It is widely known that the New York Rangers have one of the best prospect systems in the National Hockey League. After designating the past three seasons towards getting younger and rebuilding, now comes a time where the rubber meets the road and the blades meet the ice, to see the strides that they have made. The devastating loss against the Carolina Hurricanes in the play-in-round was merely a trial run for the Rangers. When the second-youngest team in hockey takes the ice in the playoffs, its no mystery what their weakness will be.
However, now is a time for a transition. Where the greenhorns become experienced, and the experienced become the veterans. The uncertainty for the New York Rangers is no longer evident. With Hart finalists like Artemi Panarin and King Clancy finalists like Henrik Lundqvist, we know what to expect from the Rangers when they hit the ice. It’s the players who we don’t know what to expect, and who are not guaranteed anything in the NHL, who can be the most astounding. Such as K’Andre Miller, Zac Jones, and Nils Lundkvist.
Getting To Know The Prospects
There are many different ways in which a team could get their hands on future young superstars. Some could be acquired in trades, drafts, and showcases. Neither of which process determines which player is better. Look at Artemi Panarin for example. He was an undrafted winger from Russia who would soon blossom into one of the most dominant players in hockey. Now, we all know what a blessing it has been to have Panarin on our team, but one of the Rangers’ most lacking positions is on defense. One of the players projected to change that is K’Andre Miller.
Nicknamed the key, for obvious reasons, Miller signed a three year, entry-level contract with the New York Rangers back in March. The 22nd overall draft pick in 2018, is an eye-opener, for the fans yearning for a well-built defenseman on the Rangers. Before signing with the Rangers, K’Andre played two seasons as a Badger at the University Of Wisconsin, where he tallied 40 points in 62 games across a two-season span. Not only is he a two-way threat, but his size is also a frightening factor for forwards looking to bypass him in their offensive zone.
Whether he is rushing up the ice, or standing someone up at the blue line, his 6’5” frame certainly doesn’t slow him down. In fact, Miller’s game seemingly mirrors the style of play of a current Rangers defenseman, Jacob Trouba. Many fans are anticipating that Trouba and Miller will be linemates in the near future. While both have great size, and shooting ability, one can only hope this former badger will get the chance to learn from one of the Rangers’ best defensemen.
With a franchise goaltender having the last name as Nils Lundqvist, is there room for another, similarly spelled name on the Rangers? Just this time, as a defenseman? Aside from the small variation in spelling, Nils Lundkvist is a commodity in his position much like Henrik. The right-handed defenseman from Pitea, Sweden, looks for a future spot on the team alongside the previously mentioned K’Andre Miller. The numbers Nils has put up is promising. At the U20 World Juniors Championship, he registered 8 points in 7 games for team Sweden. Also, playing for the Lulea Hockeyförening, his point totals more than tripled from 2019 season to his 2020 season.
It appears the 28th overall draft pick in 2018 is improving his game to get to the next level. With the demand for offensive, right-handed defensemen throughout the league, Nils rarity will increase if he proves he can produce at the pro level when his time comes. Although Lundkvist is 5’11”, he has gifted hands, speed, and agility. Weaving through the zone, Nils makes it look effortless no matter who he is playing. Since the Rangers defense is primarily offensively oriented, If Lundkvist can focus on his positioning and stick work, this will add another element to his play, justifying that he has more to offer than just his offense.
As hockey development programs continue to improve, so do college hockey programs. Year by year, we are seeing the gradual increase in future NHL players attending college before turning pro. Zac Jones is another one of those players. After completing his first season at UMass Amherst, he registered 23 points in 32 games. Not bad for his first year playing college hockey. It’s before his college career, however, where we saw some of his highest numbers. While playing for the Tri-City Storm (USHL) he managed to record 52 points in 56 games with 46 assists! A great season for a youngster in the most competitive junior league in the country.
When I watch this kid play, I see an incredible similarity between himself Adam Fox on the Rangers. Jones combines his hockey IQ, along with heads up hockey, producing a swift, nifty player in the offensive end. Although he is not one of the biggest players, he can still play the body on defense. Standing at 5’10” 175lbs, he plays the body as if his size does not matter. He commands his own defensive blue line and rejects in coming forwards on the rush. This is something all good lockdown defensemen know how to do, and that’s maintaining tight gap control. Jones still has a little more maturing to do on the physical side, but its no doubt that he has the making of an Adam Fox caliber player. That being said, when Jones takes his next step towards the pros, there could be a roster spot for such a versatile player like himself.
It is not certain when these players will get the call up to represent the blue shirts. It may be sooner, it maybe later, but so long as all these players keep developing, I am confident the phone call will come. The Rangers are currently on the lookout for stay at home defensemen, especially after witnessing the problems of housing three goaltenders which occurred. All three players listed above have the ability to get to the next level. Whether they did it through the United States National Development Program, the Swedish Hockey League, or through the United States Hockey League, all three of them are fighting for a spot on the roster in the future. While their differences in style of play set them apart, the New York Rangers can bring them together; together, under the same jersey.