One of the most overlooked aspect to this summer's New York Rangers' evolution that everyone is terrified of is the team's prospect pool.
Thanks to a decade-long stretch of successful hockey, followed by three years of very successful hockey and a series of blockbuster trades that lifted the team of future 1st round draft picks, the Rangers' prospect pool has become shallow.
Both Pavel Buchnevich and Brady Skjei would like to have a word with you if you're claiming it's devoid of any blue chip prospects, and Robin Kovacs might bump his way into that conversation as well, but it's worth noting outside of the very top of the list there's not a ton of names that mean very much.
The good news? The Rangers have the opportunity to hit the reset button this year. Not just with the players they're rumored to be interested in taking offers on, but because most every single prospect in the farm is a free agent.
Per General Fanager, of the Rangers 32 non-roster players (read: prospects) 18 of them are either an RFA or UFA this summer. Five more are scheduled to become free agents next year. And the only reason why that percentage isn't higher is because it includes players like Buchnevic, Adam Chapie, Boo Nieves, Steven Fogarty (read about their signings here) and Malte Stromwall (read about his signing here) who were all signed to ELCs this summer.
It's safe to say the Rangers won't be renewing many of the contracts sitting in their system. When a team is successful for a stretch of consecutive years there's always going to be a depleting of the prospect pool since the draft picks are higher than they would be had the team tanked or just been bad. The Rangers are no different, and when this happened to them they reasonably dipped their toes into the NCAA free agency pool and took risks on other prospects teams had moved on from. Some of them worked out, some of them didn't.
We've seen the first steps of this transformation with Jeff Gorton and company electing not to sign three 2014 Draft Picks, allowing two of them to go back into this year's draft. Adam covered that here, and also talked about that 2014 draft -- which was a disaster -- but did find a bright spot here.
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.
Part of this is because the Hartford situation needs to be fixed. The Rangers have little to no actual AHL presence, signing journeymen AHL veterans or declining NHL guys looking for a shot to bolster their lower level ranks. That hasn't worked out, and because of it the list of prospects who the Rangers have actually had develop in that environment have been slim. Dylan McIlrath and Skjei have both the most recent names to come through the Hartford system, but from a forward standpoint the list isn't very long.
The lack of top, developing prospects in North America is a part of that. Which means the Rangers throwing around first round draft picks like singles at a strip club didn't help, either, but it's still a problem that needs to be fixed.
I expected the Rangers to be far more active in the NCAA free agency pool. Reports are out there Gorton will be very active on Nashville Predators draft pick Jimmy Vesey, but it's hard to see the Rangers being a realistic landing spot for him. I'm also hoping to see the Rangers make some moves for undrafted junior free agents (Jarrett Smith and Jason Fram being at the top of the list), but there's been little movement on that as well.
There's a real opportunity to get back into the first round and restock the cupboard through this year's draft -- especially with the players the Rangers are taking offers on -- but something has to happen before we can evaluate that. And with the draft as wide open as it is (really picks 10-50 are expected to be somewhat equal) anything can happen.
The Rangers do have a real problem to fix in their system. This year seems like the best time to address it.