been disrupted twice by significant injury, but when he has played he’s been effective. Points have been hard to come by for the most part, but his work on the powerplay in particular has looked promising. Zamorsky has a big, accurate shot and he’s not afraid to use it, often leading all skaters in SOG attempts for his team. Defensively his game still needs some work, but the upside is certainly there."
The biggest question with Zamorsky is how willing he'll be to come to North America. He'd almost definitely start out in Hartford and could be kept there for a full season; maybe two. Or, he could could remain in Europe, earn quality minutes on a top European team, and make significantly more money. Is he willing to make the sacrifice for the chance at an NHL future? The Rangers wouldn't have signed him if they didn't think so, and Zamorsky attended the team's training camp this year. I'm cautiously optimistic that he'll give it a shot.
23 (19). Keegan Iverson, Forward, 18 Years Old, 2014 Third-Round Pick
Drafted this past summer in the third round with the pick acquired for Derek Dorsett, I think Keegan Iverson would be the first person to tell you that the first half of his post-draft season has been a disappointment. The Portland Winterhawks, consistently one of the best teams in the WHL the last few seasons, started this campaign 2-10 under new Head Coach Jamie Kompon. Iverson was one of many players who struggled out of the game, scoring twice and adding one assist in his first 13 games. Things got better for the Winterhawks, but not for Iverson, who endured a 17-game goal drought. In his first 30 games, Iverson had only three goals and seven assists. Since breaking that goal drought, he's improved his production, with three goals and six assists in the last 13 games. While nothing special, it's certainly a big step up for him.
I think it's important to give Iverson the benefit of the doubt in a number of ways. He is far from the only player on the Winterhawks who hit some ruts while adapting to the new coaching staff's demands. The Winterhawks are absolutely loaded with offensive talent, meaning Iverson has not been put in a great position to rack up the offense as he might on other teams, where he would play more offensive minutes. He also was getting his fair share of scoring chances. They just weren't going in for him. In spite of that, Iverson was still a contributing member of the Winterhawks, and I think that's important. In many ways he reminds of me another Winterhawk alumni in Brandon Dubinsky. He's a good skater and has a really strong core, which makes him a scary forechecker. He puts a lot of effort in defensively and battles hard every shift. I haven't talked to Iverson yet, but I've talked to people who know him, and I get the sense that he almost cares too much. His body language during the goal drought was not negative, per se, but indicative of him being very hard on himself. He's very team-oriented and doesn't want to let others down. I don't think he needs much coaching from a motivational sense because he's always working hard and he's always holding himself to a high standard.
At the end of the day, he has to produce offensively. Even checking line forwards in the NHL were putting up decent numbers in juniors. Iverson is only 18, though, so there's no imminent demand. He has plenty of time to get that part of his game going. I'm optimistic he will.
22 (29). Steve Fogarty, Forward, 21 Years Old, 2011 Third-Round Pick
Former Blueshirt Banter contributor Evan Sporer and I are both fans of Fogarty and were hopeful he'd break out offensively this year after earning only nine points in 33 games at Notre Dame in his sophomore season. Fogarty was well on his way there at the start of the season, with three goals and five assists in his first 10 games. Since then, he hit a bit of a wall, with only one goal in the next 12 games. He's gotten his passing touch back recently, with two assists in each of his last two games. Altogether, it's a big step up from last season. Especially in the context of him being a true two-way center.
Fogarty's not a player who will stand out particularly, but he has the potential to be an impact NHLer. He has a big frame and can skate well for his size. He combines that with a good pair of mitts to make him capable of contributing in the offensive zone. His upside lies largely in his defensive abilities, though. He's a true shutdown center. He wins faceoffs, and uses his brains and long reach to be an effective defensive player. He's a capable penalty killer. Despite being just a 21-year-old junior, he was selected as Notre Dame's captain. John Tortorella would describe him as someone who "goes about his business." It's hard to find a perfect comparable for Fogarty, but someone like Riley Nash might be close enough. I think Fogarty has a decent shot of becoming a character, two-way bottom-six center.
21 (16). Ryan Bourque, Forward, 24 Years Old, 2009 Third-Round Pick
Bourque's situation is frustrating. After having a breakout season with Hartford last year, scoring 21 goals in 74 games, Bourque came into training camp this season hoping to win a roster spot. I could rant for ages about Vigneault's decision to go the likes of Malone, Glass, and Mueller instead of youth, but it's in the past. Bourque's production has dropped off lightly so far this year with the Wolf Pack – eight goals and 10 assists through 37 games – but it's still solid production to go with the rest of his game. He has a Ryan Callahan/Dominic Moore kind of vibe going on. He leads with his actions on the ice and wears an "A" for the Wolf Pack. He's a good skater and uses that plus his work ethic to compensate for his small size. He's one of Hartford's go-to penalty killers. And, as previously mentioned, he can chip in on offense once in a while.
