July 2016 New York Rangers Prospect Rankings: 20-11
Fresh faces dominate the second part of the 2016 summer prospect rankings.
For Part One (32-21) of my summer prospect rankings, go here. The top-ten will be posted Friday morning, assuming all goes to plan.
20. Tyler Wall, Goaltender, 18 Years Old, Sixth-Round Pick (2016)
Previous Ranking: N/A
I've never seen Tyler Wall play and the Rangers' announcing of his selection was the first I've ever heard of him, in all honesty. Here's what I've been able to gather since. He was outright dominant in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League (one level below the OHL), posting a .940 save percentage and losing just two of the 31 games in which he played. He was named the GOJHL's Western Rookie of the Year and earned a place on its All-Star team. Here is a snippet of what Hockey Prospect wrote about him.
Wall moves pretty well in his net. He can get a bit scrambly when he is recovering to make second saves. He is a bit inconsistent when he sets up to a shooter. He anticipates the play pretty well and is solid at tracking pucks. Quickness is decent considering his size.
Evaluating goaltending prospects is hard for the layperson. Evaluating ones playing at a lower level is harder. And evaluating them without watching him play is impossible. I'm largely deferring to the Rangers' scouting staff for now. Wall will be attending Umass-Lowell and we'll be able to get a much better gauge on where he stands at that point.
19. Steven Fogarty, Center, 23 Years Old, Third-Round Pick (2011)
Previous Ranking: 23
I wouldn't say that Fogarty had a great senior season at Notre Dame, but he definitely showed a consistency in his game that was lacking the first three seasons. Ten goals and 13 assists in 37 games is a decent improvement on his previous seasons. After his senior season ended, he signed with the Rangers and played three games with the Wolf Pack. He had a very good AHL debut, earning his first pro assist and playing a solid, all-around game. The next two games were more pedestrian, but he showed an ability to forecheck and hold the puck below the goal line.
To be blunt, Fogarty is perhaps a bit fortunate that the state of the Rangers' prospect pool is not so hot. I'm not sure a team with more depth would have used a contract spot on him. Players with similar production in the NCAA don't have a high success rate of becoming NHL players. Of course, this does not account for Fogarty's defensive prowess and strength along the boards. Nor his low-maintenance, hard-working attitude. Next season will be spent in full with the Wolf Pack. At this point, the realistic hope is for him to develop into a shutdown fourth-line center.
18. Michael Paliotta, Defenseman, 23 Years Old, Free Agent Signing (2016)
Previous Ranking: N/A
At this time, you might be saying, "who is Michael Paliotta?" I wouldn't blame you. Towards the end of July 1st, as the chaos of free agent frenzy was winding down, the Rangers sneaked in an announcement of Paliotta's signing. Taken two picks before Fogarty in the 2011 Draft, Paliotta was a big-time defenseman for the University of Vermont, captaining the team in his senior year. He signed with the Blackhawks in late March of 2015, only to be traded to Columbus a few months later along with Brandon Saad. The Blue Jackets presumably decided Paliotta's $1.1M qualifying offer this summer was too rich for them, and thus they let him become an unrestricted free agent. The Rangers scooped him up, and here we are.
Paliotta is a two-way defenseman with some size (6'4, 212 pounds). He's not a great skater but he's decent enough to get by if the rest of his game is up to snuff. He's not going to smash players through the glass like McIlrath but he uses his size advantage when he can to separate players from the puck. He's not an offensive dynamo but he moves the puck up the ice capably. Eight goals and 15 assists in his first pro season isn't bad by any means.
The Rangers are desperate for young upside at right defense at every level, and Paliotta helps for sure. This is not your typical AHL signing. He would not have signed with the Rangers if he was not assured room for upward mobility. It would be quite the break for a team that needs one if he could develop into a cheap right-hander for the third pairing for the future.
17. Tim Gettinger, Left Wing, 18 Years Old, Fifth-Round Pick (2016)
Previous Ranking: N/A
I'm usually fearful of big forwards taken in the later rounds because they're usually dopey, awkward kids devoid of NHL skill that scouts think just need time before turning into Jamie Benn. In Gettinger's case, I think it was a good value pick by the Rangers. At 6'5, he towers over everyone in the OHL. But he also has a pro skillset. He is careful with the puck on his stick and can move the puck adequately. His best asset is his hands. When he puts his mind to it, he is a force in the slot, as his ability to screen plus deflect pucks or get quick shots off can be a handful for goaltenders. He puts forth a total effort in terms of a 200-foot game. He protects the puck very well. The foundation is there for a potential power forward.
