I would like to do a prospect/rankings mailbag at the end of the week. Please submit any questions you might have in the comments section (or on Twitter) and I will try to use as many as possible for the article. Also, I would like to give a massive thank you to everyone who helped contribute to my rankings. In particular, Alex Nunn does a brilliant job covering the Rangers’ European hockey prospects and was integral to this series. I think his reports found in this article will prove that. Please give him a follow on Twitter.
5. Sean Day, Defenseman, 19 Years Old, Third-Round Pick (2016)
Previous Rank: 6
I wrote extensively about Day’s season here; particularly his performance in the OHL playoffs. Here’s a snippet in which I broke down his game:
“The first thing that should stand out about Day is his skating. Forwards, backwards, lateral, crossovers, and so on. It’s completely effortless and well above the ability of practically everyone else his age. The skating makes him intimidating when he’s carrying the puck. Players back off knowing that he can burn them even using the outside lane, and thus he’s able to make possessed zone entries by himself. However, it sometimes backfires, with him trying to be a hero and make a play that isn’t there. It will only get tougher at the pro level when teams are tactically stronger and will make him pay more often for turnovers. Nonetheless, his confidence and creativity are positives.
He was a force in the offensive zone. He finds shooting lanes and has a strong shot… There are a few times that Day’s biggest weakness, defensive zone coverage, was exposed. Sometimes he puck watches, which leads to him losing his assignment. Other times, he’s too passive in allowing bodies and the puck to enter the slot.”
This season was a fresh start in a lot of ways, and that’s what Day needed more than anything. Getting drafted and being traded within the OHL gave him a hard mental reset. Aside from a number of other issues, it was clear that he was afraid to make mistakes with the Mississauga Steelheads. When he was traded to Windsor, the coaching staff insisted that he focus on his strengths and try to make plays instead, understanding that errors were inevitable and part of the learning process. In prior years Day was a supremely talented player with absolutely no direction. Last season, he started to find himself as a hockey player and made tremendous strides in his development.
Rangers’ management has constantly mentioned Day as someone to watch for in training camp. To me, this is a motivational tactic. I don’t think they’re really expecting him to make the team next season. He is eligible to return to the OHL, but most likely he starts out in Hartford. He needs to improve his decisions with the puck - sometimes the simple play is the correct play - and his defensive game needs work. He is fine in terms of puck retrievals and defending the rush, but on prolonged defensive zone shifts he has a tendency to drift and lose his coverage.
Previously ranked defensive prospects like Pionk, Bereglazov, and Graves are more put together and are much closer to NHL-ready. In terms of upside, though, Day blows everyone out of the water. He’s the one defenseman in the system who has the skillset to be a legitimate game breaker at the NHL level. He has made significant progress towards that goal and is a lot more likely to make the NHL than he was a year ago.
4. Anthony DeAngelo, Defenseman, 21 Years Old, Acquired Via Trade (2017)
Previous Rank: N/A
Disclaimer: For purposes of this article I am only evaluating DeAngelo in terms of his potential impact on winning or losing hockey games. The moral implications of his presence in the organization is a worthwhile discussion, but one that will be held outside the context of this scouting report.
In terms of talent, DeAngelo is exactly what the Rangers have lacked for so long. He is an explosive offensive defenseman who plays the right side. He is a very good skater. He moves the puck well. He has a strong shot and knows how to find the soft areas of the ice where he can do damage. I saw him a lot in 2015 after he was traded to Brandon Halverson’s team in the OHL, and it was immediately obvious how talented he was. That season, he had 89 points in 55 regular season games. Over the past two seasons, he accumulated 59 points in 94 AHL games. He spent part of last season in the NHL with the Coyotes and tallied five goals plus nine assists in 39 games. At every level, including the NHL, he has shown the ability to produce offense. And he is still only 21 years old.
