After much agonizing, debilitating thinking, I made an editorial decision to ruin the proportions and only rank eight prospects today, instead of nine as I was supposed to. I think it's a good sacrifice in the name of having a traditional "Top Ten" article for tomorrow. If you are a fraction purist then please accept my sincerest apologies. You can view my prospect rankings from January here. You can view my updated ranking of prospects 36-28 here and prospects 27-19 here. As always, the number in parenthesis is where I had the player ranked in January.
18 (23). Keegan Iverson, Center/Right Wing, 19 Years Old, 2014 Third-Round Pick
Iverson's 2014-2015 campaign could not have started any worse. Just three goals and seven assists in his first 30 games, including a goal drought that lasted about six weeks. What was encouraging, though, was that Iverson was doing a lot of things right. He was working hard every shift and trying to make plays. He was just gripping his stick and overthinking plays, I believe. Eventually he broke the drought, and ended the regular season with 12 goals and 17 assists in the final 38 games.
What I like about Iverson is that he's a hardworking player, but has the hockey ability to make it worthwhile. He's incredibly strong for just his 6'1 height, and he's a phenomenal skater. This makes him an absolute nightmare for the opposite when he is forechecking, as he forces a lot of mistakes, such as this one.
Iverson has a pretty good shot and is very good in front of the net on the power play. However, I'm not sold on the offensive upside right now. I think he does have a chance at becoming a very good third-liner.
17 (17). Mat Bodie, Defenseman, 25 Years Old, Free Agent Signing
Bodie made some strides in the second half the season. Whereas in the first half he looked hesitant with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, by the playoffs he was making confident decisions in shooting and passing. He became a pretty important part of the Wolf Pack's power play. Defensively, he lessened the mistakes. Whereas in the beginning of the year he was making poor decisions with the puck in his own end, he was making quicker, more direct decisions towards the end of the year.
The cynic will note that Bodie still isn't quite an NHL defenseman and will be 25-and-a-half years old when the 2015-2016 season starts. At just 165 pounds, it's no wonder Bodie had a tough time defending against forwards in his own end. I'm not sure some added muscle is all that he needs, however. He's barely a competent defender, which at the NHL level is perfectly fine if you can contribute a lot of offense like Keith Yandle, Michael Del Zotto, and Dennis Wideman. Bodie's 32 points in 75 games with the Wolf Pack were solid numbers, but nothing particularly inspiring. Definitely not enough production to alone justify a spot in the NHL.
The optimist will point out that Bodie is a late bloomer. Breaking into the NHL at 25-26 is pretty rare, but if anyone is going to do it then it's someone like Bodie. The Rangers showed a lot of confidence in Bodie when they chose to extend him a qualifying offer instead of Conor Allen. As a free pickup, the Rangers could do much worse than Bodie. He's a safe bet to be a top defenseman for the Wolf Pack, and if his developmental timeline is indeed unique then maybe he beats the odds and develops into a Matt Hunwick type of player.
16 (24). Petr Zamorsky, Defenseman, 22 Years Old, Free Agent Signing
Last season, Zamorsky spent the majority of the time with the Espoo Blues of the Finnish Elite League. He played relatively well, even if the three goals and three assists in 25 games for the offensive defenseman don't reflect it. He really just did not have much luck. However, he looked like he belonged for certain, and in my viewings I thought his defensive play looked improved from when I saw him at the World Championships in the Spring of 2014. Towards the end of the season, Zamorsky moved to Orebro HK of the Swedish Hockey League. In a much tougher league, Zamorsky improved the offensive output; five points in 10 games as well as two goals and two assists in six playoff games.
I had Calle Andersson and Zamorsky ranked almost equally. It was my go-to European, Alex Nunn, who convinced me on ranking Zamorsky ahead. What I like about Zamorsky is that I think his game will translate to the North American style. He's a bit more crash and bang than Andersson, even if he is smaller. Despite his smaller size, he's not against getting physical in his own end. He has a great shot from the point that makes him a prime candidate as a triggerman for the power play. Defensively, his zonal positioning could use work, but his one-on-one defending is pretty good. He loves to get his stick in on puck carriers to break up their rushes. Having proven himself at the World Championships and in Sweden's top division, I don't think Zamorsky is too far off from being an NHL defenseman. He definitely has upside as a third-pairing defenseman and power play specialist. He'll need the usual time to adjust to a North American rink, but it would not surprise me at all if he was in the mix for an NHL spot in 2016.
