We move on to the second part of this four-part series, and this is where it starts getting interesting. Even as far back as spot 27 is a prospect with legitimate upside. It's a tremendous credit to Gordie Clark and his scouting staff that the Rangers can have talent on the back-end of its depth chart despite not many high draft picks and the departure of a number of prospects. As a reminder, the number in parenthesis is where I had the player ranked in January. Let's get to it.
27 (N/A). Adam Huska, Goaltender, 18 Years Old, 2015 Seventh-Round Pick
The Rangers had absolutely zero need for a goaltender, and yet I love that the Rangers took Huska late in this past draft. Goalies are incredibly difficult to scout as teenagers, and so they provide the best value in the late rounds since their upside is generally higher than the most of the skaters available.
In the case of Huska, his upside is incredibly high. In fact, when I asked Gordie Clark about picking Huska despite the Rangers' strong pool of goalies, he admitted that he wasn't planning on taking a goaltender this draft but that he didn't expect Huska to still be on the board in the seventh round. In essence, the Rangers threw the depth chart to the wind in the name of value. If in five years the Rangers have more NHL-caliber goalies than needed then great! They'll deal with it then.
Of course, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Huska spent the majority of last season with Slovakia's national development team, which plays in the second division of Slovakian hockey. He eventually made the move over to the Green Bay Gramblers of the USHL, where he played six games and posted mediocre numbers. He did have success at the U-18 World Championship this past Spring, but for the most part he has not proven himself at a particularly high level. He has a very long way to go in his development.
What the scouts love about Huska is his pure athleticism. At 6'3 and 179, he has what many would consider the ideal frame for a goaltender. He is very strong and can make powerful movements around the crease. He's mobile and flexible and can make some astounding saves. However, he becomes his own worst enemy. Sometimes he overshoots his angles badly. He's out of control with his movements; when to challenge shooters versus just staying calm and centered in the crease. In essence, this is an extra credit assignment for Rangers' Goalie Coach Benoit Allaire. Here's a guy with the right body type and all the necessary athleticism. Now teach him how to play goalie. If Allaire pushes the right buttons, then the Rangers could have another late-round goaltending steal.
26 (29). Ryan Mantha, Defenseman, 19 Years Old, 2014 Fourth-Round Pick
The first half of last season was a series of miserable events for Ryan Mantha. It started out with him struggling heavily in his first few games with the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL, and then he suffered a back injury that shelved him for a while. Upon returning, he was shuffled back and forth between defense and fourth line right wing, bizarrely, as Niagara Head Coach Marty Williamson tried to figure out his lineup. That disastrous start to the season reflected in me ranking Mantha just above the fringe prospects.
However, the second half of his season was tremendously improved. He appeared healthy and settled in. After registering just two goals and two assists in his first 20 games, Mantha went on to earn eight goals and 13 assists in his next 32 games, plus a goal and five assists in 11 playoff games. Defensively, he made big strides as well. He wasn't Niagara's go-to shutdown defenseman by any means, but he was depended on to play a regular shift against quality scorers on the opposing team and did a good job. He's not a PP QB by any means but he does a solid job moving the puck around the offensive zone and has a good shot. He's not afraid to jump into the high slot and take a wrist shot, and he also is good at getting pucks on net from the blue line.
He's not a speedster by any means, but he is a good enough skater to keep up with most OHL forwards. The Rangers have told the IceDogs that they'd like them to really groom the defensive part of Mantha's game, and while it's a work in progress, he's definitely improved in defending players one-against-one and in his slot coverage. It's going to take a lot of work, but I think Mantha has upside as a number-four, two-way defenseman.
25 (26). Marek Hrivik, Left Winger, 23 Years Old, Free Agent Signing
At face value, Marek Hrivik had an incredibly impressive season with the Wolf Pack. He endured a massive scoring drought during the first half of the season, but it was mostly misfortune. The rest of his game was certainly improved, though, and he became one of Hartford's better defensive forwards. In the second half of the season, the scoring came back, and he really caught fire in the playoffs producing nine points in 11 games.