It's a shame he wasn't offered a chance early in the season, when Miller and Fast (supposedly) needed more time to develop in the AHL and the fourth line was a mess. Bourque is now 24, so this is pretty much it; what you see is what you get. Unfortunately, now it's a numbers game. I could see Bourque contributing as the team's 13th forward but I doubt Vigneault would buy into that. I think Bourque is going to get at least one strong look in the NHL as a fourth-line PK specialist. Unfortunately, it looks increasingly unlikely that it will happen with the Rangers.
20 (26). Richard Nejezchleb, Forward, 20 Years Old, 2014 Fifth-Round Pick
It's been an adventure for Nejezchleb so far this season. Injuries completely derailed his 2012-2013 season, which is why he was available to the Rangers last summer as a 20-year-old after scoring 32 goals and tallying 25 assists in 66 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL. The Rangers took a flyer on him in the fifth round, and they were rewarded early with... more injuries. A setback in Traverse City shelved Nejezchleb for the entirety of training camp. Nejezchleb waited around in Hartford until he was fully healed, and then was sent back to Brandon for an overage season. Unfortunately for the Czech native, the CHL has a limit on "imports." Being that Brandon already had two highly talented Europeans on the team in Ivan Provorov and Rihard Bukarts, he was given only two games with Brandon before being shipped to the Tri-City Americans.
Since then, though, it's gone very well for Nejezchleb, although he is currently dealing with a very minor injury. As an overager you want him to be a standout almost every game, and he's more or less accomplished that. He has 12 goals and 17 assists in 23 games with Tri-City and is always making things happen offensively. I see some similarities to Kevin Hayes. Big bodied guy who uses that size to hold onto the puck. He's a gifted passer of the puck and carries through the neutral zone well. The downside is that sometimes, to a more extreme level than Hayes, he tries to do too much. He'll hold onto the puck too long, or try to beat three different players. Sometimes he gets away with it in juniors, but he'll get eaten alive trying to play like that at the pro level. Can he simplify his game? That remains to be seen. But like Nanne this is exactly the kind of pick I love to see the Rangers making in the later rounds. He's going to require a lot of patience, and he has to stay healthy, but Nejezchleb has darkhorse upside as dynamic top-six forward.
19 (27). Daniel Walcott, Defenseman, 20 Years Old, 2014 Fifth-Round Pick
The second-highest riser in my rankings, Walcott has built on his surprising rookie season in the QMJHL with a quality showing as an overager for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. A wrist injury sidelined him for a few weeks at the start of the season but has otherwise been a standout in the QMJHL. Walcott has been a true captain in every sense of the word for the Armada, and he has been the team's best player as they find themselves third overall in the "Q" despite not being highly rated by most pundits before the season; something he insisted would happen when I spoke to him before the season. Walcott has three goals and 22 assists in 35 games this season, which are very good numbers for a defenseman. And it's not as if his assist total is being inflated by the talent around him; the Armada are a strong team from top to bottom but completely lack any star offensive power.
What I love about Walcott is his versatility. Head Coach Joel Bouchard can't say enough good things about Walcott, and it shows in his deployment of him. CHL Stats estimates that he averages 31:55 of icetime every night, which is pure insanity and puts him second overall in the QMJHL among defensemen. Even if that number was completely off-target, from my time watching him I'd estimate he's good for 25-26 minutes per night at absolute minimum. He eats up a lot of even strength minutes and is matched against the opposition's top line. He's on the first unit of the PK and PP. He's out late in games whether his team needs a goal or is trying to protect a lead. He's an unbelievable skater and carries the puck well. He has a high hockey IQ in both ends of the ice. He's willing to engage physically and block shots. He needs to bulk up if he's going to hold up at higher levels, but I have no doubt he's committed to making that happen. At this point I think he's done enough to merit an entry-level contract and I'm sure he'll be pro in the Rangers' system next season.
18 (18). Adam Tambellini, Forward, 20 Years Old, 2013 Third-Round Pick
Tambellini was eligible to turn pro this year, so the Rangers brought him into training camp open to the idea of signing him and sticking him in one of their minor league affiliates. I think that Tambellini was likely to end up back in the WHL anyway, but the contract limit squeeze that forced a trade just to open up a spot for Duclair surely sealed Tambellini's fate. So, he's been back with the Calgary Hitmen for the second season in what is technically an "overage year" since he turned 20 in November. Tambellini went into the season as a focal point for Calgary's offense, and the dependence on him intensified after Oilers' draft pick Greg Chase demanded a trade from the team. He's delivered offensively. His 29 goals and 52 points in 45 games lead the Hitmen and he's fourth overall in the WHL in goals. Whats particularly encouraging about Tambellini is that, whereas last year he piled up a majority of his points on the power play, this season he is doing a lot more damage 5v5. Power play production is good, but if a player doesn't stand out adequately at even strength in juniors then the stats probably won't translate well at a higher level.
