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Blueshirt Banter 2018 New York Rangers Prospect Rankings: 5-1

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2018 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

5. Nils Lundkvist, Right Defense

2017 Ranking: N/A

Age: 18

Acquired Via: 2018 Draft (First Round)

Here is what European Correspondent Tobias Pettersson wrote about Lundkvist for our Draft Profile back in June. We had him ranked as the 22nd-best prospect in the draft, and the Rangers selected him 28th overall.

“Lundkvist is a puck moving right-handed defenseman who is a very good skater and has good offensive instincts. That said, his best quality in my eyes though is his hockey IQ; he’s a very smart player both on and off the puck. The way he sees the ice on the offensive side is right at the top of this draft class among his defensive peers, and doing so at his age in the SHL is incredibly impressive. He’s been very good at suppressing shots this season (Relative Corsi Against/60 around -8) though there could be sample and/or deployment factors impacting that. He does need to work on his overall defensive game, though, as he does have some issues when he gets pinned down low. Like all young puck moving defenseman, he needs to find the balance between risk and reward when he has the puck on his stick.

Although he’s figuring it out right now, as an undersized defenseman he needs to learn how to better position himself on the ice — especially when he moves to the smaller ice surfaces in North America. And since we’re speaking of weaknesses, his shot can use some work, since he doesn’t score enough goals given the prime positions he finds himself in thanks to his offensive instincts and skating.

As one scout told me: ‘Luleå’s defense lacked the quality to move the puck and Lundkvist stepped in to fill that void very well. Not as flashy as the top ranked Adam Boqvist, but I think he has a better two-way game.’”

Pound-for-pound, I think Lundkvist was the Rangers’ best selection in the 2018 Draft. This is a player who, as a 17-year-old, played a meaningful role on defense for a pretty good team in one of the top men’s leagues in the world.

Sometimes he gets too aggressive at the blue line trying to step up and force a turnover, leaving himself exposed. Other than that, though, there really aren’t any cracks in the foundation. Perhaps he does not have the raw upside of K’Andre Miller or a few other players drafted after him, but I don’t think he’s very far off, and he’s as polished as any player drafted outside the top-10.

Lundkvist will have an even bigger role with Luleå in the SHL this year, and depending on how that goes he could come over to North America as soon as 2019. I think he can become a #2/#3 defenseman in the NHL who plays in all situations. The type that won’t win awards or knock your socks off, but does a lot of things for a team and gives the head coach one fewer headache to worry about.

4. Igor Shestyorkin, Goaltender.

2017 Ranking: 3

Age: 22

Acquired Via: 2014 Draft (Fourth Round)

Here is a write-up from European correspondent Alex Nunn, followed by some thoughts from me.

Alex:

Last season saw much of the same for Igor Shestyorkin as he continued to post strong numbers across the board with SKA in a largely split-starts role alongside veteran partner Mikko Koskinen. Minutes were a bigger concern than I’d have liked again for a young goalie already proven capable at that level, but it was to be expected with Koskinen returning and Shestyorkin still remained consistent throughout in spite of the mixed schedule.

Shestyorkin’s strengths have been discussed at length since the 2014 draft; he’s quick, athletic, laser-focused, good at dealing with high-danger scoring chances, and among hockey’s very best prospects in net. I still feel rebound control is an area that needs work though, and while the asterisk of facing comparatively fewer shots per-game is valid to a degree, Shestyorkin’s hardly lucked his way into consistently strong career numbers for club and country.

SKA’s ability to retain possession for large periods of play makes it impossible to gauge just how Shestyorkin would handle a greater volume of pucks on net each night, but he deals with defensive breakdowns often and never loses focus during those quiet stretches. Despite Koskinen’s recent departure to Edmonton, the arrival of Magnus Hellberg should mean status quo remains for Shestyorkin in terms of starts during the upcoming season, potentially his final one in Russia.

Adam:

There are going to be some who wish I rank Shestyorkin higher, and I don’t necessarily think that’s indefensible. My ranking of Shestyorkin here says less about him and more about the nature of goaltending. Here is a chart showing Goals Saved Above Average since the 2007-2008 season (minimum 10,000 minutes).

What stands out here, obviously, is how ridiculous Henrik Lundqvist is. But more on-topic, what stands out, with only a few exceptions, is that the shelf life for a high-caliber NHL starting goaltender is short. There are goaltenders who had multiple Vezina-caliber seasons - Pekka Rinne, Devan Dubnyk, and Ilya Bryzgalov are three - who did not even crack the list here. And many of the players in the upper echelons - Halak, Talbot, and Gibson for example - are either benefitting from a small sample size or multiple seasons in which they were backup or splitting duties. Jaroslav Halak has started more than 50 games only twice in his career!

Furthermore, how many of the top goaltenders here we viewed as high-end prospects prior to entering the NHL? The answer is definitely some, but far from all.

Finally, goaltenders simply do not have trade value, generally speaking. If the Rangers find themselves overloaded with centers, then they can either stack the lineup or trade one at presumably high value. In goal, only one guy can get on the ice for majority of the games, and though there are examples of young goalies getting great value in trades (Freddie Andersen, Semyon Varlamov), in many cases this is not the case.