DeAngelo has major issues on defense. Man-to-man, zone coverage, slot presence, gap control, you name it. He is a poor defender. That’s fine. It just means he’s not going to be a number-one defenseman. Roman Josi, Keith Yandle, and Shayne Gostisbehere are also all poor shot suppressors. All are nonetheless tremendous players who help their teams win hockey games. Give DeAngelo a reliable partner and don’t expect him to match up against Evgeni Malkin. Put him in the right situations. The Rangers have more than enough quality defensemen that they can afford to shelter DeAngelo. He has the talent to be consistently put up 40-plus points in the NHL, and if he does so then he’ll be a quality second-pairing defenseman for years to come. Perhaps even a top-pairing guy alongside an elite shot suppressor like McDonagh.
That is if DeAngelo can stay out of his own way. Despite all the talent, he fell to 19th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft. Then, despite posting tremendous numbers in the OHL, Tampa Bay traded him a year later for the 37th overall pick. Now his move to the Rangers is his third NHL team already. The not-so-secret concern about DeAngelo is his attitude.
A few incidents became widespread news because of severity and circumstance. DeAngelo was suspended in the OHL for abuse of an official in 2014, and then again this past season in the NHL for the same thing. Also in 2014, he was suspended for eight games for directing bigoted remarks towards his own teammate. There seems to be this spreading notion that DeAngelo is being smeared for a few teenage incidents in the heat of the moment; kids will be kids. These instances are tremendous red flags even when viewed in isolation. Even still, the problems with DeAngelo run way deeper than these three particular incidents.
There is plenty more that hasn’t reached the mainstream. I spoke to a well-connected OHL employee, and he remarked that coaches across the league went through a “daily struggle” dealing with DeAngelo; the words “gong show” were used. The way it was described to me, DeAngelo is fine when things are going well. He’s highly competitive, and so when the team is winning, he’s at his best. Otherwise, he’s a ticking time bomb.
Furthermore, I spoke to multiple people with knowledge of DeAngelo back to his days in youth hockey in New Jersey. Nobody was willing to go on the record with specifics, but the message was uniform across the board.
“There’s plenty out there for anyone with a brain to figure out the kind of guy he is,” was one way one person put it to me.
I want to reiterate here that I am not analyzing DeAngelo in the context of my personal views of his personality or politics. When I say there are major character concerns, I mean that there are considerable concerns about his ability to fit into a locker room and his tendency to give coaches headaches. All people have a regrettable moment or two they would like to take back, but it’s well beyond that with DeAngelo. There’s a long paper trail from his youth hockey days all the way up to professional hockey. I asked the OHL employee what the chances are that this was purely teenage angst, that DeAngelo has learned from past mistakes, and that he has matured since.
“That’s a big hope. But he is really skilled. He's going to give coaches fits. And NHL head coaches are usually short on patience,” the source said. “But if you have a coach who is willing to invest time in him, he can be good.”
How much patience do Alain Vigneault and Lindy Ruff have? How much has DeAngelo matured? We’re going to find out very quickly. DeAngelo is a boom-or-bust prospect in its purest form. If DeAngelo can channel his passion and energy in the right way, he could turn into one of the most dynamic offensive defensemen in the NHL. Or, he could end up like Nik Zherdev and Alex Semin; a supremely talented player ostracized from the league because he created way more problems than were worth tolerating. Obviously, the Rangers did extensive vetting of DeAngelo and came to the conclusion that he was worth a gamble. The coaches and veteran players have a responsibility to push the right buttons and keep him in line. Ultimately, though, it’s on DeAngelo to grow up. Hopefully, he has.
3. Igor Shestyorkin, Goaltender, 21 Years Old, Fourth-Round Pick (2014)
Previous Rank: 5
Our European hockey expert, Alex Nunn, had this to say about Shestyorkin’s season.
“2016/17 was a highly successful breakout season for Igor Shestyorkin, who finally had the chance to play consistently in the KHL with SKA.