Tambellini reminds me of Rick Nash in a lot of ways, though please note that this is strictly a stylistic comparison. An absolutely lethal wrist shot that makes him a threatening goal scorer, but also good size, skating ability, and vision that make him a complete player in the offensive zone. He's also improved his consistency in the defensive end; he's never going to throw big hits or block a lot of shots but he does well with his stick to tie players up and break up passes. When the Rangers drafted him Tambellini was a lanky 6'3 and somewhere between 165-170 pounds. This summer he added about 15 pounds of muscle, so he's no longer a string bean. I imagine the Rangers will still want him to add an additional 8-12 pounds to his frame as he turns pro.
All in all, I think Tambellini has taken a pretty sizeable step forward in his development since the end of last season. He's stronger and his game is more balanced. I think the quick emergence of fellow third-round picks Anthony Duclair and Pavel Buchnevich has been unfair to Tambellini in terms of his perception. Truth is that they're special cases. Tambellini is in a good spot developmentally and I believe will sign a contract with the Rangers sooner rather than later. He maintains top-six upside.
17 (12). Mat Bodie, Defenseman, 24 Years Old, Free Agent Signing
Signed as a free agent after he led Union College to the NCAA Championship last April, Mat Bodie is now dealing with the transition to pro hockey. The stats actually look pretty good for Bodie; three goals and 13 assists through 39 games with the Wolf Pack. The problem is two-fold for Bodie, however. As an offensive defenseman, he needs to stand out a bit more in the offensive zone. He certainly has presence from the point and makes good decisions with the puck, but I'd like to see him step up and be "The Guy" offensively on the back-end; particularly on the power play. But look, he's still adjusting to the pro game. It's understandable that he's not conquering the world in that regard right away.
More concerning is that his defensive work has a lot to be desired. He's not a big guy – 6'0 and 170 pounds on a good day – and that in itself isn't the end of the world. But he has to compensate for that in other ways, which he isn't right now. His slot play isn't good enough. He loses too many battles behind the net. He's too slow to react to forecheckers and make the necessary decision with the puck, causing him to turn it over too frequently.
That all being said, I still have him rated this high for a reason. He and McIlrath are a good combination on Hartford's top defensive pairing. At face value, he's been pretty good in his first professional season and has definitely improved as the season goes on. The concern stems from the fact that he'll be 25 years old in a couple months. Late bloomers on defense happen, and particularly for smaller offensive defensemen; examples are Johnny Oduya, Brian Rafalski, Mark Streit, and Marek Zidlicky. Those guys are uncommon, though, and with his contract expiring in 2016 he has to make up ground quickly.
16 (17). Ryan Haggerty, Forward, 21 Years Old, Free Agent Signing
Signed as a free agent out of RPI last Spring, Haggerty was one of the pleasant surprises in training camp and preseason for the Rangers. He struggled in his first game, but scored twice in his second appearance against the Flyers. The overall impression from the preseason was that Haggerty could absolutely shoot at an NHL level but, fresh out of college, needed some time at a lower level to work on everything else. His play in Hartford thus far has proven that correct. He only has seven goals in 37 games, but to be honest he's had some awful luck in that department. He's averaging 2.31 shots per game with the Wolf Pack, and although that number could maybe be slightly higher it's still a decent volume of shots. They just aren't going in at the moment. It happens. I wouldn't be overly concerned about it right now.
The other facets of his game are a work in progress, however. He's big and strong, and because of that I'd like to see him battle more in the slot; especially since he's having some trouble scoring. He's by no means a huge liability from a tactical standpoint but it's clear that he's still learning how to play in a pro system. Despite the nice showing in the preseason, Haggerty is definitely not ready for the NHL right now, and I don't know if he will be particularly soon. That's fine, though. He's only 21 years old and has shown he fits in at the AHL level immediately from college. This is a learning season for him. Next season there will be more of an expectation for him to be a top player for Hartford and maybe even push for an NHL call-up, but for now Haggerty is treading water just fine and still has the potential to be second- or third-line forward who can shoot as well as anyone in the NHL.
15 (9). Danny Kristo, Forward, 24 Years Old, Acquired Via Trade
After a somewhat inconsistent rookie season in Hartford last year, Kristo came into training camp this Fall on the outside looking in. The Rangers' roster was largely set, and Ryan Malone, Kevin Hayes, Anthony Duclair, Jesper Fast, J.T. Miller, and others proved to be too much competition for Kristo to beat out for the few spots that were available.
