The Rangers Know How To Build Outside Of The Draft
In the last three months Jeff Gorton has signed six undrafted free agents from the ranks of NCAA Division I hockey, the KHL and the WHL. This approach is nothing new to the Rangers.
We saw it last offseason when Gorton signed Malte Stromwall. And when the Rangers signed John Gilmour and won the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes. Gilmour and Vesey were different because they were players with expiring exclusivity rights, but the principle behind signing them was the same. Gorton and the Rangers have not been gunshy about building the prospect pool outside of the draft.
The Rangers continuing with this tactic is encouraging, even if it was inspired by necessity. Building outside of the draft with free agent signings helps feed the pipeline with young, cheap talent. And that’s a good thing for a team that has frequently traded away draft picks for “win now” solutions the last several years.
Let’s brush up on the six newest additions to the Rangers prospect pool.
Chris Nell, Bowling Green
Goaltender | 22-years-old | Two-year ELC
Nell played four games with the Wolfpack this year after signing with the Rangers on March 23rd. He posted an .881 save percentage and a 4.01 GAA in those contests and recorded his first professional win against Springfield on April 7th.
Modest numbers, but its important to remember the Wolfpack were not a playoff team and those were his first four games as a professional.
Last March SB Nation’s Chris Dilks wrote that Nell was the best free agent goaltender available in NCAA hockey.
The Falcons already have one former free agent goalie starting in the NHL in Andrew Hammond, and Nell could be next. Nell is only listed at 6'1" but he has a lanky frame and positions aggressively, allowing him to cover a lot of net and really cut down on angles. He's developed more consistency in his sophomore season, raising his save percentage from .917 as a rookie to .930 as a sophomore.
His junior year numbers at Bowling Green took a dip from his head-turning sophomore stats, but that didn’t stop Gorton from signing him. Organizational depth in the blue paint is important, even for a team that has Henrik Lundqvist at the top of its depth chart.
As Adam Herman wrote back in March, the Rangers have a great track record of finding goaltending talent in the bargain bin. Nell is a project, but the Rangers have the right people to work with him.
Vinni Lettieri, University of Minnesota
Forward | 22-years-old | Two-year ELC
Lettieri had a breakout senior season with the Golden Gophers. But before that happened he attended the Rangers prospect camp in 2014 and 2015. Gorton had an inside track on signing him thanks to Brady Skjei being a teammate of Lettieri’s at Minnesota.
After being wooed by Skjei and Derek Stepan to join the Rangers organization Lettieri skated in nine games with the Wolfpack at the close of the AHL season and picked up an assist.
Recent @GopherHockey player and new @WolfPackAHL Vinni Lettieri (@19Lettieri95) in his second AHL game. pic.twitter.com/wg59URyvka— Dan Rice (@DRdiabloTHW) April 1, 2017
Vince Pedrie, Penn State
Defenseman | 23-years-old | Two-year ELC
Pedrie played four years of USHL hockey before playing two years on the Nittany Lions blue line. Which is why he’s already the same age as Skjei after just finishing his sophomore season of NCAA hockey. The Minnesota native is a left-handed shot who made his mark in college hockey in the offensive zone.
Pedrie registered ten primary assists in his sophomore year at Penn State. Which means he had 18 primary points in 39 games this year from the blue line. Pedrie isn’t big, but he checks off a lot of the other boxes that scouts look for.
The former Nittany Lion had five assists in nine games with the Wolfpack in the AHL. He averaged 2.55 shots per game in his first taste of pro hockey.
Alexei Bereglazov, Mettalurg Magnitogorsk
Defenseman | 23-years-old | Two-year ELC
Bereglazov is big, he shoots left and he left his hometown team in Russia for a chance at making the NHL.
From Blueshirt Banter’s Alex Nunn:
He's a big guy who excels defensively in his own zone. Not a puck-mover, but likes to chip in offensively from time to time and has looked to do so more often this season. Good skater for his size. Biggest question mark is his defense on the rush, particularly against quick forwards, but North American ice should help him there.
He's still just 22 so has plenty of time to iron out any creases. Not a sure thing by any means, but I can see him being a good depth option on the blue line with time.
Corey Pronman ranked Bereglazov as the 102nd prospect available in the 2012 Draft. The Russian defenseman’s ceiling isn’t very high, but more organizational depth on the blue line is never a bad thing.
Neal Pionk, University of Minnesota-Duluth
Defenseman | 21-years-old | Two-year ELC
I know Adam is planning on a piece diving more into Pionk, so I’ll leave the more in-depth analysis for him. But I do want to point out a few things about the UMD standout defenseman.
- Pionk is 5-foot-11 and shoots right-handed.
- He played two-and-a-half seasons in the USHL before becoming a UMD Bulldog.
- Pionk was a highly sought after college free agent thanks to his 34 point season at UMD. Fourteen of his 27 assists this year were primary.
- The data suggests he’s a pass-first player on the blue line - he averaged 1.92 shots per game - but that likely had a lot to do with feeding trigger-happy forward Alex Iaffolo (signed with the Kings)./
This Neal Pionk bomb put @UMDMensHockey back on top ... pic.twitter.com/DNxFe1LCbQ— UMD Athletics (@UMDBulldogs) February 24, 2017
Dawson Leedahl, Regina Pats
Winger | 21-years-old | Three-year ELC
Leedahl played his fifth WHL season with the Pats after four years with the Everett Silvertips. It was by far his most productive year in the Canadian Major Juniors. Leedahl was teammates with 2015 Rangers third round pick Sergei Zborovsky this year in Regina. He put up 89 points in 71 games for the Pats including 35 goals.
Leedhal led his team in PIM with 121 thanks to a well-documented mean streak in his game. He takes the body, isn’t shy about dropping the gloves and uses his 6-foot-2 frame well.