But ultimately I'm left with the same issues that I cited for Carl Klingberg. A decent combination of size, skating, and hands, but nothing particularly special. He'll be 24 in a month. Hrivik is a solid defensive forward but not a standout by any means, and at the NHL level I don't see him providing anything beyond sporadic offense. I still stand by the fact that Hrivik will be a good player on a team in Europe. At absolute best, he could be a decent 12th/13th forward on a cheap contract, but I don't see him as much more than a warm body in that sense; a guy who wouldn't ruin anything but who wouldn't carry play, either. The market is saturated with those kinds of players, and Hrivik isn't even a lock to reach that standard. I'd rather take my chances on a prospect with higher upside.
24 (25). Tyler Nanne, Defenseman, 19 Years Old, 2014 Fifth-Round Pick
It was a bumpy season for Nanne in the USHL. Things started out ugly with the Sioux Falls Stampede, and he registered just 3 points in 14 games. He requested a trade because he and his head coach didn't mesh philosophically, and so he was moved to the Madison Capitals. There, his production was much better, as he produced 13 points in 29 games. Unfortunately, a high ankle sprain cut his season short when he was playing his best hockey.
Nanne is similar to Huska in concept. He has a lot of individual abilities that you want in an offensive defenseman. He skates very well and is happy to take the puck down low. Despite his small frame, he has a cannon from the point. He has solid vision and makes crisp passes. He can rush the puck up the ice from his own end. He needs a good amount of coaching and maturity to turn those abilities into a consistent product. His defensive game is a major work in progress. He can overcome the small size because he does play with an edge, but he has a lot to learn in terms of one-on-one defending and zone coverages.
Nanne grew up playing forward for the most part. Now, in essence, Nanne needs to learn how to become a defenseman. He'll be attending Ohio State this Fall and will likely need all four years there to grow as a player. I don't anticipate us having an established idea of Nanne's long-term future until about his junior season. He needs the first year, maybe two, to transition to the NCAA level and build his game from the ground up. Which is all fine; there's no rush. If five years from now Nanne is following in the footsteps of Torey Krug then the wait will be well worth it.
23 (22). Steve Fogarty, Center, 22 Years Old, 2011 Third-Round Pick
Fogarty falling a spot is purely about the Rangers bringing in a lot of new talent and a few other players jumping up the board. Because Fogarty had a good junior season with Notre Dame. Fogarty started hot, with eight points in his first 10 games. However, he then endured a scoring drought through much of the winter, registering only one goal in the next 12 games. He then picked it up again, registering two assists on January 16th against Connecticut on his way to five goals and seven assists in his final 17 games; including three goals and two assists in Notre Dame's six games in the Hockey East Tournament.
Fogarty is good example of what I mean for being unsure about Nanne's long-term future, because up until this season it wasn't really clear what Steve Fogarty's role in the NHL could theoretically be. He is a fantastic defensive center. He's adequate at worst on faceoffs, has a high hockey IQ and makes all the right reads in his own zone. He's a good skater for his size and has the hands to make plays. We saw glimpses of it in his first two seasons with Notre Dame, but this is the year where he really became consistent with his offensive production. Fogarty will be back with Notre Dame for his senior season, and unless he absolutely bombs I imagine the Rangers will sign him to a contract at the end of his season. After a bit of time in the AHL, he could become a bottom-six defensive center with some complementary offense.
22 (N/A). Magnus Hellberg, Goaltender, 24 Years Old, Acquired Via Trade
Cam Talbot didn't even make his NHL debut until he was 26, so why shouldn't Hellberg be considered a prospect? The 2011 second-round pick of the Nashville Predators was acquired this July in return for a 2017 sixth-round pick. Hellberg is a big goaltender at 6'5 and 185 pounds. Stylistically, he has some comparisons to Lundqvist in that he plays deep in the net.
In reality, the Rangers probably hope they never need Hellberg. This was an insurance move. The Rangers needed to add a third goaltender to their minor league depth chart. Cédrick Desjardins is coming off major ACL and MCL surgery and there are no guarantees as to how he'll respond. Skapski could miss the start of the season, and the Rangers would probably prefer to not have him spend another big chunk of time sitting on the bench in the NHL in case of injury. Hellberg will be good competition for Skapski and has the experience and ability to serve as a call-up if a goaltender goes down again this season. But who knows. Benoit Allaire turned Cam Talbot and a 30-year-old Steve Valiquette into competent backup goaltenders. Allaire taking a talented 24-year-old goalie selected 38th overall and turning him into an NHL-caliber netminder is hardly unthinkable.