15 (N/A). Daniel Bernhardt, Right Wing, 19 Years Old, 2015 Fourth-Round Pick
This was, in my opinion, a great draft from Rangers' European Head Scout Anders Hedberg. I'm not certain if Adam Huska was a pick that was his doing. I am certain that Bernhardt was. Unfortunately I haven't been able to view Bernhardt yet, so I'm going off of reports from those I trust. Bernhardt is a big, fast winger who dominated Swedish juniors last season, leading the SuperElit in goals (26) and points (61). Despite being 6'3 and 191 pounds, Bernhardt has a very high top speed, and after the draft Gordie Clark would not stop raving about it. Bernhardt also has very good hands and is good at getting past defenders with the puck on his stick. In theory, this makes him a perfect fit for the modern NHL and Alain Vigneault's style of hockey, which prioritizes creating offense off the rush with speed.
The problems for Bernhardt are that his shot is only really average, so his goal scoring potential once he plays against pros is probably somewhat limited. He's still trying to find that balance between using the skill he has to make plays and not overdoing to the point that he's turning over pucks instead of making simple but efficient decisions. He also does not utilize his size well. That could come with time.
Bernhardt fits the mold of Hagelin and Fast in a general sense; intelligent, speedy Swedish wingers. Bernhardt perhaps doesn't have high-end potential but certainly could be a second-third line tweener; there would be nothing wrong with that. The London Knights drafted him in the CHL Import Draft, but I am told by both OHL and Swedish sources that it's more likely he stays in Sweden next season and moves up to the pro ranks there.
14 (N/A). Brad Morrison, Center, 18 Years Old, 2015 Fourth-Round Pick
When the Rangers were on the clock at 113th overall this past draft, I was screaming for them to take skilled forward Dmytro Timashov. They instead took Brad Morrison, and I can't really complain; it's the same kind of selection. Morrison, who plays for the Prince George Cougars of the WHL, is an incredibly talented offensive center. He's deft at skating the puck through the neutral zone and gaining the blue line. He'll speed down the wing with the puck, or perhaps more importantly he'll burst through the center and beat defenders through the middle. It opens up the entire offensive zone and keeps defensemen on their feet.
In the offensive zone, Morrison is an all-around talent. He can deke past defenders. He has a very good wrist shot. He can find open teammates in tight spaces. The presence of Jansen Harkins - drafted 47th overall by the Winnipeg Jets this past draft - has relegated Morrison to second-line center for the Cougars, and he was surrounded with nondescript wingers for most of the season. Thus, he made a lot of offense by himself.
The knocks on Morrison are what you expect they are. At 6'0 and 154 pounds, he lacks size. He has plenty of time to add on muscle, and the size issue hasn't stopped him from battling hard in the slot or taking hits to make plays. His defensive play is mediocre at best. He'll need to improve on that, but ultimately the offense is what will make or break him. It will be interesting to see if the Rangers view Morrison's long-term future as at center or on the wing. He has experience with both. His ability to make plays and slow the game down with the puck makes him a good fit for center. Hopefully the size and defensive ability catch up and allow him to stick there. Ultimately, I think the Rangers got a tremendous value in Morrison.
13 (N/A). Aleksi Saarela, Center, 18 Years Old, 2015 Third-Round Pick
How do you replace someone like Anthony Duclair in your prospect pool? Well, you probably don't. Not without a first rounder, anyway. If there's someone from this past draft who has the upside to do so, however, then perhaps it's Aleksi Saarela. There are some similarities in their stories. Saarela entered this past season as a potential first-round pick. Various injury issues sidelined him at points during the season, which limited his playing time and also prevented him from really hitting his stride. With Ässät of the Finnish Elite League, Saarela had just six goals and six assists in 51 games. Not terrible numbers for an 18-year-old, but nothing that stands out, either. Saarela also had a tough time at the
World Juniors U20 level, with no points in seven games.
