Rangers Prospects: Previewing "The Head Of The Pack" Edition

As many of you guys know, we here at Blueshirt Banter love our prospects. So in order to help bring you guys some better prospect coverage throughout the year I reached out to Russ Cohen to help give us some inside looks on the Rangers top prospects. For those of you who don't know, Russ Cohen is one of the authors of 100 Ranger Greats, a must-have book for Blueshirts fans. He can be read at www.rangergreats.com and his book can be purchased at Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com, Chapters and a host of outlets. Russ is a good friend of the website, and honestly knows everything there is to know when it comes to prospects, so asking him to help was a no-brainer.

Anyway, let me explain how this works. I sent Russ the names of the Rangers top five prospects (hence the title "Head Of The Pack") and asked him for a recap on each guy. His work is quoted below, and I have added my own analysis at the very end. E

Rangers Prospects - - Future Ranger Greats? By Russ Cohen

1) Chris Kreider - 6-2, 217 - Center - It's been a while since the New York Rangers have produced a real offensive star forward but this youngster has the goods and he has a knack for playing at his best in big games. He was a first rounder and he should live up to the billing and then some. During this past World Junior Championships he was named Team USA's Player of the Game following the win over Switzerland and was a wiz on the power play. He has a well above-average wrist shot looks to be an important offensive tool for the Boxford, Massachusetts native. He should get a real chance at making the big club next year. With all of his international experience plus college playoff dramatics including a Frozen Four win and an appearance in the outdoor game he should really make a pretty big splash with the Blueshirts.

2) Derek Stepan - 6-0, 190 - Center - This second rounder is cool under pressure and he has the look of a future captain. If the Rangers can swing it having him, Kreider, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan will really give this club something to look forward to in the future. If that nucleus can play together for a few years I think they will have something. He played with some elite talent in this past World Junior Championships and he played in the Frozen Four. The product of Hastings, Minnesota can get into the opponent's offensive zone with ease, has great vision, and isn't afraid to work the corners. He can hold his own in front of the net and he can skate like the wind. He has a legitimate chance of making the Rangers this season but if he's going to be used sparingly then he will certainly make the club next year. He needs to play on the top two lines and get a chance to show what he can do, the good and the bad; it's the only way he'll be able to grow.

3) Ryan McDonagh - 6-1, 200 - Defense - This first-rounder was a teammate of Stepan at Wisconsin and he'll hopefully be a teammate in New York for the next decade if all goes well. When the Rangers traded Scott Gomez to Montreal, in my opinion this was the biggest part of that deal, not caring about the financial savings of course. It's been a while since the Rangers have had a true stay-at-home defenseman and he can be that guy, and he'll chip in a little offense as well. With the recent groin injury to Steve Eminger I will be shocked if this blueliner doesn't make the big club this season. He has toughness and terrific hockey sense.

4) Ethan Werek - 6-1, 199 - Center - The Rangers know that this kid has talent but you can't rush him even though he's been putting up great numbers with Kingston under the tutelage of former NHL sniper Doug Gilmour. He has high praise for the kid. He's a big kid and he's still growing. He possesses an excellent skill set, works hard, great shot from the slot, has a fast release and trails the play well without the puck. He's good on the power play and he needs to get faster. Historically the Rangers have done very well for themselves with their second round picks and Werek is no exception. Not sure what his time table is before he's playing at MSG so be patient.

5) Evgeny Grachev - Center - 6-4, 222 - He's a big kid with a lot of confidence. I was one of the few who interviewed him at the draft in 2008 and he told me he possessed some of the same skills that Evgeni Malkin has. He's a good skater, but has to get faster, he can play defensively responsible hockey and he can score from the slot besides being able to carry the puck into the offensive zone. Big kids take a bit more time to develop so he may need additional time in Hartford.

If you would have asked me a few months ago who my favorite Rangers prospect is, I would have said Evgeny Grachev. But Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan are currently skyrocketing in my mind. And here is why:

Russ is absolutely correct when it comes to Stepan and Kreider's international and big game experience. The two prospects played against each other in this year's 2010 NCAA championship game, and they also played on the same USA team in this year's World Junior Championship. And they were impressive in both series. Stepan and Kreider proved that they can be clutch players in clutch situations. Nothing proved this more than Stepan's play in the final game of the WJC, he was the most cool, calm and collected player on either side of the ice. Kreider wasn't far behind, but Stepan was just so impressive in that game.

I also think it's important to realize what Russ had to say about Grachev and Werek's development. Werek--who has been an absolute force in the OHL--shouldn't be rushed, so that when it is his chance to make a splash, he makes it. This kid is a Banter favorite, mainly because of how excited he was to get drafted by the Rangers, and if you youtube him you wont be disappointed. The kid has an arsenal of offensive weapons, and you can literally see the talent in him.

Now for Grachev. A lot of fans seem to get down on Grachev because he had one rough year in the AHL. I'll ask you all to give him some more time, and not just because Russ reiterated that bigger kids take more time to develop. Last year Grachev made a ton of changes to his game. He admitted being overwhelmed with the speed of the game, and even switched to a shorter stick in order to quicken his release. Towards the end of the year he really started to get into a groove, and he looked better, even if the points didn't show up right away. This will obviously be a big year for him, but I expect great things from him in the future.

And finally onto McDonagh. I agree with Russ that he was the biggest part of the Gomez deal, and if you search the archives here you will see that I'm not alone. When this trade went down Montreal fans were astonished (in the bad way) that the Canadiens were willing to part with their 2007 1st round pick. But their loss was the Rangers gain, as McDonagh figures to be a big part of the Rangers future from this point forward. I'm also in the same boat as Russ, expecting him to make the team this year.

OK guys, that's all. A big thanks to Russ for helping us out!

The floor is open, thoughts?