A commitment in the winter meant I was unable to publish mid-season prospect rankings. That's okay, however, because it just means we have much more to learn and a bigger sample from which to draw for this summer's edition! Since last summer's rankings, which you can view here, twelve prospects have left the organization. Those players (along with their previous rankings) are:
Aleksi Saarela (13), Petr Zamorsky (16), Keegan Iverson (18), Richard Nejezchleb (19), Ryan Bourque (21), Ryan Mantha (26), Carl Klingberg (29), Michael St. Croix (31), Chris McCarthy (33), Samuel Noreau (34), Josh Nicholls (35), and Michael Kantor (36).
(3) and Dylan McIlrath (11) have graduated. Meanwhile, ten prospects have been added to the pool. For better or worse (almost certainly better), these rankings will look very different from last summer's. Let's get to it!
32. Troy Donnay, Defenseman, 22 Years Old, Free Agent Signing (2013)
Previous Ranking: 32
Donnay made the jump to pro hockey last season and spent nearly the entire season with Greenville in the ECHL, though he did earn a call-up for Hartford's last game of the season. Full disclosure that I rarely watch ECHL games, but here is what I do know.
1. Donnay wasn't particularly impressive in the OHL. He relied exclusively on his long stick and ability to overpower teenagers with his large frame. That doesn't fly in pro hockey, where most players are bigger and stronger, and the ones who aren't have the elusiveness and vision to compensate.
2. Very few 22-year-old ECHL defensemen make the jump to the NHL.
3. The ones who do produce far better than two goals and nine assists in 61 games, as Donnay did.
I've made this point in the past, but even Stu Bickel had 13 points in 24 games in the ECHL at the same age. Donnay is a carry-over from a different era of hockey, where shutdown defensemen were viewed as big bodies who could clear the crease. Now, they're mobile players who can hold the blue line and execute zone exits. Unless he completely overhauled his skating this summer, I envision him spending the final year of his contract in the ECHL once again.
31. Tommy Hughes, Defenseman, 24 Years Old, Free Agent Signing (2013)
Previous Ranking: 30
The Hartford Wolf Pack had a busy depth chart on defense last season, and Tommy Hughes was often the odd-man out. When he wasn't, he was usually on Hartford's third pairing. There is not much more to be said that I haven't said in the past regarding Hughes. He produces very little offensively and isn't good enough defensively to make up for it. He's a solid depth defenseman in the AHL who does well in penalty killing minutes. Having turned 24 in early April, this is almost definitely his ceiling. There perhaps is room for a modicum of growth as an AHLer, but there's no almost certainly no NHL future to speak of.
30. Calle Andersson, Defenseman, 22 Years Old, Fourth-Round Pick (2012)
Previous Ranking: 20
Last season was disappointing for Andersson. Coming over to North America at 21, immediate fireworks were not expected. However, having played at the highest level in Sweden, the hope was that he would show signs of the player he could eventually become. Inconsistency was expected. Instead, Andersson's play ranged from poor to nondescript. His ability to move the puck, which is his best asset, was not showcased in the smaller rink. His skating needs work. Defensively, he looked unsure of his place tactically at times. Five goals and four assists from a player given chances in offensive situations is not good enough.
I don't believe all hope is lost, however. Andersson is a young 22 years old and didn't look completely out of his depth in the AHL. Furthermore, as previously explained, 2015-2016 was always going to be a bumpy transition year for Andersson, even if it was more turbulent than expected. I think it would serve him well to slim down a little to help his speed. Now that he's accustomed to the team and life off the ice, he should come into training camp more prepared physically and mentally. The defensive depth chart in Hartford looks to be wide open for next season, so Andersson will have every chance to show his game has progressed.
29. Adam Chapie, Right Wing, 25 Years Old, Free Agent Signing (2016)
Previous Ranking: N/A
Chapie has had an interesting path in hockey. He played his junior hockey in the NAHL, which is the second tier of USA junior hockey (below the USHL). He had to earn his spot on the Umass Lowell hockey team as a walk-on. He started out as a fringe player but eventually moved his way up the depth chart. Last season his was a key player for Umass Lowell as they advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament.
His future looked to be at a DIII hockey school four years ago, and against all odds he now has an NHL contract. It's a cool story and one he should be proud of. That being said, I'm very skeptical of his NHL future. He was good, but not great, at the NCAA level despite playing against guys who are mostly 2-5 years younger than he is. I don't think the transition to pro hockey will be a problem for him, but there probably isn't much room for development. He's a good defensive winger who battles hard and has some scoring touch, and I think he'll be a fine depth forward in Hartford next season. However, a few NCAA people I've spoken to don't see his ceiling as much beyond that. If the stars align, he may have a future in the NHL as a fourth-line winger.