Shestyorkin’s individual achievements were lengthy: He posted new club records for both single-season wins (31) and shutout streak (272 minutes 18 seconds), played in January’s All-Star Game, earned a spot on the end-of-season first All-Star team, and was a finalist for Goalie of the Year alongside Ilya Sorokin and Vasili Koshechkin.
Shestyorkin also went 4-0 for Russia over three stages of the Euro Hockey Tour, twice winning Goalie of the Tournament.
Injury to veteran goaltender Mikko Koskinen afforded Shestyorkin the opportunity to shoulder more KHL starts than he perhaps otherwise would have last year, but he made the most of it and forced coach Oleg Znarok to stick with the young Russian short-term even after Koskinen had returned.
Shestyorkin, always composed, excelled in the big match-ups. He played a key role in SKA’s Conference Final defeat over Lokomotiv, stopping 55 of 56 shots faced in a pair of back-to-back one-goal wins as his club wrapped the series and advanced to the Gagarin Cup Final. Those were his first KHL post-season starts.
It’s apparent that Shestyorkin has continued to refine his game over the past 12 months. He still gets himself into tough spots from time to time, but for the most part his on-ice game resembles his calm demeanor far more than it ever used to.
With Koskinen signing a one-year extension earlier this year, it remains to be seen how the goalie picture shakes out for SKA in 2017/18. It’s fair to assume the duo will split the workload, while Shestyorkin is almost certain to make Russia’s roster for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang if the NHL does not send its players.”
What I personally love about Shestyorkin is his ability to make saves on high-percentage chances. By now Rangers fans should know from Steve Valiquette about how dangerous shots are when they come from puck movement across the slot. Shestyorkin has an incredible ability to get across the crease and stretch his body to its limits. In that sense, he reminds me of Jonathan Quick or Marc-Andre Fleury. However, he also has the potential for better fundamentals than those two possess. He has come a long way in that regard over the last three seasons.
Shestyorkin is locked into his KHL contract for two more seasons. Though not ideal, it works out pretty okay for the Rangers. He’ll continue to get quality playing time for arguably the best team outside of the NHL. By the time he (theoretically) comes to North America, Henrik Lundqvist will be at the point in his career where it’s time to significantly reduce his workload.
I do want to issue one disclaimer about Shestyorkin, because I think some parts of the fanbase have prematurely anointed him Lundqvist’s successor. Shestyorkin plays behind the best team in the KHL, and the league has a massive disparity in team quality. There should be some awareness of the fact that he and SKA are often beating up on bad teams. He is a very good goaltender, but he still has to prove himself in more neutral conditions before he can be penciled in as the heir to the throne. Nonetheless, Shestyorkin’s skillset and resume unquestionably make him the top goaltending prospect in the organization.
2. Filip Chytil, Center, 17 Years Old, First-Round Pick (2017)
Previous Rank: N/A
Chytil is the first Czech player the Rangers have drafted in the first round since they took Pavel Brendl fourth overall in 1999. For sure, the Rangers hope for a happier ending with Chytil.
There isn’t much competition, but Chytil is clearly the most visually exciting forward prospect in the Rangers’ system. He’s a very fast, shifty skater. Quick acceleration and straight line speed make him a transition rush threat, while his lateral agility and puck poise give him the ability to carry the puck through the neutral zone and create possessed zone entries. He loves to challenge defenders one-on-one. The speed, puck handling, and vision combination create a conundrum for defensemen. Back off, and you give him the space to set up plays. Play him tight, and he has a number of tools to burn you. He has quick hands as well, which aids with the zone rushes. But it also makes him dynamic in controlled zone setups. He creates passing lanes and can drop some creative passes onto teammates sticks. He is good at making space for himself one-on-one against defenders. He has some weight on his wrist shots and will pot his share of goals, but he’s definitely a pass-first center. In some ways, he reminds me of Scott Gomez. Here is some video Alex put together which shows many of these qualities.
