38. Adam Chapie, Forward, 26 Years Old, Free-Agent Signing (2016)
Previous Rank: 29
The Rangers signed Chapie as a free agent out of Umass-Lowell last spring, and I expressed that I was “very skeptical of his NHL future.” Last season, as a 25-year-old, he produced zero goals and four assists in 24 AHL games. In 24 ECHL games, he posted four goals and eight assists. He can maybe turn into a character grinder at the AHL level. To be frank, though, the Rangers’ signing of him was bizarre a year ago and it’s not making any more sense now.
37. Daniel Bernhardt, Left/Right Wing, 21 Years Old, Fourth-Round Pick (2015)
Previous Rank: 27
In 2015-2016, Bernhardt played for three different teams in three different leagues and underwhelmed across the board. Last season wasn’t much better. He received limited minutes and had five points for Vasteras IK, the second-worst team in the Swedish second tier. He is now 21 years old and has failed to establish himself despite getting a number of chances in different environments. Bernhardt signed with BIK Karlskoga in Sweden for the upcoming season. The Rangers still have his draft rights for two more years, and there’s no downside to seeing it out. But at this point it seems very unlikely that the Rangers ever offer him a contract; let alone dress him for an NHL game.
36. Dawson Leedahl, Left Wing, 21 Years Old, Free-Agent Signing (2017)
Previous Rank: N/A
After a few seasons of ho-hum production in the Western Hockey League, Leedahl flooded the scoresheet in 16-17. He tallied 35 goals and 54 assists in 71 regular season games, plus 25 points in 23 playoff games. He’s 6’2, almost 200 pounds, and racked up points. Parameters are seemingly there for Leedahl to be an intriguing prospect, and the Rangers signed him in early May. So what’s not to love?
Context is key here. Leedahl was in his overage season in the CHL. Turning 21 in March and physically more imposing than most of the teenagers he faced, he was practically a man against boys. Add in the fact that his Regina Pats were, by far, the most explosive offensive team in the WHL, and the recipe is there for Leedahl’s big jump in production.
I often reach out to people with more inside knowledge to see if my evaluations are biased or misinformed in any way. In the case of Leedahl, a WHL source reached out to me unprompted to let me know that he felt Leedahl belonged in the ECHL next season and that he predicts Leedahl will top out as a “middle-six AHL forward.” If even that.
35. Steve Fogarty, Center, 24 Years Old, Third-Round Pick (2011)
Previous Rank: 19
In his first full pro season, Fogarty did pretty alright. He scored seven goals and 13 assists in 66 games with the Wolf Pack. He always was a quality forechecker and showed positional smarts in four years at Notre Dame, and those abilities translated to the AHL.
I’ve watched Fogarty for six seasons now in the Rangers’ organization, and every summer I’ve hoped that next season would be the one where he turns the corner. Now 24 years old, the oxygen tank is approaching empty. He’s for sure an AHL-caliber center, and I imagine Hartford will give him more responsibility in the locker room next season. But he’s going to need quite a jump in production to put himself back on the NHL radar in a meaningful way.
34. Tyler Nanne, Defenseman, 21 Years Old, Fifth-Round Pick (2014)
Previous Rank: 25
It has been two full years since Nanne last skated in a competitive hockey match. He missed all of 15-16 due to a health scare involving a heart condition. Though he was medically cleared to play hockey in the 16-17 season, a transfer from Ohio State to Minnesota meant he had to sit out the year, though he did skate with the team during practices.
The plan, last I heard, was for Nanne to indeed join the Gophers’ roster for the upcoming season. He suited up in Da Beauty League this summer, a glorified scrimmage for charity that a number of NHLers participate in. A good first step in his return to playing competitively. When he last played, he was an intriguing offensive defenseman who skated well and had some pop to his point shots. How have two years on the shelf affected him? It’s impossible to know right now. There are some whispers that Minnesota might move Nanne to forward; a position he played at times in high school. Clearly, the goal is to first get him back in uniform, and then go from there.
33. Dan Catenacci, Center, 24 Years Old, Acquired Via Trade (2017)
Previous Rank: N/A
The Rangers acquired Catenacci last spring from Buffalo in return for defenseman Mat Bodie. Hartford’s season was a lost cause at that point, but he did bring a bit of a spark to the team. With so many other forwards struggling, he was given top-six minutes and produced nine points in 19 games.
Catenacci is a versatile AHLer. He is a very quick skater, responsible defensively, and can chip in some offense. However, this appears to be his ceiling. In four AHL seasons, he has plateaued around 20-30 points. After considering contract options in Europe, Catenacci ultimately decided to return to the Rangers for the 2017-2018 season. He’ll be a solid, reliable contributor to the Wolf Pack.
32. Malte Stromwall, Wing, 22 Years Old, Free-Agent Signing (2016)
Previous Rank: 14
The Rangers signed Stromwall from AIK in Sweden’s second tier, where he was teammates with 2015 draft pick Robin Kovacs. With the Rangers’ lack of forward prospects below the NHL level, I was excited about Stromwall’s addition. However, his first AHL season can’t be construed as anything except miserable. The 22-year-old registered just two goals and four assists in 44 games. After starting the year in a scoring role, he was eventually relegated to the fourth line. His impact was rarely felt even aside from the score sheet.
The one excuse for Stromwall - and it’s going to be a repeated theme throughout this series - is that Hartford was an unmitigated disaster last season in practically every way. The team was constantly losing and the environment was tense at best, from what I understand. There’s going to be a new coaching staff and a lot of roster turnover next season. It’s going to be a clean slate for a number of Rangers’ prospects, with Stromwall included. This is a player who was a prolific goal scorer in a difficult, mature Swedish league just two years ago. NHL future or not, he surely has more to offer than what he showed last year. He’ll have probably one more shot to establish himself next season.
31. Vinni Lettieri, Forward, 22 Years Old, Free-Agent Signing (2017)
Previous Rank: N/A
A cousin of Nanne, the Rangers signed Lettieri shortly after he completed his senior season at Minnesota this past spring. A smooth skater who is defensively responsible and can play center or wing, Lettieri added more offensive to his game in his final collegiate season. He shot the puck much more, and it translated into production. His 19 goals in 38 games blew his previous high mark of nine out of the water. Lettieri is more of a long shot to make the NHL. Nonetheless, the Rangers are giving him a chance and it’s understandable why. His game is matured and diverse enough that he’ll be a perfectly good minor leaguer, at a minimum. Next season, he’ll want to solidify himself as a legitimate AHLer who chips in some offense and plays key PK minutes. His speed, defensive aptitude, and positional versatility are all good starting points towards earning a future as a bottom-six, shut-down NHL forward.
30. Chris Nell, Goaltender, 22 Years Old, Free-Agent Signing (2017)
Previous Rank: N/A
Nell’s story shares some similarities with Cam Talbot’s. Undrafted, he went to Bowling Green State University; one of the lower-tier hockey schools in the NCAA. Playing for a sub par team meant he faced a lot of rubber, and he was better for it. Last year, he was a rock in net and nearly led Bowling Green to a surprise NCAA tournament appearance.
Nell plays an aggressive style. Antti Raanta did too, though Rangers’ goaltending coach Benoit Allaire got the best out of him with some adjustments that reeled him in a bit. Nell will be in a three-way competition with two other goaltenders in my prospect rankings for a job in Hartford. My prediction is that he starts the year in the ECHL.