28. Sergey Zborovskiy, Defenseman, 19 Years Old, Third-Round Pick (2015)
Previous Ranking: 28
I gave Zborovskiy a scathing review last summer and did not hide my disappointment that the Rangers took him 79th overall. Has my opinion changed 12 months later? Not really.
I will say that Zborovskiy definitely made some improvements in the areas that concerned me. His skating stride is a bit less clunky and his passing isn't a complete mess. At the end of the day, though, they're both still not nearly good enough. His skating is way below the baseline for NHL defensemen and he still lacks the ability to reliably move the puck out of his own end or through the neutral zone. We saw this past season with the Rangers how much this utterly cripples a team. His offensive numbers did improve somewhat, with eight goals and 17 assists in 64 games. However, this was largely down the puck luck. Most of those goals came from shots ricocheting off of the opposition or low-percentage shots that goaltenders flubbed. Quite simply, it's not the kind of scoring that will consistently happen at the pro level.
To ensure I wasn't catching him on bad nights, or that I'm not letting biases affect my judgment, I asked a scout in Western Canada for his opinion on Zborovskiy's season. He echoed my thoughts, saying that he "doesn't see an NHL ceiling" for Zborovskiy despite making improvements. That's where I stand, with fingers crossed that he proves me wrong.
27. Daniel Bernhardt, Left Wing, 20 Years Old, Fourth-Round Pick (2015)
Previous Ranking: 15
Last season was certainly a strange one for Daniel Bernhardt. Property of Djugårdens in the Swedish Hockey League, he was loaned down to Almtuna in Sweden's second division. He was alright, posting one goal and three assists in 14 games, which isn't terrible for a teenager. However, he didn't particularly assert himself. For whatever reason, Bernhardt decided he was unhappy at Almtuna and ended the loan, returning to Djugårdens. Now at the higher level on a team loaded with forwards, Bernhardt was unneeded, and ended up only playing 10 games (scoring once) for them over the span of about 2.5 months. When he did play it was in limited minutes. Clearly not the best situation for a developing player.
In early January, Bernhardt decided to make the move to the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. He started out hot, registering two goals and three assists in his first five games while playing in legitimate scoring minutes. He dropped off from there, though, with just three goals and six assists in his next 38 games. London did win the OHL Championship, so congrats to him on that. From a developmental perspective, though, 2015-2016 was a mess.
Of course, Bernhardt is still young. Bernhardt was a project from the very beginning, and playing for three different teams in three different leagues will make it hard for any player to settle in and match tempo. Bernhardt has a good combination of speed and size, but I remain unconvinced by his offensive instincts. Jason Chimera and Viktor Stalberg, who are the players Bernhardt should aspire to become like, were much more consistent scorers at lower levels. Nobody will hold the 15-16 season against him if he has a big 16-17 season. But it's time for Bernhardt, whose agent told me will play in Sweden next season, to start translating his raw tools into production on the ice.
26. Mat Bodie, Defenseman, 26 Years Old, Free Agent Signing (2014)
Previous Ranking: 17
I thought Bodie had a good preseason with the Rangers, and he continued that strong play in Hartford. He became a more complete defenseman. Hartford rewarded their increased dependability on him with the captaincy upon Ryan Bourque's trade to Washington. This upcoming training camp is probably do-or-die for Bodie, and even still still need the Rangers to move a defenseman in order for the 7th spot to open for him. Ultimately, I haven't thought he has a future in the NHL for some time now and nothing has changed now that he is 26. But he is a very good AHL defenseman and a great influence for the young players.
25. Tyler Nanne, 20 Years Old, Defenseman, Fifth-Round Pick (2014)
Previous Ranking: 24
Tyler Nanne did not play hockey during the 2015-2016 season. He was set to begin his freshman year at Ohio State University, where he figured to play good minutes immediately. However, Nanne had a medical emergency prior to the start of the season and was diagnosed with Myocarditis; a serious heart issue.
The good news is, firstly, that Nanne is okay and, secondly, that he has been cleared to get back on the ice. Nanne has transferred to the University of Minnesota, which is close to home, and the hope is that he will be able to continue his hockey career with the Gophers. Obviously, his medical condition is a sensitive one and he will be carefully monitored. There are no guarantees about his future in hockey, but our fingers are crossed. He's a quick skater with a bomb of a shot and Minnesota is a great hockey school that knows how to churn out defensemen.
24. Gabriel Fontaine, 19 Years Old, Sixth-Round Pick (2016)
Previous Ranking: N/A
I wrote extensively about Fontaine here. To briefly summarize, he's an intelligent, honest center who is strong defensively and can add a touch of offense. He was a key cog for Rouyn-Noranda, who won the QMJHL title last year.
