25. Justin Richards, Center, Minnesota-Duluth
2019 Ranking: N/A
Acquired Via: Free Agent
I had a full Richards’ scouting report in the works immediately following the Rangers’ signing of him in April, but a more important topic put that on the back-burner. I’ll use this space to give a modified version.
Richards is the son of former NHL Head Coach, and current Nashville Predators assistant coach, Todd Richards. It shows in his game. Richards is a cerebral center. He was elite on faceoffs with Minnesota-Duluth of the NCAA. He’s a strong defensive presence who helps his team maintain defensive shape and who has great timing on closing lanes available to the puck possessor.
A late bloomer in many ways, Richards had a meager freshman season, registering no goals and nine assists in 44 games, but came onto the scene his sophomore year with 32 points in 40 games. Last season he plateaued, posting 25 points in 32 games, though he did score goals at a higher rate.
I do have a few goal highlights in my files, but this assist is the best indication of what he brings to the table offensively, I believe.
He knew a hit was coming, but instead of bailing out of the play, he waited for the defender to drift out of position before making the pass across and taking a punishing hit in the process.
That’s the kind of offense I think Richards will provide at the professional level. He’s not going to wow anyone with highly skilled plays, but he’s going to make smart decisions and show a willingness to fight for his team’s opportunities and take contact.
Richards was a good signing by the Rangers and I think he’s a legitimate NHL prospect. The problem for him is one of upside. He’ll be close to 23 by the time next season is projected to begin and I think he’s pretty close to “what you see is what you get” territory. There’s no doubting his hockey IQ but I’m not sure if he has enough physical ability to separate himself from the pack at higher levels. His skating is average and, while his vision is decent, he doesn’t have great hands or puck handling ability. His offensive numbers in college were good, but not great. In some ways, he reminds me of former Ranger Steve Fogarty. He has a possible future as a penalty killing NHL fourth-line center. If not, he’ll likely still be a good AHLer the team wants around its prospects.
24. Yegor Rykov, Left Defense, CSKA Moscow
2019 Ranking: 9
Acquired Via: Trade (2018)
The Russian defenseman acquired from the New Jersey Devils at the 2018 Trade Deadline came over to North America last season. Having played well in major minutes in the KHL the season prior, the hope was that, if he couldn’t make the NHL roster out of camp, then he could at least set himself up for a future opportunity with a strong AHL showing.
Unfortunately, Rykov suffered a severe ankle injury at the start of training camp in September. That put him on the shelf until December. Upon return from injury, he was behind the pack, no pun intended, when it came to his conditioning and tactical understanding, the latter of which was already a work in progress due to the language barrier and change in style that comes with a switch from Russia to North America.
Advanced data for the AHL is hard to come by, so most analysis of his play is based on viewings of his games. I had Rykov ranked fairly high as a prospect and so it’s possible my priors colored my view of his performance. With that in mind, I don’t think he played nearly as badly as the Rangers apparently did. Yes, he had a few stinkers, which is what one would expect from any prospect making the adjustment he was. He also, in my view, had some very strong showings. Two goals and 11 assists in 27 games isn’t exactly putrid. But Hartford Head Coach Kris Knoblauch benched or healthy scratched Rykov multiple times throughout the season.
We can debate whether Rykov was up to snuff and whether the injury prevented his chance to prove it, but it’s not really going to matter. The Rangers’ decision to not invite Rykov to the Toronto playoff bubble — ECHLer Brandon Crawley made the taxi squad instead — was a good indication that the Rangers were ready to move on. The Rangers loaned Rykov to CSKA Moscow of the KHL in August, where he has since played pretty well on their third-pairing. But Rykov is now 23, and well on his way to 24, years old. It’s hard to see him leaving arguably the top team in the KHL to ride busses from Hartford on an AHL salary, and it’s impossible to see the Rangers making any assurances of a spot for him on the NHL roster. Rykov’s NHL contract expires next July. The Rangers will keep his rights indefinitely and it’s possible they revisit a chance for him in the future, but it seems likely that Rykov’s North American career has ended fairly anticlimactically.
