20. Jake Elmer, Right Wing
2018 Ranking: N/A
Acquired Via: Free Agent Signing
Relative to the circumstances under which he was acquired, I was pretty high on Elmer when the Rangers signed him as an undrafted free agent back in March. Since then, my affirmation has solidified further.
Elmer was a late bloomer who needed some growth and a change of scenery to hit his stride. After numerous lackluster WHL seasons, He received minutes on the top line in Lethbridge alongside 2019 eighth-overall pick Dylan Cozens, and he really excelled, exploding for 37 goals and 42 assists in 68 games.
Elmer a pretty nondescript player in terms of visual characteristics. He’s not particularly big or electric. He is well-rounded and made a difference for Lethbridge in a number of ways, though. He’s a pretty good skater who plays with pace every shift. He possesses pretty good puck skills and can make plays on his own. He’ll beat defenders with shifty maneuvers. He’s a shooter who can beat goaltenders and he has some playmaking ability as well. Did playing with Cozens help? Of course, but he did not look like a player who was riding coattails. I look at plays like these and I see someone who can make offense by himself. He can carry the puck. He creates his own shooting opportunity. He sets up his teammates for quality shooting chances (#20 on Lethbridge).
He’s also a very smart player who defends well and has the motor to pressure the puck and force mistakes.
Elmer got a cameo in Hartford at the end of the season, when half the team was either injured or recalled to New York. Despite the wretched circumstances, he played well in his first AHL action. In fact, he ended up with two goals and two assists in five games.
Elmer doesn’t possess much upside, but I like his game. He’s a two-way winger that I think will spend a full year in Hartford. His abilities should at least translate to pro hockey, and I think he has a real shot of becoming a bottom-six NHL forward who can play defensive minutes and chip in some secondary offense. Signing Elmer was the equivalent of acquiring a free fifth-round pick. Not bad business by the Rangers.
19. Olof Lindbom, Goaltender
2018 Ranking: 19
Acquired Via: 2018 Draft (Second Round)
Lindbom was a questionable pick at the time the Rangers went against consensus and took him 39th overall, and a year later we have less certainty than ever before. A concussion completely derailed his 2018-2019 season. He missed significant time and was not available for Sweden during the World Junior Championship. Towards the end of the season, he was healthy enough to be the back-up for Djugården for a few games, but did not feature. He ended the season with just nine games to his name at the SuperElit (junior) level, posting a .900 save percentage for Djugårdens J20.
We can debate the selection itself forever, but as a goaltending prospect Lindbom is still very much relevant. One of the major benefits of drafting a player out of Europe is that a team holds his rights for four years, and Lindbom is a prime example of why that matters. Despite losing a full year, he still has plenty of time to figure it out in Sweden before the Rangers have to make a real decision about him. He lacks athleticism but is fundamentally the kind of goaltender Benoit Allaire loves. He plays deep in his crease. He tracks the puck well. Positionally, he’s mature for his age.
Next season he is expected to play for Mora in the Allsvenskan (Swedish second division), where he will split duties with 21-year-old Isak Wallin. It is a good opportunity for Lindbom to play at a high level, and hopefully he can stay healthy and build his stock as a prospect. He’ll be attending the World Junior Summer Showcase and, with a strong showing and successful run for Mora, he could possibly even start for Sweden at the 2020 World Junior Championship.
18. Tyler Wall, Goaltender
2018 Ranking: 26
Acquired Via: 2016 Draft (Sixth Round)
It’s been quite the journey for Tyler Wall. During his freshman season in 16-17, he usurped two older goaltenders to take the starting job at Umass-Lowell and was a key reason they won Hockey East and made the NCAA Tournament. The next year, he had a string of horrible games, lost all confidence, and relinquished the net to Christoffer Hernberg for the rest of the season.
He rediscovered his game last season. Initially, Hernberg seemed to have the edge on the depth chart. However, Wall got better as the season went on and eventually reclaimed his throne. He still had some rocky moments along the way, but he ultimately ended the season with a robust .921 save percentage in 22 games, including four shutouts. Sometimes struggles can lead to growth. His sophomore season was a harsh reminder that ice-time isn’t a given, and it speaks measures that he successfully worked his way back to the starting role.
