20. Adam Tambellini, Center, 22 Years Old, Third-Round Pick (2013)
Previous Rank: 11
All things considered, Tambellini definitely showed progress last season. Hartford’s struggles did hurt him in some ways; he was burdened with a dependency he couldn’t really match. On the other hand, the lack of anyone really stepping up meant he was pushed into roles that forced him to diversify his game a little bit. He stepped up in more defensive situations. His skating got better. And so on. If those opportunities and chances to learn from failure make him a better player, then great. He still hammers pucks past goalies from the faceoff dot, but he added some variety to his scoring last season. His best goal last season might have been this coast-to-coast effort against Bridgeport
I originally had Anders Lee aspirations for Tambellini. With a modest 13 goals and 22 assists in 68 AHL games as a 22-year-old, that seems unlikely. I’m still holding out hope that there is upside as a Brandon Pirri-caliber forward; an average depth center who is an absolute killer on the power play. I do think Tambellini’s frame allows for more defensive upside. At the same time, his AHL numbers don’t come close to touching Pirri’s. With center prospects Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil making the jump to North America sooner rather than later, the almost 23-year-old Tambellini is surely approaching what will be a make-or-break 2017-2018 season.
19. Brandon Halverson, Goaltender, 21 Years Old, Second-Round Pick (2014)
Previous Rank: 10
Halverson might be the prospect we learned the least about last year due to circumstances out of his control. Being a 20-year-old goalie playing pro hockey for the first time is a tough transition to begin with. Tending behind a dreadful, helpless Hartford team was an impossible task. Like asking a student driver to navigate the Autobahn in a blizzard. His .887 save percentage in 26 AHL games was not encouraging, but none of the five goalies Hartford used last year faired any better. No goalie in the world is going to succeed when the defense in front of him looks like this.
Halverson had some really strong stretches of play in his two post-draft OHL seasons, but it’s always felt like he was still struggling to put it all together. If you were to build the ideal goalie in terms of physical inputs, he’d be pretty close to the blueprint. He has a big frame and a powerful lower body that allows him to move across the crease with force. He is still only 21, which is very early on the developmental curve for goaltenders.
I spoke to someone in Halverson’s camp, who admitted last year was “frustrating for sure.” This summer he will be working with the Rangers’ new strength and conditioning coach, Ben Prentiss. Halverson will almost certainly spend more time in Hartford next season than he did last, which means Allaire will have more time to work with him. I give him a null read on last season, but the clock is starting to tick a bit on Halverson here. Even if I don’t hold last season against him, the surplus of new prospects plus some other players rising has resulted in him dropping this far.
More pertinent to his cause is the fact that he's slipping behind some of the other goalie prospects in the system. The good news for him is that most of those guys are still a few years away from signing with the Rangers. Halverson is going to have one, maybe two years where he’ll have moderate competition in Hartford for goaltending duties. He needs to take advantage of this opportunity and show meaningful progress during this period to keep himself in the race.
18. Gabriel Fontaine, Center, 20 Years Old, Sixth-Round Pick (2016)
Previous Rank: 24
The Rangers got from Fontaine in 16-17 what they expected. His point production in the QMJHL jumped modestly; in particular, his goal scoring. Including playoffs, he scored five more goals than his previous season despite playing 11 fewer games. The most notable was this stunner.
Admittedly, my viewings of Fontaine were not as high as they should have been this past season. So, I reached out to Jérôme Bérubé, a QMJHL scouting specialist for Hockey Prospect, to see what his thoughts were.
“He has continued to improve his game in the past season, role on the team continued to increase after the team lost key players like A.J Greer and Francis Perron.
Offensive game improved and scored some highlight reel goals during the year showing some surprising stickhandling abilities. However i don't think his offensive game will be his calling card in the pros. I view him as a defensive center that excels on the PK and takes pride in his play away from the puck.”
Also noticed he played more with an edge this year, using his size more down low and setting up the tempo more in the games I saw.”
With Fontaine, what you see is what you get. He's a solid skater. His defensive game is very strong; definitely has a future as a top-unit penalty killer in pro hockey. Despite the end-to-end rush featured above, which shows off some skill, he has a knack for scoring ugly goals near the crease. That’s usually how he does his damage. The past year, he became a more vocal presence in the locker room.
