If you are a hockey fan, there is only one game left in town.
The Stanley Cup Final between the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning is still going on, but all the other professional leagues and various junior levels around the world have entered their summer vacation.
For prospects who one day dream of making it to the NHL, now is the time to take stock of their development and chart ways to improve. And while the New York Rangers have graduated many of the best young talents in recent years, there are still plenty of contenders for future roles.
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Two of those who made their way into the conversation for next season featured prominently in the Ontario Hockey League’s All-Star Team that was announced Tuesday.
Brennan Usman at the top of that list. The first round of 2021 was chosen as the left winger for the first team after he finished second in the league with 50 goals and collected 97 points in 66 matches. He added 24 points (nine goals and 15 assists) in 19 playoffs while captaining the Flint Firebirds to the Western Conference Final. Five of his goals were scored in the post-season as match winners.
His left-handed shot, which Jed Ortemir, Rangers’ director of player development, called “elite”, is a hallmark. He’s used it frequently, averaging 4.39 shots on target per game, but scouts also rave about his offensive intelligence and competitiveness. The Rangers think they have a six-man center wing that will pack a punch in scoring and some snarls.
It looks like Usman has proven all that can be proven in OHL, but is he ready to make the jump to the NHL? That’s the question that team boss Chris Drury, coach Gerard Gallant and the rest of the crew will be discussing this fall.
The next logical step would be the American Hockey League, but Usman will not be eligible to play for Rangers’ Hartford team next season. Since he’s only 19 (and won’t turn 20 until January 5), they’ll be required to bring him back to OHL if he doesn’t make the NHL roster.
Is Will Cuylle ready for the NHL?
This would not be the case for Will QuillHe was selected in the second round of 2020 who came behind Othman as a left winger for the second team in the OHL team.
He turned 20 on February 5 and will be eligible to play for AHL Hartford next season if the Rangers choose to go that route. But he impressed them during development camp last year and can push for a place in the NHL right out of the gate.
Coyle tied for sixth in the Premier League with 43 goals this season, matching 37 assists in 59 games. He also tied for the top of the league with nine game-winning goals and carried that clutch gene into the playoffs, where he will propel captain Windsor Spitfires to the OHL Championship Series, coming within one title win. He finished with 31 points (15 goals and 16 assists) in 25 post-season games.
His 6-foot-4, 210-pounder shot couldn’t match Usman’s skill level, but his left-handed shot is nearly as powerful and effective. Additionally, there are no concerns as to whether he is physically ready to tackle the NHL. Cuylle’s size, strength, and streak mean the belief that he was created to be a bottom-up player who could use his muscles to get into the fat spots on the ice.
Snowboarding will be his biggest question mark, as Galant wants his third and fourth streaks to play head-checking style in your face. But Coyle has taken on more defensive responsibility this season and has become a penalty shootout killer, as evidenced by his three cut-throat goals during the playoff round at Windsor.
Whether it’s outside of training camp or sometime in the near future, the Rangers will need potential clients like Usman and Coyle to contribute entry contracts to help weather the upcoming salary cap crisis.
Sorting through a busy blue line
The same can be said on the Blue Line, where K’Andre Miller and Braden Schneider have already broken through to grab full-time roles.
With Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, and Jacob Tropa already holed up in D Legion, that means five of the six normal defensive positions counted. But a competition for the final place is expected this fall.
May be the main candidate Zack Jones, a 2019 third-round pick who spent almost the entire 2021-22 season with Hartford. It took a while to settle down, but he ended up leading all of Wolfpack’s defenses with 35 points (nine goals and 26 assists) over the course of 52 games.
Of course, skill and offensive production are not a concern for the 21-year-old. It’s whether or not he can handle defensive responsibilities at the highest level, especially given his 5-foot-10, 172-pound lightweight frame.
Some of the same questions were asked about Nils Lundqvist. He was ranked as the No. 1 potential player in the organization who entered the 2021-22 season and won the training camp battle to play for the bottom pair of Rangers. But after 25 NHL games in which he scored only four points (one goal and three assists), they decided to send him to the AHL and he never brought him back.
It was never fully tapped, as the 2018 first-round pick posted a modest total of 15 points (three goals and 12 assists) in 34 games.
Schneider has clearly surpassed the 21-year-old Swede in the organizational depth chart. Given the fact that Jones has been more productive with Hartford and shooting from the left side, where Rangers have a slot, it’s fair to wonder if Lundkvist is now falling behind as well.