Hernberg has graduated and Wall will be a senior next season. The starting job is unequivocally his, but he has his work cut out for him in a very different way. Alexandar Georgiev, Igor Shesterkin, and Adam Huska are signed to NHL contracts and the Rangers are confident in all three of them. Lindbom offers insurance for down the road. Wall is 6’3 and very athletic. He still needs some technical work, and more than anything needs to find consistency. There are plenty of skilled, appealing goaltenders who never end up sticking in the NHL or even the pro level simply because they can’t become dependable on a nightly basis. There’s room for Wall at the pro level, but the Rangers aren’t going to stretch to make it work. He represents a luxury rather than a need. He has one season to show what he’s got, and he’s either going to end it with a contract or gone from the organization.
17. Leevi Aaltonen, Left Wing
2018 Ranking: N/A
Acquired Via: 2019 Draft (Fifth Round)
Aaltonen is a dynamic winger who really excels in a few areas of the sport. Most central to his game is his skating. He is an explosive skater who needs only a few steps to fly up the ice, and his top gear is about as good as anyone in the 2019 draft. When we think of forechecking, we sometimes think of strong forwards intimidating puck carriers and punishing them with checks.
At 5’9 and 175 pounds, that is clearly not Aaltonen’s game. What he can do, though, is forecheck with his feet. He closes down on the puck with incredible quickness, and he can turn a lot of dumps and clearances into 50/50 puck battles that in normal circumstances might be clean possession opportunities for the opposing defense. Here’s a perfect example of that (#10 in white).
He is also a great transition threat. With elite acceleration and straight-line speed, he can really pull away from the pack on vertical changes in direction. Furthering his transition abilities is that he can make plays with the puck. There’s not much flair, but he shoots the puck with decent velocity and is a capable passer as well.
Aaltonen is a competent defensive winger. What he lacks in wingspan he makes up for in quickness. He shuts down lanes by getting in the way and closes down on the puck. Finland used him as a penalty killer during the U18 World Championships, and he got usage there as well during the club season.
The biggest knock on Aaltonen is his creativity. His stickhandling is just okay. He’s not really a player that is going to create offense during controlled possessions. He isn’t going to beat defenders one-on-one or make great passes through structured units. Though he did get limited usage on Finland’s second PP unit at the U18’s, he wasn’t really impactful in that role. Most of his offensive potential lies in transition. This limits his upside.
The lack of diversity in Aaltonen’s game is why he dropped in the draft, but in my opinion he dropped 35-40 picks more than he deserved to.
Aaltonen may be a one-trick pony, but that trick is killer. His speed is elite, and he has competent enough hockey skills to make it count. I hesitate to use this comparison because the nuances of their game are very different, but in terms of impact the best-case scenario for Aaltonen may be in the form of someone like Michael Grabner. A pure vertical, counter-attacking threat who puts teams on their heels with blazing speed and flirts with 20-goals. An overwhelming, outstanding third-line winger that contenders win with.
Still, Aaltonen is very raw and needs to work on many aspects of his game. Expect him to spend at least two, and maybe more, seasons in Finland, but the wait may be worth it.
16. Tim Gettinger, Left Wing
2018 Ranking: 15
Acquired Via: 2016 Draft (Fifth Round)
I’ve always been a fan of Gettinger, but I did not anticipate him making a push for the NHL roster as quickly as he did. He was a pleasant surprise during the preseason and got a legitimate look at a roster spot. He was sent down to the AHL to start the season, and right away he was one of Hartford’s top performers. He tallied seven goals and four assists in his first 18 games for the team, but it wasn’t just the production itself. He was providing offense in different ways. He was scoring from above the circles as well as around the crease. He played his role in helping to create team-executed breakouts and zone entries. He did a great job of creating traffic and screening the goaltender on point shoots. He earned PK minutes.
He was one of Hartford’s most utilized forwards and by late November earned a stunning but deserved call-up to the Rangers. He received only seven-to-eight minutes in just four games before being sent down, but that the 20-year-old fifth-round pick even got such an opportunity was a massive success.
Gettinger’s play dipped the remainder of the season, but that was par for the course in Hartford. The coaching was lacking and the roster was limited in offensive punch. In fact, Gettinger was one of the better performing players for the length of the season. Though his ceiling is probably that of a bottom-six forward, Gettinger makes up for that in versatility and fluency. He’s a 6’6 winger who can skate, read the game, dish the biscuit, hammer home some pucks, and make life difficult for the opposition in front of the crease. Any NHL coach is going to have time for a player like that. Gettinger will have a prominent role in Hartford and it would not be surprising to see him get more games in the NHL. One can hope that he takes his game to another level this season and is in line for a permanent spot in the NHL by October 2020.