Summer 2016 Prospect Rankings: Summary & Mailbag

You had questions about the Rangers' prospects. We answered them.

Upon the completion of my Summer 2016 Prospect Rankings, some of you wanted to tell me I am stupid. Others submitted questions for me to answer; questions such as, "why are you so stupid?" I am here to answer some of those questions

I struggled to find the tweets, but I promise I was asked about this. I'm not pulling a Bill Simmons and making up mailbag questions.

In case you missed it, the Rangers will be signing free agent John Gilmour (no relation to Doug) from Providence University. Gilmour, 23, was a seventh-round pick of the Calgary Flames in 2013. Gilmour had four solid seasons at Providence, and helped them win the National Championship in 2015. Gilmour is a very good skating defenseman who can move the puck and scores his fair share of goals with a strong shot. Our friends at SBN College Hockey have an in-depth evaluation of him.

Why did Calgary not sign him? It's not clear. He didn't light up the NCAA, no, but he certainly has NHL upside. The Flames do have a number of defensemen prospects, so they might have preferred to trim the fat a bit. Their management also have a reputation for preferring big, physical defenseman, which Gilmour (5'11, 180 pounds) is not.

So where does Gilmour rank? I would put him 19th on our list. That is, above Steve Fogarty but below Michael Paliotta. Going from playing against teenagers and fringe college teams to the AHL is a massive jump, so we'll see how Gilmour responds. But he does have upside as a depth NHL defenseman. He's not a special prospect by any means, but he is a prospect, and one who could be had for free.

Free agent prospect signings are always long-shots, but it's a numbers game. Between 2009 and 2011 a whole slew of free agent signings did not work out; Matt Gilroy, Blake Parlett, Jason Missiaen, Tommy Grant, Sam Klassen, Chris Chappell, Paul Crowder, etc. However, Mats Zuccarello and Cam Talbot were also signed in that same span and became massive successes. With Malte Stromwall, Paliotta, and now Gilmour, the Rangers have done a very good job of stocking the prospect pool with upside for free. If just one of them can turn into an NHL player, it will make it all well worth it.

There was a lot of turnover in the prospect pool in the last 12 months, but the one loss that really mattered was that of 2015 third-round pick Aleksi Saarela. He had a number strong performances at the World Junior Championships as Finland won gold, and he carried that momentum into the second half of the Liiga season.

I had him ranked 13th last summer, and he would have been a no-brainer for the top ten this time around. At worst, I'd rank him eighth, and you could lobby for him to be as high as third on the list. I usually let my rankings marinate for some time before moving players around until I feel comfortable, but my immediate impulse is to put Saarela sixth. It's too bad that he was traded for Eric Staal in a completely unnecessary trade.

Let's also talk about Jimmy Vesey, since I was also asked about his potential spot. The 2016 Hobey Baker winner is a free agent and can sign with any team. The Rangers will be aggressive in recruiting him, and although at face value there seem to be better landing spots for him, the same was thought to be true for Kevin Hayes. Never underestimate the allure of New York City, nor the persuasiveness of Glen Sather. Should the Rangers sign Vesey, he'd immediately jump to the third spot in the rankings. Suffice to say the Rangers' prospect pool would benefit immensely from his addition.

This is the most common question I received. Four of the Rangers' top ten prospects are goaltenders. Tyler Wall, ranked 20th, also has a high ceiling. And, of course, the Rangers have a certain Swedish goaltender who isn't leaving anytime soon. It's perfectly fair to wonder about trading from that surplus.

I don't think the Rangers are at that point quite yet. There's not any external pressure to make a move right now. Nobody is waiver eligible. The minor leagues aren't really crowded yet with just Hellberg, Skapski, and Halverson under contract. Huska and Wall are entering their freshman seasons in the NCAA and figure to develop there for at least a few seasons. The Rangers are probably one year away from really having to make some decisions, since Shesterkin's KHL contract will be up, the Rangers will want to sign him, and they'll be less keen on putting a goalie prospect in the ECHL. But I would think the Rangers would like to see how this next year plays out before making those decisions.

That being said, I do think there's enough depth now that the Rangers would be comfortable moving a goaltender if the right deal called for it. As a purely hypothetical example, if the Rangers could acquire a young NHL defenseman in return for a fair package that happened to include Halverson or Skapski, I think they'd feel very comfortable doing so. And perhaps more so than if that package required a forward or defenseman prospect of similar value. But there's an important distinction between being willing to move a goaltender in the right trade versus actively seeking to trade a goaltending prospect out of a sense of obligation. That time will come eventually, but I don't think it's now.

Comparisons are always tricky because rarely are two players every TRULY alike in every way. Furthermore, it can often lead to unfair expectations.

The common comparison for Kovacs is Carl Hagelin, and I hate it. The players share some similarities, sure. The Swedish influence is apparent in both. However, their makeup is still very different. Kovacs can skate just fine, but he's nowhere near Hagelin. He also doesn't have quite the defense prowess. Kovacs' shot is significantly better and he has much better vision in the offensive zone.

If you're going to coerce me into a comparison for Kovacs, then Patric Hornqvist is the ideal. But I don't think it's a perfect one since Hornqvist has a net presence that Kovacs doesn't (yet?). Kovacs also still has work to do to earn an NHL spot; let alone become a reliable 20-25 goal scorer.

How good is the Rangers' prospect pool? About as good as anyone could expect given the circumstances. The Rangers have had no first-round picks and just two second-round picks over the last four years. Gordie Clark and his crew have not been handed lemons, but rather lemon peels, and have still have managed to squeeze out some lemonade. They couldn't afford to NOT nail the 28th overall pick in 2012. They got it right with Skjei. They exploited the anti-Russian bias with great selections in Buchnevich and Shesterkin. And it's important to point out that good moves in the past have provided them with a glut of young forwards in the NHL; Kreider, Stepan, Miller, Hayes, Zibanejad, Fast, and Lindberg. They're not quite dying on the vine.

Nonetheless, the Rangers still have one of the worst prospect pools in the NHL. We can make excuses about contending, but Tampa Bay has a top-five prospect pool in the NHL. The Ducks, Blackhawks, and Kings aren't exactly starving, either. The Rangers have a first-round pick in 2017, and they can not afford to trade it this time around.

This is a tough one. All things being equal, yes. Even with the additions made in the draft and free agency, the prospect pool is weak on defense. The centers are even weaker, with Adam Tambellini (11) our highest-ranked one, and his future might very well be on the wing. However, Stepan, Zibanejad, Hayes, and Lindberg are all young and under team control for some time. The average age of the Rangers' projected defensive group for 2016-2017 is 27.7 years old. The two defensemen in the top-14 prospects are Graves, who has a low ceiling, and Day, who is the ultimate mystery box item. Safe to say the organization needs some young defensemen.

But drafting for position is a short-sighted strategy. It's impossible to know what the organization will look like in three-to-five years. Trades happen. Players get hurt. Late-round picks surprise. Do the Rangers take Dan Blackburn (2001) and Al Montoya (2004) if they had known what they had already in Henrik Lundqvist (2000)? In 2012 McDonagh (22), Staal (24), and Del Zotto (21) looked like the future of the franchise on the left side. What if the Rangers had passed on Brady Skjei because of that? If the Rangers rate two prospects similarly, then they should go with the defenseman. As a general rule, though, best player available is the heavy priority. You can always trade from a surplus to address needs later.