The Rangers have lost their exclusive rights to 2014 draft selections Ryan Mantha, Keegan Iverson, and Richard Nejezchleb. The deadline to sign all 2014 draft selections drafted out of the Canadian Hockey League was today (June 1st) at 5pm EST.
Ryan Mantha, taken in the fourth round (104th overall), is perhaps the surprise of the group. Mantha was a solid, though unspectacular defenseman for a very good Niagara IceDogs team. He fits the general "projectable" mold of defensemen that scouts love. He has the frame of an NHL defenseman at 6'5, 225 pounds, and is relatively mobile for his size. However, while his 2014-2015 season was solid, he plateaued in his 19-year-old season. He has decent offensive instincts but hardly enough to make it the foundation of his game. The Rangers told Niagara they wanted him to develop into a rock-solid, shutdown defenseman, and it just never happened. He never consistently displayed an ability to overpower forwards with his size or any particular defensive awareness. I don't think the Rangers were wrong to draft Mantha at the time. He was a decent gamble outside the top-100 picks. Pro hockey is likely in Mantha's future, but his peak is probably as a top ECHLer/depth AHL defenseman. The Rangers strongly lack right-handed defensemen of any relevance in the system, and Mantha's departure makes it one fewer. Look for them to add a free agent prospect or two in the coming weeks.
Third-round pick (85th overall) Keegan Iverson not signing was unsurprising, but disappointing. Like Mantha, Iverson had projectable aspects at the time of being drafted. He has an NHL build, skates well, and is tenacious every shift. Unfortunately, he was unable to develop any semblance of offensive consistency over the last two seasons. Most good NHL depth forwards were point producers at the junior level; even players like Cal Clutterbuck and Derek Dorsett hovered around a point-per-game as 19-year-old's. Unfortunately, Iverson's 11 goals and 18 assists in 55 games don't come close to meeting the standard.
Finally, the future of Richard Nejezchleb, taken in the fifth round, has been known for a while but is now official. In my opinion, this was one of the Rangers' better picks in 2014. Nejezchleb was ripe with ability but injuries prevented him from getting drafted in 2012 and 2013. A good skater with a big frame and plenty of ability with the puck on his stick, Nejezchleb had a resemblance to Benoit Pouliot. He was given an AHL contract for the 2015-2016 season and even registered a nice assist in his preseason game with the Blueshirts. However, injuries continued to takes its toll and Nejezchleb was unable to stick in Hartford, eventually getting demoted to the ECHL. Nejezchleb will be playing back in the Czech Republic next season. The Rangers took a late gamble on a skilled player who could have been a steal if he could have stayed healthy. It just didn't work out.
Gordie Clark and his team of scouts usually do a great job, but 2014 was not their brightest moment. Not all is lost, however. Goaltender Brandon Halverson, taken 59th overall, has developed about as anticipated and will turn pro next season. Russian goaltender Igor Shesterkin, taken in the fourth round, looks like a potential steal. It's to soon to know on fifth-round pick Tyler Nanne, who is recovering from a major health scare and hopes to play his freshman season at Minnesota next fall. Finally, the Rangers traded fifth-round pick Daniel Walcott to Tampa Bay last summer for a 2015 seventh-round pick. That pick was used on goaltender Adam Huska, who is arguably the team's highest-rising prospect. At the end of the day, if one of those three is eventually able to take the baton from Henrik Lundqvist, then the Rangers will have done okay.