Blueshirt Banter 2019 New York Rangers Prospect Rankings: Top-24 Under-24

As I wrote in the prologue of our prospect rankings, the Rangers left me with a (good) problem. Quite a few players on the Rangers last season were very young players who still hover close to prospect status. I didn’t want to shoehorn all of them into prospect rankings, but I didn’t want to neglect them either, as the goal here is to paint a picture of the organization’s possible future. So, we’re going to include this addendum to the rankings in which we list the top-24 players in the organization who are under the age of 24. As with the prospect rankings, this is a combination of current ability as well as upside, and we’re not taking organizational need into account.

Writeups have are included for the players who were not part of the prospect rankings. For analysis of the remaining prospects, please refer to our Master List.

24. Tyler Wall, Goaltender

23. Leevi Altonen, Left Wing

22. Tim Gettinger, Left Wing

21. Brendan Lemieux, Left Wing

Lemieux was buried on Winnipeg’s depth chart, and the trade to New York gave him an opportunity to really play. Given the circumstances, I thought he did fairly well. He had an offensive impact, scoring three goals and adding three assists in 19 games. His play tailed off in the final few weeks, and that’s probably because his time in Winnipeg did not condition him for the 15-16 minutes Head Coach David Quinn wanted from him.

Lemieux is a limited player, but that does not mean he can’t be useful. He’s a good net-front presence who can create traffic and bang home a few ugly goals. He’s a decent enough skater that his tenacity is actually worthwhile, as he battles hard below the goal line to keep offensive possessions alive. Also encouraging is that, while he took a lot of penalties, he also drew just as many. The antics are fine, and even preferable, as long as that remains the case.

Lemieux needs to work on his defensive game if he is to have a long NHL career. His team bleeds shots while he is on the ice, though the Rangers’ circumstances probably did not help matters. Lemieux’s ceiling is probably nothing more than a fourth-line winger, but there’s value in that. The Panarin and Trouba contracts won’t afford the Rangers much room for depth spending. Lemieux doesn’t become a UFA until 2023, and four seasons of a cheap fourth-line winger would go a long way towards keeping the team’s costs down.

20. Tarmo Reunanen, Left Defense

19. Adam Huska, Goaltender

18. Libor Hajek, Left Defense

17. Zac Jones, Left Defense

16. Karl Henriksson, Center

15. Joey Keane, Right Defense

14. Yegor Rykov, Left Defense

13. Morgan Barron, Center/Left Wing

12. Alexandar Georgiev, Goaltender

Georgiev earned the backup job in training camp practically by default, though his preseason was certainly impressive. His season debut was a total disaster against Carolina, when he let in seven goals of the less-than-impressive variety, but after that he strung together a few nice starts.

His form dipped midseason. However, he saved his best hockey for the final few months, when the Rangers really needed some stability behind a rickety post-deadline lineup. By the end of the season, Henrik Lundqvist was actively vouching for Georgiev to get starts; maybe partially because Lundqvist was burned out, but also because Georgiev had earned them.

This graph showing Georgiev’s cumulative Goals Saved Above Expected really highlights how strong he ended his season (data via Evolving Hockey).

The worst one can say about Georgiev is that he held his own, which is fairly impressive for a 22-year-old rookie goaltender who was pretty much thrown to the wolves.

Georgiev combines strong lateral movement in the crease with  compactness. He gets across quickly, and stays square to the shooter at the end of that movement. For that reason, I think he has a future in the NHL. However, can he become a starter? Goaltending is a rigorous, exhausting endeavor both mentally and physically. Time-and-time again we’ve seen good backups move on to become starters, only to struggle in that new role. Georgiev is powerful on his skates, but it’s maintaining that form over 10-12 games per month is a lot different than doing so for 4-6 games. Enduring 60 starts in a season is different than enduring 30.

Multiple people I’ve spoken to insist that Georgiev is an extremely hard worker and a fiery competitor. As such, I think Shesterkin is going to bring out the most in him. Not that Georgiev’s career has been easy, but his motives the last two seasons were somewhat contrived; nobody really challenged him for playing time, and the games didn’t mean much. Now the Rangers are looking to make progress, and he’s going to be in a dog fight with Shesterkin for depth chart positioning. It’s possible that Georgiev is trade bait in waiting much like Cam Talbot and Antti Raanta, but we can’t rule out an ascent to the throne.

11. Matthew Robertson, Left Defense

10. Brett Howden, Center

Howden was one of the best players at both Traverse City as well as during the NHL preseason. Lias Andersson previously close to a foregone conclusion to make the Rangers’ roster, was instead demoted to Hartford, with Howden surprisingly usurping him for an NHL job.