Gettinger is still very raw, and maybe that's why he fell a couple of rounds farther than anticipated. His straight-line skating is alright, but he doesn't have explosiveness. His frame hasn't filled out yet, nor has he mastered the ability to use his size to his advantage. He can be a bit passive on the ice at times. He's a clear example of a project, but in the fifth round it was a smart gamble by the Rangers. One scout gave me a Brian Boyle comparison; a smart, defensive-minded forward who puts in the grunt work and chips in offensively. But let's not place limits on him. Though of course he has a lot of development to do to even get to Boyle's level, Gettinger does have the offensive skills to justify a higher ceiling.
16. Brad Morrison, Center, 19 Years Old, Fourth-Round Pick (2015)
Previous Ranking: 14
I would say that Morrison's post-draft season was fine. Nothing more, and nothing less. He had some stretches where he was invisible on the ice, and others where he was the Prince George Cougars' best forward. He finished the year with 28 goals and 34 assists in 72 games, plus three assists in four playoff games. He didn't blow me away by any means, but he performed about as well as one could reasonably expect an 18-year-old fourth-round pick to.
As a reminder, Morrison is a crafty center who possesses great offensive instincts, above-average stickhandling ability, and good vision. He has a handful of dekes up his sleeve that he can pull out in tight spots, or beat a defender one-on-one. An incredibly evasive puckhandler. Here's my favorite clip of him last season, despite not scoring on the play.
Morrison is very involved offensively and wants to be THE GUY to either score or set up the goal on every play, which is great. With that, though comes a bit of over-eagerness at times. Again, this is to be expected at this stage. He still has some work to do defensively; again, to be expected. It's really nothing more than wait-and-see with Morrison at this stage. A friend in scouting once told me that he learns more from the players he was wrong about than the ones he was right about. I was wrong about former Rangers' prospect Michael St. Croix, who was a somewhat similar player in the WHL and whose skillset did not carry over into pro hockey. It would take a very poor 2016-2017 for Morrison to not earn a pro contract, but beyond that I'm not sure what's in store. He has the tools to become a dynamic player. We won't know for a while if they translate at a higher level.
15. Tarmo Reunanen, Defenseman, 18 Years Old, Fourth-Round Pick (2016)
Previous Ranking: N/A
Our European hockey expert, Alex Nunn, spoke to Reunanen recently. You should absolutely read that.
The Rangers desperately needed to add a puck-moving defenseman to the prospect pool, and Reunanen is one step in the right direction. Fellow Finland-native Aleksi Saarela similarly fell to the middle of the draft last summer after injuries derailed he pre-draft season only to have a standout post-draft year. The Rangers will hope for a similar fate with Reunanen, who played just 16 games in Finland last season and missed most of the international tournaments due to a major lower-body injury.
When healthy, Reunanen is a solid skater with very good puck poise. He's not an "in your face" defenseman but he reads the play well and gets the job done. During the 2014-2015 season while in Finnish juniors, Reunanen produced at roughly the same rate as Olli Juolevi, who went fifth overall to Vancouver this summer.
Reunanen should be ready to go at the start of the 2016-2017 season. Quite a number of defensemen from Finland's World Juniors team that won gold last winter are no longer eligible for the tournament, so the path is there for the once highly-touted Reunanen to redeem his stock in Finland.
14. Malte Strömwall, Right Wing, 21 Years Old, Free Agent Signing (2016)
Previous Ranking: N/A
I wrestled with Strömwall's spot on this list before Alex Nunn's input convinced me to put him this high. The Rangers discovered Strömwall in the second division of Sweden while scouting his teammate, 2015 draft pick Robin Kovacs. Last season was certainly a banner year for him, as he registered 25 goals and 17 assists in 49 games as a 20-year-old playing against grown men. Alex wrote about Strömwall here, and he knows far more about him than I do. I'll just quote a few relevant parts of his article.
Much of what Strömwall does well can be said of Kovács too. He is a fast, agile skater with an excellent shot that loves to carry the puck and strike quickly.
Strömwall is a goalscorer first and foremost, but he can make quick decisions on the puck to set up a team-mate too.
Like most 21-year old players, Strömwall has creases. His defensive game needs work and it remains to be seen whether or not he can consistently produce beyond a single season. But two years spent with the WHL's Tri-City should mean he has little issue re-adjusting to North American ice and his signing represents a low-risk high-reward addition by the Rangers at a time when they desperately need to refill the cupboard.
The lack of draft picks the last five years means the Rangers need to get creative in adding players with upside, and Strömwall is a good find. As Alex said, he has experience living and playing in North America already, so the transition won't be a big deal for him. He'll start the season in Hartford and likely spend the whole season there, though there's no reason he can't earn a call-up if he performs at a high level.