However, Saarela really did shine during the U18's this past Spring, with nine points in eight games. He has basically all the offensive tools you want. He's a fantastic skater. He has a strong shot and makes great passes. He's, at worst, adequate defensively and can surprise the opposition on transitions when penalty killing. He can play center or wing. He has the necessary so called "compete level." Derick Brassard wouldn't be the worst comparison.
Like any other prospect, Saarela has aspects of his game to work on and improve, but ultimately it comes down to this; he needs to stay healthy. He's been hit with a number of injuries in the last couple of seasons, including a concussion. If Saarela can stay out of the trainer's room, then he'll be in the running to be Finland's first-line center at next season's World Juniors. If the injuries persist then it's going to be hard for him to develop as a player. But if he can get past them then the Rangers might have been at the right place at the right time yet again in the third round.
12 (12). Cristoval "Boo" Nieves, Forward, 21 Years Old, 2012 Second-Round Pick
After a pedestrian sophomore season, Boo Nieves took his offseason training much more seriously and had a much better junior season. He had seven goals and 21 assists in 35 games, after having just three goals and 19 assists in his sophomore season. Nieves was noticeably bulkier, which worked out for him in both ends of the rink. Defensively, he was winning wall battles. Offensively, he was shielding the puck better and had a noticeably stronger shot.
There were games last season where Nieves was Michigan's best forward. Which is certainly progress. I'm still waiting for him to hit that next level, though. Nieves was consistently a solid player for Michigan last season, which is fine. But every once in a while he would just take over a game and be a force. As a teenager, that's great. At 20-21, it's a bit unconvincing. With the way Nieves played last season, he looks like a guy who could become a quality bottom-six forward. But I don't think that has to be his ceiling. it's pretty clear that there's a second liner to be found within him. He's an elite skater. He passes the puck wonderfully. He scored some crazy goals last season, literally skating through all five opposition players to score. And now he has a good amount of muscle on his frame. The tools are there, and he just needs to get it all together for every game instead of just some games. The departures of Zach Hyman, Andrew Copp, and Dylan Larkin will mean that Michigan will rely on Nieves in first-line minutes. I want to see him have a dominant senior season with Michigan. I know he has it within him to do so.
11 (8). Dylan McIlrath, Defenseman, 23 Years Old, 2010 First-Round Pick
Are you surprised Dylan McIlrath is ranked 11th? Because I am. In no way did I anticipate this; especially with all the departures from January's top-10. But as I went down the list, one-by-one, I just could not justify placing McIlrath above anyone in the top-10. And even after all that I wrestled with it. Is this really where things lie with McIlrath?
It's a complicated situation. On one hand, McIlrath was arguably Hartford's best defenseman last season. He played all the tough minutes and did very well in them. His skating looked better than ever before. No coach would ever assign him to mark Carl Hagelin one-on-one, but against any reasonable forward he showed that he has adequate skating and, if not, the ability to read the play so he could at least compensate when he was out of his depth. His outlet passes were crisp. He has become less trigger happy with regards to hitting, but it's still a big part of his game. When he does hit someone... look out. The second half of the season was particularly great for McIlrath. In his NHL call-up earlier in the season, everyone remembers him getting burned by Tarasenko (though that goal was more Michael Kostka's fault). What people don't remember is that McIlrath played pretty well in that game against the Blues given the circumstances.
And yet, what is the future for McIlrath? As things stand, the Rangers have Girardi, Boyle, Klein, and Diaz all on the right side. If the Rangers even have the cap space to fit McIlrath, then it's as the eighth defenseman. If they don't, then they have to subject him to waivers. Do they want to risk losing him for nothing?
As I've said before, McIlrath gets knocked because of where he was drafted, but he is still a legitimate NHL prospect who has played very well in the AHL. If he was a third-round pick then everyone would be eager to see him at the NHL level. I don't know if he's going to be an NHL defenseman, but I do know that he's done everything he possibly can in the AHL to earn a legitimate chance to prove he is an NHL defenseman. The Rangers' depth chart has just gotten in the way of that, and as of now there doesn't appear to be a resolution to that problem for McIlrath. Him being traded would not be surprising, at this point.