That is all to say that, long-term, goaltenders are extremely volatile, and projecting young goaltenders is even harder. Barren unforeseen circumstances, there is not much doubt that Igor Shestyorkin will be named Rangers’ starting goaltender at some point in the next few years. But I am not even comfortable saying that will last for even two full seasons, let alone that he will be long-term. Shestyorkin is one of the top goaltending prospects in the world. But because of the uncertainty and limits of the position, I simply think he, and practically any goaltending prospect, can not inherently the same kind of value that forwards of similar upside, who are safer and more versatile, do.

3. Lias Andersson, Center

2017 Ranking: 1

Age: 19

Acquired Via: 2017 Draft (First Round)

The 2017-2018 season was an Odyssean affair for Lias Andersson. Here is a summary of leagues and tournaments in which he participated.

  • World Junior Summer Showcase
  • Traverse City Tournament
  • NHL training camp/preseason
  • Champions Hockey League
  • Euro Hockey Tour
  • U20 World Junior Championship
  • American Hockey League
  • National Hockey League
  • World Championships

It’s a good learning experience to play a whole lot of hockey in so many different environments. He played with different players in different systems against different types of competition. That’s going to make him a more rounded, mature player. I also wonder if it was too much. At Traverse City and the preseason, for instance, he looked overwhelmed and tired. One would hope he and the Rangers made sure that this summer is spent appropriately in order for him to be fresh for training camp.

Was Andersson’s season successful? That depends on one’s expectations. The Rangers were fairly confident he would make the team out of training camp. That did not happen, and frankly he wasn’t even close.

However, he played extremely well in the Swedish Hockey League. He was a pretty important player for Frolunda, scoring seven goals and adding seven assists in 22 games. Based on adjusted points using Corsica Hockey’s league translations, Andersson’s production in the SHL ranked him sixth among all U20 non-NHLers. And that’s not to mention the work he put in in the neutral zone, on the penalty kill, and so on.

At the World Junior Championship, Andersson was a star. He scored six goals in seven games. It is important to note that he played on a line with Elias Pettersson - arguably the best teenager in the world right now - and Alex Nylander, who is a gifted playmaker. Andersson was not the driver of that line, and there is no doubt that Andersson doesn’t score at that rate without those linemates. Still, Alex Nunn and I both agree that Andersson was an important complement to that line rather than a leech.

Eventually, the Rangers decided to bring Andersson over to the AHL, where on paper he performed well by producing 14 points in 25 games. Those numbers are a bit hollow, however. Half of his points were secondary assists, and he also only generated 1.68 shots-per-game. To compare, Filip Chytil averaged 2.39 shots-per-game in the AHL despite his playmaking tendencies.

Andersson did finally earn his first NHL game late in the season, scoring in his debut against Washington and having an active game all-around. He looked somewhat pedestrian in his remaining six games, but I don’t think it was reasonable to expect much more from a teenager thrown onto a lame-duck, mentally checked out team.

It’s extremely hard to have a measured, rational conversation about Andersson. There is a segment of the fanbase which insists on comparing him to Hugh Jessiman or Manny Malhotra, which is absolutely absurd. Lias Andersson’s numbers categorically blow Malhotra’s out of the ballpark, and in video he demonstrates much more offensive ability. We have every reason to believe that Andersson will be, at minimum, a top-nine forward who puts the puck in the net.

However, it’s practically impossible to make any modest criticism of his game or, more notably, the Rangers’ decision to draft him ahead of certain players, without others twisting the words and determining that one must think he is a “bust.” Believing that Andersson will be a good hockey player and believing that the Rangers passed on better hockey players (Gabriel Vilardi and Nick Suzuki stand out) are not mutually exclusive concepts. Nuance exists.

There are a lot of moving parts, but Andersson seems fairly likely to make the Rangers out of training camp. Long-term, I would project his future NHL ability on a scale bookended by Lars Eller and David Backes. A smart, physical, two-way center - somewhere between elite third-liner or fringe first liner - who plays in crunch time and scores a fair share of goals. And I’d place a healthy wager on him being the Rangers’ captain five years from now.

2. Vitali Kravtsov, Wing

2017 Ranking: N/A

Age: 18

Acquired Via: 2018 Draft (First Round)

Here is what Alex wrote in our draft profile of Vitali Kravtsov, whom we ranked as the 14th-best prospect in the draft.

“Russian winger Kravtsov uses size, soft hands, and strong wheels to contribute offense in a variety of ways.

He’s a difficult guy to handle in transition, capable of aggressively dangling opposing defensemen one-on-one or setting-up team-mates at speed. Although perhaps not the most dynamic on his skates, Kravtsov gets around the ice well and certainly has no trouble finding openings to exploit. He knows how to score and buries chances with a quick-release wrister.

Kravtsov’s ability to read developing plays means he can often be found parked-up in dangerous shooting spots around the net. He hunts down second-chance efforts and uses his solid frame to battle defensemen for loose pucks, patiently waiting-out opposing goalies when necessary.