I'm still unsure how I feel about the draft pick. I like Fontaine. As a 19-year-old who thinks the game well, he's definitely more polished than most players taken in the later rounds. In general, drafting overage forwards in the later rounds isn't a bad strategy. Relatively speaking, they have a pretty high rate of success compared to other players drafted late.
The other side of the coin, though, is that those players very rarely turn into much more than depth forwards. And depth forwards are relatively easy to acquire. So why not take a chance on someone with a higher ceiling? In any case, Fontaine has a chance of becoming a good shutdown center.
23. Marek Hrivik, Left Wing, 24 Years Old, Free Agent Signing (2012)
Previous Ranking: 25
Hrivik had the usual good, but not standout season with the Wolf Pack in 15-16. What changed, though, is that he finally got his promotion to the NHL. In five games, he did a decent enough job on the fourth line and earned his first NHL point. That all being said, I think there is a problem of expectations when it comes to people's evaluation of Hrivik. That is to say, Tanner Glass, Jarret Stoll, and Daniel Paille were so awful that Hrivik looked good in contrast.
I've maintained from the very beginning that Hrivik would develop into a good AHLer who would earn a few call-ups. So far, that seems to be the road he's on. In the long run I still don't view him as a legitimate NHL forward. Even if I end up dead-wrong about this, we're still looking at a fourth-line ceiling. The kind of dime-a-dozen player available for free every summer. I'd rather take my chances on a prospect with a higher ceiling, but good on him for breaking into the NHL last season.
22. Magnus Hellberg, Goaltender, 25 Years Old, Acquired Via Trade (2015)
Previous Ranking: 22
Hellberg was acquired last summer to be the starter in Hartford, but there was and still is clearly NHL potential for him. Hellberg was one of Hartford's few standouts last season, often keeping them in games in which they were struggling to get the offensive gears going. His .918 save percentage was sixth among AHL goaltenders who played at least 40 games.
I think he still has some work to do to get to the NHL level. He comes up with a number of really great saves, particularly on odd-man rushes, but then lets in unremarkable shots from above the circles. I don't know if it's a lapse in concentration, mechanical, or something else. But backup goaltenders in the NHL must absolutely be dependable and give teams the confidence to play within their structure.
Here's the problem. Antti Raanta, who proved himself last season despite a mid-season scare, is locked up for the next two seasons. If he departs in two seasons, the hope is that one of Mackenzie Skapski, Brandon Halverson, or Igor Shesterkin will be ready to take the reigns. So where does that leave Hellberg? I think he'll need an incredibly good 2016-2017 to really keep himself in the long-term plans, but don't rule it out quite yet.
21. Ty Ronning, Right Wing, 18 Years Old, Seventh-Round Pick (2016)
Previous Ranking: N/A
I was a big fan of the Ronning pick. In the seventh round teams are looking for a needle in the haystack, but he has a chance. Last season he was healthy and in a prominent role, scoring 31 goals and adding 28 assists in 67 games as the Vancouver Giants' leading scorer. But he had most of his 2014-2015 season wiped out by injury, and was pushed down the depth chart by older players his first couple of WHL seasons. Could scouts' limited ability to view Ronning plus the usual size bias - he is a generous 5'8 - have pushed him back a couple rounds farther than he deserved? The Rangers certainly hope so.
Ronning is not too unlike his father, Cliff. His strong legs and short skating strides make him a quick accelerator. It makes him dangerous in transition. Offensively, he has very good poise on the puck. He'll wait out the defense and change his angle until he finds a shooting lane. He has no problems operating in the high slot. Defensively, he forechecks honestly and reads the opposition well, getting his stick on pass attempts through the neutral zone. Despite his size, he is fearless. He's relentless in puck pursuit and is perfectly willing to take knocks in the slot. Like Mats Zuccarello, he has that quality of being an annoyance for the opposition to deal with, always getting involved in the little battles and refusing to take "no" for an answer. Despite this, I don't see Zuccarello as a comparable for him. Good friend of the blog Nick Mercadante wisely compared him to recent signing Nathan Gerbe. I also see some Conor Sheary. A hard-working, north-to-south player with some offensive touch.
Nonetheless, of course he still has a long road ahead. First and foremost, he needs to stay healthy. He will, in all likelihood, be Vancouver's first-line right wing next season and will need to build off of last season to provide a basis for consistency. We talk about process versus results frequently on this website. The results on Ronning are to be determine, but taking him in the seventh round was good process. He's in incredible shape. He has the right demeanor to go along with his skills. And he has the perfect mentor in his father, who knows better than anyone what it takes for an undersized seventh-round pick to make it into the NHL.