35. Brandon Halverson, Goaltender
2017 Ranking: 19
Acquired Via: 2014 Draft (Second Round)
They’re called “prospects” for a reason. There is a prospect - a possibility - of success. Hardly a guarantee of one, though. Especially for anyone drafted outside the top-three picks or so.
But given how highly the Rangers thought of Halverson during the 2015 summer, when he supposedly dominated their prospect camp and then, in my eyes, played well at the World Junior Summer Showcase, it’s hard to fathom that Halverson would plummet this far down the depth chart by 2018. Here is a visual of his fall in my prospect rankings.
Halverson did make his NHL debut in relief of Henrik Lundqvist against Ottawa in February. Aside from that, though, it was not a great 2017-2018 season for him. He was beat out by undrafted free agents Chris Nell and Alexandar Georgiev for the two goaltending spots in the AHL. He was just okay in the five AHL starts he did earn over the course of the season, and the same is true for his 24 ECHL games.
So who is to blame for where Halverson sits now? The answer is everyone and nobody.
The Rangers perhaps did not help his cause. There was no reason for him to be splitting goaltending duties with Ty Rimmer - a career ECHLer who didn’t perform particularly well. Young goaltenders need to face lots of pucks, and Halverson didn’t. As has been referenced on Blueshirt Banter before, the Rangers did not have a second full-time goalie coach on staff to specifically work with prospects, and in the ECHL there is minimal instruction.
Still, Halverson is in control of what happens in the crease. Throughout the 16-17 season and the first half of last season, the Rangers badly wanted someone to step up and earn the starting job in Hartford. Had Halverson put together a run of strong performances, everything plays out differently.
Ultimately, not every late second-round pick is a success, and goaltenders are hard to evaluate. He is still just 22 years old, too. He has good size and powerful legs. Perhaps with a mental refresh and some time to work on his game, he can rebound and put himself back into the conversation. With only one year left on his contract, it’s now or never.
34. Dominik Lakatos, Forward
2017 Ranking: 24
Acquired Via: 2017 Draft (Sixth Round)
(Written by European Correspondent Alex Nunn)
Dominik Lakatos has the frame and tools to be a contributing bottom-six NHL body if things pan out, though consistency is a major issue. His 2017/18 season started well but tailed off and included a brief period of demotion to the Czech second tier, with minutes fluctuating wildly from game-to-game and Liberec coach Filip Pesan asking for more from the Rangers’ 2017 sixth-rounder.
Lakatos uses his body incredibly well when he’s on-form; he drives the crease and makes life tough for opposing defensemen, keeps it simple, and knows how to finish. The problem, as mentioned, is the glaring ups and downs to his play thus far. He’s either red-hot or ice-cold, and whether that’s an application issue or borne from coaching decisions, it’s something that will need to be ironed out if Lakatos is to take those next steps.
33. Boo Nieves, Center
2017 Ranking: 14
Acquired Via: 2012 Draft (Second Round)
Though he did not make the Rangers out of training camp, the Rangers called up Nieves in late October in an attempt to find an answer for their hole at fourth-line center. He stayed with the team until mid-way through January, when he was sent back to the AHL after an okay NHL stint. Nieves produced nine points in 28 games, scoring his first (and so far only) NHL goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins. His underlying numbers were slightly subpar, though not disastrous, and he wasn’t exactly playing with quality linemates in an efficient system.
More concerning for me is that Nieves did not really improve upon his 2016-2017 AHL season. His production was similar in Hartford despite getting quality offensive minutes. He still did not assert himself in the way one might hope he would, given his size and skating ability.
Depending on how the rest of the offseason plays out, Nieves may very well be a serious contender to make the NHL roster out of training camp. The fourth line center role is up for grabs. Long-term, Nieves seems at best a short term depth fill-in. That holds value for the Rangers right now. But stopgaps like that can be found on the waiver wire or cheaply via free agency.
32. Gabriel Fontaine, Center
2017 Ranking: 18
Acquired Via: 2016 Draft (Sixth Round)
The jump to the AHL from the QMJHL was an adjustment for Fontaine, as I’m sure he’d admit. Gradually, though, his play got better as the season went on. It was a given that he is a smart defensive center. He was extremely quiet offensively to start the season but, though the game logs don’t necessarily show it, I thought he got more involved with every passing game.
This has been a consistent theme now for the last few of seasons, but the Rangers really need to find a way to get some scoring talent in Hartford. Having AHL superstar Chris Bourque alongside Oscar Lindberg was a massive influence on Lindberg’s development. For Fontaine, he was often stuck playing with grinders. And because he’s a guy who registers most of his offensive around the crease and therefore needs others to make plays, it was not an ideal situation for him. The Rangers did make a fair number of signings this offseason to address the scoring problem on the wing. We’ll see how it plays out.
It sure seems like it’s an open competition for the fourth-line center role on the Rangers. The onus will be on Fontaine to force the issue and give Head Coach David Quinn no choice but to give him a spot, but it can’t be ruled out. More likely, Fontaine gets an increased role in Hartford. Fontaine has the makeup of a quality fourth line center who eats up tough PK minutes and takes defensive zone draws, but he’s going to need to bump up his production in the AHL to make himself a serious contender for an NHL job down the line.
31. Ryan Gropp, Left Wing
2017 Ranking: 11
Acquired Via: 2015 Draft (Second Round)
Gropp had an ugly start to his first professional season, registering just one goal and one assist through his first 17 games. He followed that up with seven goals (plus two assists) in his next 12 games. That more or less sums up how Gropp’s season went; patches where he looked like a legit AHL scorer and long periods where he wasn’t a factor at all.
Gropp is a good skater and can bury the puck, but at this point it’s very clear that his WHL numbers were the product of playing on the wing of Matt Barzal. His hockey sense is just okay and he’s not particularly great at creating chances for himself. He was ranked 11th last summer, but that was largely by default. Now that the Rangers have overhauled the prospect pool, he has dropped way down the depth chart. Fortunately for him, the Rangers still lack young wingers in the organization, and so he’s going to get another chance in offensive minutes next season in Hartford.