13. Cristoval "Boo" Nieves, Center, 22 Years Old, Second-Round Pick (2012)
Previous Ranking: 12
Nieves had a similar senior season at Michigan to Fogarty in that it was for sure a more consistent effort with slightly improved production, but still left something to be desired. Where he really showed his best work was in Hartford, after his college career ended. Nieves was given a chance to play top offensive minutes with the Wolf Pack, who were badly needed an offensive injection. He provided it, scoring twice and adding three assists in eight games and generally being one of the team's best forwards during the spell. Usually players are more timid when first turning pro. Nieves bizarrely did the opposite, consistently engaging with the puck on his stick in a way that he never felt comfortable doing in his four years at Michigan.
When Nieves is on his game, he's a dynamic player. He's an elite skater with a shiftiness to him. His size and long reach allows him to change the shooting angle and get shots off that others might not be able to. He's a solid defensive forward. He just didn't show a confidence in his abilities on a consistent basis at Michigan for whatever reason. Was his Hartford stint a flash in the pan or a sign of Nieves challenging himself to reach a higher gear? He'll be one of the prospects to watch for in 2016-2017.
12. Nicklas Jensen, Left/Right Wing, 23 Years Old, Acquired Via Trade
Previous Ranking: N/A
As poor as the Carl Hagelin trade turned out, Jeff Gorton did well to salvage the situation to a degree and get Jensen (plus a sixth-round pick) for Etem. The former first-round pick of the Canucks underwhelmed in Vancouver, but the change of scenery served him well. With 15 goals and 10 assists in 41 games, Jensen was arguably the Wolf Pack's best player in the second half of last season (though the bar wasn't particularly high, but I digress). Aside from the fact that Vancouver is a mess right now, I think there's something to be said for a change in preconception. I think Jensen was dealing with an identity crisis. Brian Boyle dealt with the same issue, trying to live up to that first-round billing in Los Angeles. Once he came to the Rangers, it was a fresh start, and he adjusted his expectations. Eventually he found his niche as a shutdown forward in the bottom-six.
I think Jensen could as well. He's a big-bodied winger who skates well enough relative to his size and can steamroll through opposing defenders. He doesn't have great hands or offensive instincts, but when he keeps his game simple and lets his physical tools take charge, he can win battles in the slot and chip in some goals. He plays a hard, honest game and puts in work defensively. Jensen gives off a serious Viktor Stalberg vibe.
I'll say about Jensen what I said about Dylan McIlrath last summer; I don't know if he's an NHL player, but he's paid his dues in the AHL and deserves a legitimate chance to make an prove he is out of training camp. It would be a mistake to not only keep him off the opening night roster, but to also then expose him to waivers as required. He has a legitimate shot at developing into a cheap bottom-six forward, which the Rangers are at no liberty to turn away.
11. Adam Tambellini, Center, 21 Years Old, Third-Round Pick (2013)
Previous Ranking: 7
After absolutely dominating the WHL as an overager in 2015, Tambellini's first season in pro hockey was satisfactory. Unlike other project picks, he proved outright that he was an AHL-quality player from the very beginning. He scored 17 goals and added 15 assists in 74 games, which aren't great numbers but okay in context. It was expected from the start that 15-16 would be a major transition year for Tambellini and he received absolutely zero help from underachieving veterans such as Brian Gibbons, Daniel Paille, and Luke Adam. Hartford Head Coach Ken Gernander was forced to put more responsibility on Tambellini than was probably fair to him, and nonetheless Tambellini came out of it alive.
His shot, as anticipated, was still lethal against professional goalies. He still sets up above the right faceoff circle on the power play and either blasts shots pasts goalies or beats them with a sneaky release through a screen. He took time to adjust to the speed of the game, but he improved gradually as the season commenced. Defensively he looked like an unseasoned rookie with potential; he had the right idea a lot of the time, but made newbie mistakes at others. I'm also not sure center is Tambellini's best position, but once again the lackluster roster forced the issue. All things considered, I think Tambellini can be proud of how he handled his first year of professional hockey.
This season, expectations will be different, and they should be. He's been through the ringer now. He knows what pro hockey is all about. He knows what Gernander's system is. He's a year older and a year stronger physically. He should have a better supporting cast. Of course he still has plenty to learn and improve on, but the awkward transition period should be in the rear-view mirror. I'd argue that this upcoming season is more important for Adam Tambellini's development than it is for any other prospect's. Last season was freshman orientation. This time around, we're going to learn exactly where he stands and how realistic an NHL future is for him. I am cautiously optimistic.