Often with young players, it’s a waiting game to see what the upside is and what kind of role they will fill on a team in the future. It’s evident where Fontaine’s development is taking him, on the contrary. His upside is minimal, but he’s very well composed and put together for a 20-year-old center. Oscar Lindberg’s departure created a big hole in the Rangers’ bottom-six. Fontaine is not ready to fill it immediately. After a few years in the AHL, though, he could be in line to play the part of someone like Dominic Moore and add some stability at center.
17. Calle Sjalin, Defenseman, 17 Years Old, Fifth-Round Pick (2017)
Previous Rank: N/A
I am a big fan of the Sjalin pick. To understand why, we need to go back a few years.
During the 2014-2015 season, Sjalin was a 15-year-old playing against 16- and 17-year-old’s in the J18 Elit league in Sweden. That’s not unheard of, but it usually indicates that the player is highly regarded. Sjalin put up solid numbers that season, scoring nine goals and adding 11 assists in 20 games. Toronto’s 2017 first-round pick, Timothy Liljegren, had nine goals and and 15 assists in 29 games at the same age.
Then, Sjalin suffered a severe leg injury that sidelined him for the entire 2015-2016 season. Yes, scouts would have the entire 2016-2017 season to scout Sjalin, but two years prior is often when the foundation for scouting targets is laid out.
Sjalin could have probably played in Sweden’s second division last season, but instead opted to play with Östersunds in the third division. Part of that may have been to get back up to speed. Surely a lot of it was the opportunity to stay with his hometown team for whom his father was an assistant coach. In any case, he logged legitimate minutes as a 17-year-old against grown men. It’s hard to compare across eras, but his 15 points in 34 games is similar production to what Anton Stralman and Kenny Jonsson produced at the same age and better than both Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Jonas Brodin. By the end of the year, he was playing second division games with Timra.
Sjalin represented Sweden at the U18 level throughout the season, including at the U18 World Championship. He was paired with
Minnesota Wild Arizona Coyotes second-round pick Filip Westerlund. Our European correspondent, Alex Nunn claims that Sjalin did a lot of water carrying for Westerlund. Tobbe, whom he quoted, is also worth listening to.
To summarize here: Sjalin was a rising prospect in Sweden who then suffered a major injury. He also played in the third division in Sweden. Finally, he is a very late birthday; had he been born two weeks later he would have been eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft. These are the kind of circumstances that can lead to a good prospect falling in the draft. In some ways it’s what happened with Anthony Duclair and Aleksi Saarela.
I have seen very little video of Sjalin. However, what I’ve gathered is that he’s a typical, dependable Swedish defenseman. Good defensive fundamentals, a natural skating stride, and efficient passes in the defensive zone. He’s 6’1, 180 lbs and will likely grow a little bit more. Next season he will play for Leksands in Sweden’s second tier. For now he sits in the middle of the prospect pool, but he’s worth watching this next season as a potential rising prospect.
16. Alexander Georgiev, Goaltender, 21 Years Old, Free-Agent Signing (2017)
Previous Rank: N/A
The most recent addition to the prospect pool, Georgiev was signed to a contract a little over a week ago. The Rangers had invited him to their summer prospect camp. Last season, Georgiev was a teammate of Rangers prospects
Tony Patrik Virta and Tarmo Reunanen at TPS in Finland.
I saw Georgiev play some games with Russia at the World Junior Championship back in 2015-2016. From what I remember, he was merely okay. Nothing special. However, indications are that his game has grown in Finland the last few seasons.
He posted a .923 save percentage in 27 games with TPS last year. A big reason he went undrafted in 2015 and 2016, I’d bet, is because he is only 6’1. However, the world of goaltending is changing. Smaller, more mobile goaltenders are now seen as an asset; look at how quickly Antti Raanta’s stock surged. The ability to track the puck and move in response to it is more important than anything else now. Allaire has certainly faired well with Henrik Lundqvist, Martin Biron, and the aforementioned Raanta.
I’ll be able to get a much better read on Georgiev’s game this upcoming season, where he is expected to be the Hartford Wolf Pack’s starting goaltender. As loaded as the Rangers’ goaltending pool is, they lacked an experienced goaltender who could step into the AHL immediately and own the crease. Same goes for a legitimate call-up option. Georgiev, who has played well for one of the better teams in Finland, definitely fills that void. The Rangers Ondrej Pavelec signed for just one season. If Goergiev performs in Hartford, the Rangers might promote him into that backup spot for the 2018-2019 season.