Evgeny Grachev and Michael Del Zotto get most of the ink but in the NCAAs are 2 Ranger prospects who just might sneak up on Ranger fans and become 2 very important Ranger prospects.
Both play for some very storied college programs and before they are done, expect that you will know exactly who these 2 are by seeing for yourself why we think they are impact players.
Carl Hagelin was the Rangers 6th round pick in the 2007 draft. Nobody had any idea who he was and what he was capable of doing except Ranger scouts and the person who convinced legendary coach Red Berenson to offer Hagelin a scholarship to the University of Michigan Wolverines.
As a freshman, Hagelin quickly established himself as a solid defensive player and has been a key part of the Wolverines penalty kill ever since. As Hagelin adjusted to life and play in North America, he slowly and quietly showed that he was a solid skater as well as a very intelligent player on the ice.
It was during last season's NCAA Frozen Four where Hagelin gave us our first hint about his ability to elevate his game in the biggest game. With just over 5 minutes remaining in regulation and Michigan trailing 4-3, Hagelin with a Notre Dame defender all over him grabbed a puck off the end boards and fired an impossible angle shot on net that bounced in of the Notre Dame goalie to tie the game and force overtime.
It was a clutch play but it was a sign of things to come as Hagelin this season as a sophomore has quietly scored some very big goals for Michigan. Tied for the team lead in game winning goals with 4th and the leader in shorthanded goals with 2, Hagelin finished the season as the third leading scorer on the Wolverines at 13-18-31.
Last weekend as Michigan began their defense of their CCHA Championship, Hagelin against Western Michigan had 2 goals and 3 assists in the 2 game sweep. Not to mention the total shutdown that Hagelin and his linemates performed on Western Michigan's top line.
Now Hagelin and his Wolverines are gunning for earning Michigan the 19th straight NCAA appearance for the school as well as a National Championship. Friendly advice if you get any chance to watch Hagelin from now until the end of their season do so and you will see why we believe that Hagelin is going to become the steal of the 2007 Entry Draft.
Derek Stepan on the other hand has been the forgotten member of the 2008 Ranger draft class by most. However it is our belief that within the next 5 years, Derek Stepan just might develop into one of the most important Ranger prospects in helping the Rangers move forward in the future.
The Rangers 2008 2nd round pick is playing for the Wisconsin Badgers and from day one has been a top 6 forward for a program that once gave the Rangers a goalie by the name of Mike Richter.
Wisconsin is a program that produces NHL players as they currently boast 18 NHL players and have sent 63 all time to the NHL. On his own team, Stepan wasn't even the most heralded recruit as teammate Jake Gardiner was a 2008 first round pick of the Ducks.
Stepan was someone who we interviewed back in November and his quiet self assured confidence is what got our attention when he matter of fact predicted that he was about to break out and start scoring that week (of our interview). Turns out that Stepan was right about his prediction and he has not stopped scoring since.
Stepan is the 2nd leading scorer for the Badgers which is quite the accomplishment considering how the leading scorer for the Badgers is a candidate for the Hobey Baker in Jamie McBain. At 9-24-33 and still scoring, Stepan has a chance to help the Badgers earn an NCAA berth if they can win the WCHA Championship this weekend.
Do not blink when watching Stepan as this prospect is the fastest skater among Ranger prospects, none of the current Ranger prospects have the first step that Stepan has nor do any of them have the kind of on-ice smarts that Stepan has.
Stepan was supposedly just a one way player but his recent 2 shorthanded goal performance showed that he is a lot better defensively than anyone thinks. Playing for Badger coach Mike Eaves is going to make Stepan a much better all-around player as Eaves was an NHL player himself.
Our favorite Stepan moment of this year was when Wisconsin was facing Denver, Stepan was on a 2 on 1 with teammate Mike Davies. Just by skating at the net opened the door for Davies to score because Stepan put on such an acting job that everyone was so sure that he was going to get the puck that both the Denver goalie and defenseman turned their attention to Stepan and forgot about Davies.
Stepan is currently working on a 3 game scoring streak (3-2-5) as the Badgers swept Minnesota State in the first round and ended their regular season with a win over North Dakota (the top seed in the final 5).
We would love to see a Wisconsin/Michigan matchup in the NCAA tournament as it would be a hint as to what 2 future Rangers will do in the big games.
(Carl Hagelin: Amir Gamzu/Wolverine Photo, Derek Stepan: Nick Gogos/Daily Cardinal)
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