Matthew Robertson It is another left-handed option. He has scored only 11 points (1 goal and 10 assists) in 65 games with the Wolf Pack, but is not expected to be a major points producer. The 2019 second-round pick is 6-foot-4, is fairly mobile for his size and is considered defensively polished, which could make him a sleepy candidate if he has a strong camp.
Don’t be surprised if the competition wanes before we get until September. Drury knows he can’t include all of these potential defenders in the squad – including the 2019 fourth-round pick Hunter Skinner It would be wise to use one or two of them in a trade to make a future impact before their value deteriorates.
Junior Dylan Garand
The presence of Visina Cup winner Igor Shesterkin makes the goalkeeper less of a pressing need for Rangers. But with Alexander Georgiev expected to change the team this summer, revealing a reliable backup will be a point of interest.
For the upcoming season, expect a short-term cheap veteran to fill this role. But in terms of the set of possibilities, it is clear that Dylan Garand It emerged as the most viable long-term option.
The 2020 fourth-round pick was recently awarded the 2021-22 Dale Wilson Memorial Award, awarded annually to the best goalkeeper in the Western Hockey League. This came after tying with the top of the league with 34 wins and finishing second with 0.925 saves percentage and 2.16 goals against average while helping the Kamloops Blazers win the BC Division title. He also secured a place in the more prestigious prospects for Team Canada’s start at the Junior World Championships before the tournament was postponed due to COVID-19.
Garand just turned 20 and will likely be a year or two away from being considered ready for the National Hockey League, but he signed his contract in December and is eligible to play for AHL Hartford next season, if that’s the direction Rangers decide to go.
Interestingly, while Garand is an all-star finish in the first team in the BC division of the WHL, the second team goalkeeper is also a member of the Rangers pipeline. Tallinn Boyko He earned that distinction after going 29-18-2-3 with a .908 SV% and 3.03 GAA.
The 2021 fourth-round pick was traded mid-season from the Tri-City American to the Kelowna Rockets, where he got a chance to start and make significant progress. He still has a long way to go in his development, but at 6-foot-7, Rangers are intrigued by his potential.
Brett Berard’s strong sophomore season
If we round up Garand, Othmann and Cuylle among the fastest risers in the Rangers’ pool of probability, it’s important to acknowledge that Brett Berard It also belongs to this category.
As a sophomore at Providence College, the 2020 fifth-round pick ranked 26th in the country with 38 points across 36 games. He tied for 16th with 18 goals, making him jump from active lead-checker to dynamic scorer.
This combination of speed, agility and skill makes him another tempting prospect to play the hex winger, but he won’t be for the 2022-23 season. All indications are that the 19-year-old will return to Providence for his junior season.
A pair of Swedish centers
Another striker from the recruiting class at Berrard has also made significant progress this season.
Oliver Tarnstrom Flying under the radar while playing outside, there were encouraging signs. The 2020 third-round pick scored 34 points (17 goals, 17 assists) in 31 games for the under-20 Rögle team, and earned a promotion to play at the top level of the Swedish Hockey League in the playoffs.
The 19-year-old made 11 pre-season appearances for the men’s team Rögle and contributed three goals, setting himself up for a full-time assignment next season.
But as Tärnström’s stock heads higher, the prospect of another Swedish position has come to a fork in the road. Rangers had high hopes for Carl Henrikson When they selected him in the second round of the 2019 draft, this season he has provided the opportunity to play regularly for the top-tier Frölunda team. But the 21-year-old scored just nine points (three goals and six assists) in 40 regular season games, and that lack of production likely rules him out as an NHL option at the moment.
Henriksson has scored three points (two goals and one assist) in nine playoffs, but he will need a strong rebounding performance with Frölunda next season to convince Rangers they should include him in their future plans.
Who is the likely highest position holder?
This stagnation opened the door to Rider Kurczak Emerging as a player many would argue is now Rangers’ best midfielder.
The 2021 third-round pick scored 79 points (25 goals, 54 assists) while playing in 68 games for the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors. He added 13 points (three goals and 10 assists) in 10 play-offs.
The 19-year-old will need to add strength, as he is currently listed at just 5ft 11, 173lbs, and prove he can be a capable two-way player. But he is a dynamic playmaker in the middle and has won 56.4% of his matches this season.
Despite Korczak’s development, though, the center remains the thinnest position in the set of organizational possibilities. There are no confirmed NHLers in the group, making it the only perceived weakness after a five-year period of loading up on draft picks.
Vincent Z. Read more of his work at lohud.com/sports/rangers/ and follow him on Twitter Tweet embed.