Kristo was returned to Hartford, and while he has played alright, he hasn't done anything to make the Rangers think twice, either. Nine goals and 11 assists in 36 games with Hartford is not good enough from a player whose value lies in his offensive abilities. To be fair to him, I think he's working hard. Wolf Pack Head Coach Ken Gernander cited Kristo's limitations away from the puck and defensively last season, and Kristo has improved in those areas. I think his emphasis on being a more complete player has also contributed to the statistical fall. Nonetheless, Kristo seems to be sinking down the organizational depth chart with every passing game. It's pretty clear that Fast and Miller have Kristo beat by a wide margin.
I didn't factor this into my ranking of Kristo, but in the summer I wrote about how Kristo would be eligible to be an unrestricted free agent this summer if he did not play at least 80 games in the NHL this season. Barring something spectacular in the next few months it's improbable that Kristo even earns a call-up, much less sticks as a regular. It's hard to imagine that Kristo would prefer to stay in the Rangers' organization given the depth chart. I think he still has a chance of developing into a scoring forward at the NHL level, but he's almost definitely going to have to go somewhere else to get an opportunity.
14 (23). Igor Shesterkin, Goaltender, 18 Years Old, 2014 Fourth-Round Pick
The biggest riser in my rankings. Little was known about Shesterkin when the Rangers drafted him in the fourth round last summer. He spent most of last season in the MHL, which is a junior league in Russia. He made only two appearances at the Subway Super Series, and he wasn't even so much as named to Russia's WJC team. With the Rangers having drafted Brandon Halverson two rounds earlier, it seemed strange that they would take another one in the same draft. However, there were whispers in the prospect community about Shesterkin and him being a talented goaltender. Gordie Clark chalked it up as a value pick rather than one of need; they felt he was too good to pass up at that point.
Shesterkin has done a lot since to prove Clark right. He was Russia's best player at the Subway Super Series, posting a .940 save percentage in five appearances, and that showing gave him a lot of momentum going into the World Junior Championships, where he jumped ahead of Islanders' draft pick Ilya Sorokin and worked his way into starts for Russia in their elimination games. In five appearances, Shesterkin accumulated a .938 save percentage. Safe to say that Shesterkin is now well known. He has a lot of work to do in his mechanics. He struggles with blocker-side shots and deals with rebound issues at times. However, he's an incredibly athletic goaltender and has very good instincts. If there's anyone in the world who can refine his game, it's Rangers' goalie coach Benoit Allaire. Here's what Alex has to say about Shesterkin.
"Shesterkin has earned the trust of his coaches this season. His strong play with Russia has seen him take the U20 starting job from Islanders prospect Ilya Sorokin, while the departure of goalies Alexander Salak and Evgeny Ivannikov at SKA of the KHL has afforded Shesterkin an opportunity that he is, at least for now, grasping with both hands. Quirky tendencies aside, there’s nothing to not like about his development track."
While the two are very different goaltenders in terms of style, I think Shesterkin and Halverson are neck-and-neck in terms of their long-term potential.
13 (15). Brandon Halverson, Goaltender, 18 Years Old, 2014 Second-Round Pick
A bit of a roller coaster season for Brandon Halverson. He stormed out of the gate, posting a .935 save percentage in his first five games, winning all of them, and was the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhound's best player in that spell. Immediately after, though, he won only two of the next seven games, accumulating an abysmal .861 save percentage, and was pulled in the first period twice. Then he got his on straight again, and won the next seven games with a .942 save percentage.
That's a pretty good representation of how the entire season has gone for Halverson. He has some very good stretches where he's being peppered with shots and holds down the fort, only to then have a few short spells where he's pulled. When he's on his game, he's one of the best goaltenders in the OHL. And when he's not on his game, he's absolutely abysmal. Not much in-between.
But look, he's an 18-year-old goaltender. Inconsistency is the expectation. The number of quality starts far outweigh the disastrous ones, so he's trending in the right direction. There's a lot to like about Halverson's game. He has a big frame, but is mobile enough that he can stop all sorts of shots. His rebound control is very good. He's very hard to beat down low and has an agile glove as well. Sometimes he becomes overly reliant on his glove and will shoot too far from side-to-side instead of framing his body square to the shooter, but Benoit Allaire will work with him on that. I cited earlier that he and Shesterkin are incredibly close in value as prospects. Halverson gets the higher ranking by the slimmest of margins, and it's because I think he's slightly more polished in his mechanics. Halverson will continue to start for the Greyhounds as they look to earn a spot in the Memorial Cup.