I saw Chytil play last week in two U20 games for the Czech Republic against Finland. Despite his age, he was clearly the best player on the ice for the Czechs, scoring twice and coming close two other times. Barring injury, he is a lock to play a key role for the Czechs at the World Junior Championship this upcoming winter.
Canucks Army does very good work with evaluating prospects via a statistical model. How their predictive model reflects on Chytil depends on what your expectations are. Based on his pre-draft statistics compared to similar players from the past, he seems like a good bet to make the NHL as a top-six forward.
However, lack of goal scoring production limits his upside. The Rangers ignored available players like Kailer Yamamoto, Kim Klostin, and Eeli Tolvanen, who have all-star upside, in favor of Chytil. Time will tell whether that was the right decision or not. Nonetheless, Chytil fills a massive need in the organization for a dynamic playmaking center.
In the CHL import draft, the North Bay Battalion of the OHL secured Chytil’s rights. A well-placed source informed me after the draft occurred that the OHL is not an option for Chytil next season. That he would either play with the Wolf Pack in the AHL or return to Zlin in the Czech Republic. However, The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy is reporting that North Bay might be an option after all and that the AHL is off the table. Furthermore, the New York Post’s Larry Brooks is reporting the same thing. My information is a month old, so the Rangers and/or Chytil appear to have had a change of heart. In any case, the Rangers’ plan, I’m told, is to have Chytil in the AHL (maybe even NHL?) by the 2018-2019 season at the latest.
Lias Andersson, Center, 18 Years Old, First-Round Pick (2017)
Previous Rank: N/A
For the last time in this series, let’s hear from our European hockey expert, Alex Nunn.
“Although fans might be disappointed to see the Rangers use a seventh-overall selection on someone with comparatively limited offensive upside such as Andersson, it’s a safe bet that his strong all-round game is something they will grow to love rather quickly.
Andersson, an excellent leader and tremendous team player, does most things well without being truly elite in any one specific area. He’s a puck hound who possesses a tireless engine and often finds himself in the right place at the right time, though not through luck. He pushes his team-mates for more, has high-end IQ, can finish, and plays all situations comfortably.
Andersson spent 2016/17 with SHL champions-to-be HV71, skating second-line minutes in both the regular and post-season as his club went all the way. He was a key figure in their series wins over Malmö and Brynäs, scoring timely goals while averaging over 17 minutes per-game against the latter as his TOI rose. He’s the kind of player who makes it hard for coaches not to put him out there; Reliable, always switched on, and clutch in big moments.
If Andersson does return to Sweden next season then he will play for Frölunda, perhaps the best development spot in all of European hockey.”
Here is a video Alex put together which highlights some goals Andersson scored in the Swedish Hockey League last season.
As Alex alluded to, Lias is a Swiss-army knife. He’s not particularly exceptional at anything, but very good in a lot of different ways. That being said, what stood out to me most in my viewings of him was his shot. He is very good at hiding his release and has a lot of power on his wrist shots.
The longer the summer goes on without another move at center, the likelier it seems that the Rangers are going to head into training camp with their fingers crossed that Andersson proves himself NHL-ready. Hopefully, the Rangers learned an important lesson with Manny Malhotra about rushing players to the NHL. Still, if Andersson isn’t ready for the NHL by October, then he certainly won’t be far off. He’s incredibly mature, both physically and mentally, for his age. They could also opt to stash him in Hartford for a few months before calling him up, making the transition a bit smoother.
I see the upside for Andersson as similar to a David Backes (minus the size) or Chris Drury. A quality two-way center with tremendous character and who can score 25 goals. Never the best player on your team, but certainly an important contributor to a winning organization. We can debate the philosophy of whether that kind of player is worth selecting at seventh overall, but that’s what the Rangers did, and there’s no doubting that Andersson is the best prospect in the organization. It should not be very long before Andersson is a fan favorite at Madison Square Garden, and he may even be a future captain in the making.