23. Olof Lindbom, Goaltender, Mora IK
2019 Ranking: 19
Acquired Via: 2018 Draft (Second Round)
The Rangers went off the board by drafting Lindbom 39th overall in 2018 and it’s hard to describe the early results as anything other than disastrous. In fairness to Lindbom and the Rangers, a lot of that has been bad luck more than anything. He’s dealt with a number of injuries the last couple of seasons and, after playing only eight professional games in 2018-19, “improved” that number to 17 total in 2019-20. He did not make the cut for Sweden’s World Junior team last year, which is a major failure given his stature and the competition.
In 16 games in the Allsvenskan (Swedish second division) last season plus nine this season, Lindbom has been mediocre at best. This season he has posted a .906 save percentage.
I can’t give a great analysis of Lindbom’s game. That’s in part because goalie analysis is not really my calling, but also because he’s played so few games.
The silver lining for the Rangers is that Lindbom has a relatively late birthday for his draft class and he only turned 20 this past July. The Rangers are looking good in net in the immediate future so there’s no rush for him to get over to North America, let alone the NHL. Lindbom is not some boorish project. Even if drafted too early, he is a talented goaltender who at times has been phenomenal at the junior international level for Sweden. Lindbom has time to turn this around, but for now his already questionable stock has taken a massive hit.
22. Adam Huska, Goaltender, Hartford Wolf Pack
2019 Ranking: 14
Acquired Via: 2015 Draft (Seventh Round)
Huska was playing decently as Shesterkin’s backup in Hartford last season until the Russian was called up to the Rangers. That presented Huska with a precious opportunity. For the first time since he turned pro, the starting job in Hartford was his to lose.
He struggled in the role of primary goaltender. Some of that probably correlates with the hollowing out of Hartford’s roster. Joey Keane, the team’s top defender, was traded. Phil Di Giuseppe was called up to the Rangers. There were a couple of injuries. Still, the Wolf Pack turned to ECHL call-up Tom McCollum for a bit before acquiring veteran J.F. Berube from the Flyers for emergency help.
Huska is a big goaltender with powerful movements around the crease, but the technical side is still a work in progress. As a 20-year-old his rawness was exciting. As a 23-year-old, two-year pro it’s more concerning. I still believe in his NHL upside but the 2020-21 season might be a sink-or-swim moment for Huska. The Rangers signed former NHLer Keith Kinkaid and prospect Tyler Wall, and those three will be in a relentless battle for playing time in Hartford if/when the AHL season starts. The Rangers are comfortable at the NHL level with Shesterkin and Georgiev, but they’re not going to wait around forever hoping that Huska finally pieces it al together. All things being equal, the Rangers would love for Huska to be the best of those three and put his first consistently strong season together in the AHL. If not, with his contract expiring at the end of the season, he may not get another chance.
With the AHL season on pause, Huska is on loan at HKM Zvolen in the Czech Republic. He’s earned one start so far in which he posted a .920 save percentage.
21. Patrick Khodorenko, Center, Hartford Wolf Pack
2019 Ranking: N/A
Acquired Via: Free Agency (2020)
I wrote about Khodorenko when the Rangers signed him as a college free agent out of Michigan State last March.
I was surprised when Khodorenko went undrafted and I believe his college career justified my take. In each of his final three seasons of college hockey he posted nearly point-per-game numbers, in particular registering an impressive 47 goals in 108 games. Further to that, he was charged with creating his own offense at Michigan State and showed a capability to beat goaltenders with a deceptive wrist shot. At 6’1” he’s not going to wow anyone with size, but he is very strong on his skates. He’s a skilled player who can beat defensemen laterally and he’s an energetic forechecker, keeping defensemen honest in footraces.
The biggest knock on his game is his skating. He’s a below-average skater who lacks explosiveness in his stride. His top speed is also lacking.
I’m not making any promises about Khodorenko’s NHL future here — after all, I am ranking him 21st on this list — but I think the Rangers did extremely well to get him under contract. Whether he can hack it as a pro center is also to be seen. At a minimum, I think he has enough offensive ability and motor to be a capable, two-way AHL player. If I am right, then I think he’ll get a few opportunities in spot call-ups over the next few years. At that point, it would be up to him to audition well enough to stick around.