21 (21). Ryan Bourque, Left Wing, 24 Years Old, 2009 Third-Round Pick
Bourque achieved a great milestone at the end of last season, earning his first NHL game with the Rangers against the Ottawa Senators. In that game, he played very well, dominating possession on a line with Jesper Fast and Dominic Moore. After Mats Zuccarello got injured, Bourque was called up again to serve as the team's 13th forward for the remainder of the playoffs.
At 24, Bourque has proven everything he possible can at the AHL level. This is basically do-or-die time. I think Bourque would be the ideal 13th forward. He's a character guy. He can play wing or center. He's a very good defensive forward who works his butt off every shift. And his cap hit is a measly $562,500. It was only one game, but in that game Bourque hardly looked out of place. Unfortunately, I don't think the Rangers will give him a chance. But we'll see.
20 (27). Calle Andersson, Defenseman, 21 Years Old, 2012 Third-Round Pick
Andersson's season was a bit like Tyler Nanne's. The offensive defenseman started out with Zug of the Swiss-A league and had just one goal and two assists in 18 games. Then he was moved to Lugano, and the floodgates opened; five goals and 12 assists in 30 games.
Andersson is your stereotypical Swedish defenseman. In his own end, a smart defenseman but one who is timid physically. Offensively, he makes calculated decisions with the puck from the point. He'll put some pucks on net but is more of a distributor than a shooter. Sometimes I think I fail to give Andersson the credit as a prospect as he deserves. It feels like he's been around forever because he's been playing in the top tiers of Europe for four seasons now, but in reality he only just turned 21 in May. He would have just completed his junior season in the NCAA.
Andersson will be playing in North America this season, and presumably will start the season with the Wolf Pack. Like Jesper Fast and Oscar Lindberg, I anticipate him needing at least a full season to adjust. At 6'2 and 208 pounds, Andersson has the size to play with the necessary edge to deal with the smaller ice surface and, thus, more consistent wall battles. It'll be up to Hartford Assistant Coach Jeff Beukeboom to get that out of him. If he does, then Andersson could have a future with the Rangers as a third-pairing, possession-driving defenseman who features on the power play.
19 (20). Richard Nejezchleb, Right Wing, 21 Years Old, 2014 Fifth-Round Pick
In his overage season - mostly spent with the Tri-City Americans - Nejezchleb was one of the most dominant forwards in the WHL with 13 goals and 18 assists in his first 24 games. However, his production dipped a bit in the middle of January, perhaps in part because of a knee injury. He finished with just seven goals and 12 assists in the final 23 games. In the playoffs, he had one goal in four games against the powerhouse Kelowna Rockets.
The lukewarm second half of the season certainly didn't help Nejezchleb's stock, but I give him the benefit of the doubt here. His performance in the first half of the season showed that he had nothing left to prove at the junior level, and he was basically by himself offensively in Tri-City; there only other players of note were a two-way defenseman (Parker Wotherspoon), a defensive defenseman (Brandon Carlo), and goaltender Eric Comrie. He was basically forced to create offense by himself, and for the most part he did that successfully.
The future for Nejezchleb isn't clear. At 21 he no longer eligible for juniors. He has yet to sign a contract with the Rangers. Though he wasn't officially signed to an Amateur Tryout, he was sent to Hartford after his WHL season was over and traveled with the team during the playoffs. He also was on the roster for July's development camp. I'm going to guess that the Rangers will sign him, and they should. He has a tremendous amount of skill. He makes offense out of nothing, carrying the puck up the ice and creating shooting lanes for himself. Or, carrying the puck around the offensive zone and finding an open teammate with high-difficulty passes. He needs work on rounding out his game, but he still has upside as a top-six winger.
Tomorrow we'll get into the top half of the Rangers' prospect pool. As a reminder, you can read my rankings of prospects 36 through 18 here. You can also look at my prospect rankings from January here.