We start with Dane Byers quite simply because if not for a major knee injury suffered early last season then he would already have been a Ranger. Byers has worked his rear end off making himself into a player as we see him as a high energy player who will kill penalties, will score some goals, will get in your face if you mess with a teammate but the best part is he can also be the shutdown winger on a checking line.
In our eyes Byers can replace both Voros and Sjostrom on the roster because he will do what both combined could not do; give the Rangers 100% effort with production every night. That he will also save the Rangers some money is a nice side benefit as well.
We gladly pat ourselves on the back for correctly predicting that Evgeny Grachev would have a monster season with Brampton. 40-40-80 in the regular season followed by 11-14-25 in the playoffs makes him the power forward prospect that Ranger fans want to see make the jump from the OHL to the NHL.
Except for us as we think that Grachev despite all his talent and size needs to be brought along slowly and not rushed. Grachev and his coach Stan Butler both pointed out he needed to learn to work hard every night in North America and he is learning that lesson.
We would like to see Grachev (who is just 19) spend time at Hartford adjusting to the travel, the grind and the speed of the professional game. Let him grow a little more into his body because thanks to all the hype (that we are just as guilty of) we fear Ranger fans are going to expect too much from Grachev too soon as will the Rangers.
Dale Weise became the first Ranger prospect in the Sather era to be drafted, signed and assigned to Hartford in the same year. Credit that to the folks in Swift Current who demanded Weise become something and that he did.
Weise started slowly as a pro and we wondered if perhaps it would have been better if Weise had been returned to Swift Current for another season. Towards the end of the season, Weise did improve as he played well down the stretch and during Hartford's brief playoff run.
Weise needs at least another year in Hartford fine tuning his game but it will be worth the wait.
Brodie Dupont had a rough first season with Hartdford then almost doubled his output last season so we expect him to improve those numbers even more next season with Hartford. Dupont will need to also need to step up as a leader like he was with Calgary and show the Rangers how badly he wants to make it to the NHL.
Dupont has the tools and the size but he might start running into a logjam as the Rangers bring in more players who fill the same role. The best way to force separation would be to put up huge numbers that we believe the Moose is capable of.
Jordan Owens is the perfect definition of a late bloomer, when the Rangers signed him as an undrafted free agent few thought of him as a legit prospect. Owens is the prime example of what you want to see out of a fringe prospect; someone who is not going to let anyone else out work him, not going to let anyone out hustle him and will play whatever role is ask of him.
Owens rightfully earned himself a Ranger contract because of his hard work and dedication and while we still are not ready to say he is Broadway bound, we are also not discounting him either. Owens like Dupont is going to need a monster season next year in Hartford to remain on the path towards Broadway but as we are learning very quickly not to count him out.
Justin Soryal we have to admit was someone we were rooting for last season as the very likable young man knows how to make believers out of you. Injuries hurt his progress as Soryal only got to play in 43 games but very quickly one thing became known throughout the AHL; this is a guy you do not want to fight.
Soryal we still believe can be more than a goon based upon his very soft hands but he has to stay in the lineup and out of the penalty box to show that. We believe in year 2 of his pro career that Soryal will do less fighting and more scoring but we project him more as a 3rd-4th liner so improving his defense is also going to be a must for him.
Andres Ambuhl was just recently signed by the Rangers coming over from HC Davos of the Swiss league. Since we have no firsthand knowledge it would be wrong of us to try to project whether or not he is Ranger or Hartford material.
We will be fair to him and not lump him into the same pile of last year's European signings other than to point out that Ambuhl was signed by the professional scouting side of the Rangers NOT the amateur side led in Europe by Christer Rockstrom.
Pierre-Alexandr Parenteau is someone that Ranger fans see his numbers and wonder why the Rangers do not call up. The answer is that as a smallish winger on a team that has plenty of smallish wingers Parenteau simply has no real chance to earn a roster spot.
Two 2006 draft picks find themselves in a must improve season or else they will be passed by in Tomas Zaborsky and Ryan Hillier. Each struggled to find their game for different reasons as Zaborsky who is a very smallish forward at least earned a promotion up to Hartford while Hillier got off to a bad start due to injuries and never really found his game.
Right now neither we are sad to say are pointed towards a career with the Rangers unless they show vast improvement next season
We are always asked if David Kveton is going to come over and if he does will he have an impact. Our answer is we simply do not know but based upon his track record we think he has a better chance of playing in the KHL than the NHL. Kveton has been more about instant results and that bothers us that he is unwilling to pay his dues to earn his Ranger uniform. Not acceptable when you see what other prospects are doing to make it to the Rangers.
Chris Doyle was the Rangers 5th round pick in the 2008 season. His is the tale of 3 seasons in 1 as Doyle was the only draft pick not to earn an invite to the Ranger training camp out of Traverse City.
To his credit Doyle responded with a monster of a start where he was actually at one point was the 2nd leading scorer in the QMJHL deep into December. However he injured a disc in his back and struggled for 2 months before heating up at the end of the season.
Doyle heads back to the QMJHL without a contract and as an overager but his power play skills is his door to a professional career so it is up to Doyle to come out as hot as he did last season and stay that way all season long.
Danny Hobbs was the Ranger's second 7th round pick in the 2007 Entry Draft and spent last season as a freshman at UMass/Amherst. It was a struggle for Hobbs who only registered 1-1-2 for his season and spent a lot of time as a healthy scratch for the Minutemen.
Hobbs has the advantage of having 3 more seasons to try to work his way back into the prospect picture but right now it is hard to say he is on the Ranger's radar given more promising prospects.
Greg Beller (2005 6th)is in his final year of being a draft pick of the New York Rangers and it is hard to see him earning a Ranger contract. If there ever was a prospect who had more bad luck to his career it was Beller.
2 broken collarbones in the same season, a coaching change after being recruited by Yale led to his departure midway of his sophomore season, back to the BCHL for half a season then missing yet another half season with the University of Manitoba as a transfer. In other words Beller over the last 4 years has only gotten to play a total of 61 games.
Beller is going to be one of those "if only" prospects as we wonder what would have happened if he have gotten to play and stay healthy. 6'3 220 with the skills of a smaller player was how he was once described to us as.
So What Happens with the Rangers?
That is the biggest question as in our eyes the key days to watch remain June 26-29th as you have the 2009 Entry Draft but also the day that the Rangers must either tender offers to their restricted free agents or let them walk with no compensation in return.
If the Rangers are truly committed to a transition towards a team built for John Tortorella's attacking offense then we will see a shift in the kind of players drafted as well as which players are offered offer sheets.
What you will not see is a rebuild which remains the one and only true way to fix this franchise and return it back towards Stanley Cup contention.
(pictures Doyle courtesy of Prince Edward Island Rocket, Hobbs courtesy of UMass/Amherst and all others courtesy of the New York Rangers)