Howden looked like he belonged at the start of the season. He scored his first NHL goal in the second game against Buffalo, and after the first month of the season he looked great. He had two goals and four assists through 12 games and certainly seemed to be holding his own otherwise. It certainly passed the smell test that a 6’2, 195-pound forward with speed and decent offensive instincts would look at home in the NHL. Even as a 20-year-old.

By Thanksgiving, Howden has 12 points through 21 games, but the underlying metrics were a canary in the coal mine.

Right around mid-November, Howden’s performance took a massive nosedive. The Rangers were getting buried with him on the ice. By early December, it should have been blatantly obvious to the Rangers that Howden was overwhelmed at the NHL level. However, they stuck by him. As was inevitable, Howden’s production eventually dried up. From December through February, Howden had zero goals and two assists in 23 games. He continued to spend way too much time in the defensive end and the team bled chances against. A March injury was the only thing that forced him off the ice.

By season’s end, Howden ranked among the worst NHL forwards by most major, telling statistics; Goals Above Replacement, expected goals percentage, and so on.

Quite frankly, the Rangers did Howden a massive disservice. As well as Howden played at the start of the season, by December it was obvious he was not ready for a full-time position in the NHL. As far as I can tell, there was no particularly good reason not to send him down to Hartford, where he would have earned 20-25 minutes every night against more reasonable competition. Instead, they let primacy bias cloud their judgment.

How has that affected Howden’s development? That’s hard to quantify even if we could predict the future. Despite his severe struggles last season, he had moments where he did show his potential. He was a 20-year-old who didn’t belong in the NHL, but lots of players aren’t ready for the NHL at that age. I’d still bet on Howden carving out a long NHL career as a middle-six center.

9. Lias Andersson, Center

Depending on what layers of context you are looking at, Andersson’s 2018-2019 season could be viewed as horrible, very good, or anywhere in-between. He had an okay training camp but did not make a Rangers team that was begging for an infusion at the center position. Down in Hartford, he started the season by getting on the scoresheet. Over the course of the AHL season, he tallied 20 points in 36 games. That’s not great, but it’s enough to provide plausible upside as a top-six NHLer. Among other players to put up similar production in a D+2 season are Artem Anisimov, Tomas Plekanec, and JT Miller.

My concern is that so much of his production appears to be empty calories. Of those 20 points, nearly half were on the power play. He also racked up a lot of cheap secondary assists. Just seven of his points were primary points at even strength. I like that he can be effective on the power play, but it’s not a great sign that he couldn’t produce more even-strength offense than Tim Gettinger.

At the NHL level, Andersson didn’t really show much of anything. Two goals and four assists in 42 games and the first goal literally hit off his body into the net. The underlying metrics were also bad; the Rangers did not generate much with him on the ice. The one defense I will give to Andersson is that the Rangers didn’t really put him in a position to succeed. Yeah, he didn’t play great, but it’s also hard to build much confidence when you’re being offered 8-11 minutes every night on a line with replacement-level players. Once the season was effectively over post-deadline, Quinn should have given Andersson a few chances in a top-six role. What was there to lose?

Andersson is a divisive player and I don’t doubt this will be deemed yet another negative, unfair review of Andersson. Yet if anything I have clearly given him the benefit of the doubt. He’s ranked top-10 on this list, above some good prospects and the guy who literally beat him out for an NHL spot last season. My initial skepticism about Andersson’s ceiling has turned into full-blown apprehension. His skating has improved but is still lacking, and he doesn’t have much creativity on the puck. But look, the draft was two years ago. It’s long gone. The organization has since added so many talented young players that Andersson has become an afterthought in certain ways. That doesn’t mean he can’t contribute, though. If Andersson becomes Lars Eller, a 30-35 point, two-way center that the coaching staff can depend on, that would still be quite valuable to the organization! The organization has grown to a point where doesn’t have to live and die by Andersson’s outcome, and maybe taking the pressure off him will enable him to put it together next season.

8. Nils Lundkvist, Right Defense

7. Adam Fox, Right Defense

6. Tony DeAngelo, Right

As a waiver-eligible player in October, DeAngelo had no choice but to finally make his skill matter. He did. On the ice, DeAngelo was not only the Rangers’ best defenseman but one of the better defensemen in the entire NHL. He registered four goals and 26 assists in 61 games. That’s especially incredible production given that:

  1. The Rangers were a poor offensive team overall.
  2. He did not start the season always playing a lot of minutes or earning time on the top PP unit.