Defensively Kravtsov is mostly responsible with his stick and does a solid job in his own end. It’s an area he will need to continue working on, though.

It’s important to consider context when looking at Kravtsov’s draft year given his stock exploded with a record-breaking playoff performance for Traktor. Kravtsov skated over four minutes more per-game during the post-season than he had previously; he saw occasional top-unit powerplay time and settled in as a consistent top-six scoring threat, much removed from the third-line checking role he’d been used in before.”

Kravtsov accumulated four goals and three assists in 35 regular season games, which is a perfectly good season for a 17-year-old in the KHL. But his postseason production was on another level; 11 points in 16 games. Was that a flash in the pan or a sign of things to come? That is the Million Dollar Question. One definitely should be wary of production in small samples. However, as Alex said, there are some clearly identifiable causes for the increased production.

Time will tell, of course, but the Rangers deserve credit here. There were other players available at ninth overall - Noah Dobson, Evan Bouchard, and Joel Farabee as examples - who have established themselves in a number of ways and are “safe” prospects. The Rangers instead went for upside. This is a player with superstar, 30-goal, 60+ point NHL potential. Kravtsov is going to get top-six minutes for Chelyabinsk in the KHL next season, and if he produces anywhere close to how he did in the second half of last season his stock is going to jump up exponentially.

1. Filip Chytil, Center

2017 Ranking: 2

Age: 18

Acquired Via: 2017 Draft (First Round)

At this point last summer, I thought the Rangers passed on the upside Kailer Yamamoto or Eeli Tolvanen when they took Filip Chytil 21st overall. Technically, I was right. Eeli Tolvanen absolutely tore up the KHL and is one of the top-three prospects in hockey right now.

But just one game into the NHL preseason, it was very obvious that I had underestimated Chytil. He was one of the team’s top performers in September and stunningly won a spot on the NHL roster. Though he received under 13 minutes over the course of two games before being shipped back to Hartford, he had done enough to make it clear that he was a blue-chip prospect.

Though a few injuries over the course of the season served as bumps in the road, Chytil continued his forward momentum in Hartford. He solidified himself as the team’s top center, developing chemistry with Cole Schneider on the first line. He registered 11 goals and 20 assists over the course of 46 AHL games. His five-on-five production was in line with what Jesse Puljujarvi and William Nylander produced at the same age, and Chytil was playing on an offensively bereft team while having more responsibilities as a center.

Chytil routinely displayed incredible ability on the puck. His hands are very good, but more impressive is the way he sees the ice. He has a tremendous eye for how plays might develop. He’s very good at picking lanes to carry the puck. Once in a while he will try to force a play that isn’t there, but it’s rare that he gets his pocket picked despite how often he’ll skate with the puck in vulnerable areas and try to make creative plays. He has a knack for putting himself in position for where the puck is going to be and scoring opportunistic goals. There were a number of goals last year where he scored on a half-open net simply because he anticipated the play a half-second quicker than the defenders.

He also took massive strides defensively. He’s not going to strike fear into the heart of anyone on the forecheck, but he takes the right angles to limit options for puck carriers.

At the World Junior Championship, he yo-yoed between phenomenal and nondescript. That could likely be at least partially blamed on an injury. Still, he was an important part of a Czech team that earned a surprising fourth-place finish, beating the defending champions (Finland) on the way.

With no true ambitions of winning, fans are going to want to see the Rangers’ top young players next season. I don’t blame them. However, I think the Rangers have to be extremely careful with Chytil. Broadly speaking, the Rangers are going to have to decide whether a barely Chytil is better off getting sheltered minutes in the NHL - perhaps even relegated to the wing - or instead playing 20+ minutes as the team’s top center while playing in all situations.

More specifically, Chytil needs to work on his defensive coverages. There were times last season where he got confused or was late to cover his assignment. On top of that, a new coaching staff means he’ll have to learn a new set of tactics as well. It might be in his best interest to continue to learn at a lower level, where the game won’t be as quick and where the stakes are lower.

There is also the concern of injury. As mentioned, Chytil suffered a few injuries last season, including a concussion. I don’t doubt that he’s put work in this summer to get stronger, but he’s still going to be barely 19 years old. The Rangers will have to be 500-percent sure that he can withstand the physical nature of the NHL before.

It’s worth noting that the Maple Leafs left Nylander to develop in the AHL up until the trading deadline. While that might have been overkill by a few months, I don’t think it matters much now. Ultimately, there’s a lot going on for the Rangers at the center position and training camp and the preseason will sort it all out. Forced to make a recommendation now, though, I don’t think it would hurt the Rangers or Chytil to be overly cautious in October. You can always call him up at a later date if he proves to be too good for the AHL.

But these are all short-term matters. Long-term, I don’t think there is much doubt that Chytil will become a top-six forward. What’s up in the air is whether he will be merely a very good player, or whether he can be a high-end, first-line center that the team can build around.

Click here for links to the rest of our prospect rankings.