DeAngelo showed why he has been an elite offensive defenseman at every level. He skates well. His vision is absolutely incredible. He walks the blue line well. He’s adept at getting pucks through from the point and there’s some mustard on his own shooting attempts. He also cleaned up his defensive zone play. Did he make mistakes sometimes? Yes. Did it piss off Quinn? Yes. But he improved enough to the point that his offensive contributions outweighed the defensive deficiencies. Per Evolving Hockey, DeAngelo finished 47th out of all NHL defensemen by Goals Above Replacement. That staunchly puts him among top-pairing defensemen, and he did it despite not playing 21 games! In a full season, how high does he finish? Top-15? Top-10?

On ability and even output alone, DeAngelo would be top-three on this list. Unfortunately, his non-playing issues continued to hamper him. The coaching staff decided to scratch him multiple times over the course of the season as a consequence of his attitude problems.

In anticipation of a few healthy scratches for DeAngelo in February, Quinn said to the New York Post iIt was a maturity issue. He and I have talked about it and are working on it. He’s too good to let maturity issues get in the way of him becoming the kind of player that he can be... It’s something he’s got to work on and it’s something we’ve got to help him with.”

A month later, DeAngelo was scratched yet again.

This was a concern when DeAngelo was a 17-year-old. Now that he’s almost 24, it’s extremely disconcerting that he’s still having these issues. He’s played for a number of coaches and all of them seem to have some sort of problem dealing with DeAngelo.

Whatever tolerance the Rangers had for this stuff now has to be close to zero with him set to earn real money and the team trying to create a winning culture. Nobody’s asking him to be a great leader or anything, but scratching him throughout the season as a teaching moment isn’t sustainable. He has the ability to become the team’s top right-handed defenseman long-term; yes, over Trouba. The problems need to stop for good, though.

5. Igor Shesterkin, Goaltender

4. K’Andre Miller, Left Defense

3. Vitali Kravtsov, Right Wing

2. Filip Chytil, Center/Left Wing

While the Czech was a surprising sensation during training camp in 2017, nobody was caught off-guard when Chytil made the opening night lineup the second time around. And this time he stuck. There were stretches of the season that were difficult for Chytil, but overall he survived the grind and stayed in Quinn’s good graces.

Chytil finished the season with 23 points in 75 games; not bad for a 19-year-old getting under 14 minutes per night on a bad team. Still, that doesn’t do Chytil justice. He was much better than those numbers show.  Here’s that Howden chart from before with Chytil’s numbers included.

For the first half of the season, Chytil was positive in expected goals; that is, the Rangers were expected to outscore the opposition with Chytil on the ice. That’s a remarkable feat for such a young player on a bad team. He did decline in the final few months of the season, though that’s not wholy unexpected. The Rangers were a worse team, and the marathon of a long NHL season took its toll.

Chytil was also very unlucky in the goals department. He scored just six even-strength goals, but his individual expected goals were just about 12 (Evolving Hockey). Not that people are down on Chytil, but I bet he’s getting a lot more hype now if he’s in the 16-goal range as a teenager. He easily could have been.

Another statistic that really stands out is Chytil’s penalty differential. He took just four minor penalties yet drew 13. That’s a massive advantage for the Rangers, and one would hope that his differential increases as he not only gets better but plays more minutes.

I thought Chytil improved many facets of his game as the season went on. Something our friend Steve Valiquette pointed out in April was that Chytil was playing a more physical game. By that, we’re not talking about hits or anything like that. Chytil started to become less of a perimeter player and started to muscle his way for pucks at the net front. More specifically, he stopped the fly-by’s on rush chances and instead parked himself at the front of the crease for those second opportunities.

I think this is going to become a big part of Chytil’s game. He’s a tremendous playmaker and has a decent shot, but he did good work in the dirty areas towards the end of the season, and I wonder how much better he can become at that once he starts developing man strength.

Especially now that the team is overloaded with skilled wingers, Chytil’s future has to be in the middle. The team badly needs someone to step up as a passable second-line center next season, and I bet he’s up to the task. His upside is still incredibly high, and he should be a quality top-six forward for years to come.

1. Kaapo Kakko, Right Wing

This concludes the 2019 Prospect Rankings, though I should note that it’s quite possible the Rangers make a trade in the next two months that requires an appendix to this series. Thanks to everyone for all of the support. Thanks to Alex Nunn and Tobias Pettersson, who have done a lot of work both in the public eye as well as privately to help make these lists possible.

I will be appearing on Bantering The Blueshirts next week, where Mike and I will be discussing the rankings and answering any questions you guys may have. Feel free to drop one in the comments section or on Twitter.