Pre-season in full swing for Rangers European prospects
While hockey in North America is still a few weeks away, pre-season has started in Europe. This season, the New York Rangers have a total of eight prospects in Europe: two in Finland and six in Sweden.
Nils Lundkvist – Luleå HF (SHL)
The 19-year old right-handed defenseman is off to a good start with two solid performances against Björklöven (Assist) and Finnish Liiga team Kärpät (PPG). The young defenseman, who attended Rangers prospect development camp earlier this summer, suffered a freak injury during the subsequent World Junior Summer Showcase and the first reports were that he would be ready for pre-season. His performance so far is promising.
Earlier this summer, I spoke to my contact in Luleå and he told me they project Lundkvist to play on the top pair with Eric Gustafsson this season. Ranger fans should be thrilled by this development as it again confirms what some of us already knew: Nils Lundkvist is an amazing talent. Luleå plays one more pre-season game against Skellefteå on Thursday, August 22nd, before the group stages of the CHL take place starting at the end of August with home games against German team Augsburger Panther and Czech team Bílí Tygři Liberec.
Karl Henriksson – Frölunda Indians (SHL)
When the Rangers selected Karl Henriksson in the second round, he was named as a potential steal. The young center, who plays for Swedish champions Frölunda, will get his chance to win a spot on the team in the 2019-20 season. During the second pre-season game against Växjo Lakers, he was given first-line duties, centering Joel Mustonen and Max Friberg. Henriksson, together with 2020 top-prospect Lucas Raymond, is expected to make a push for SHL minutes this season but it won’t be easy. The team from Göteborg also plays in the CHL and like Luleå, they start with two home games, against Austrian side Graz 99ers and the Czech team Mountfield.
Calle Själin – Leksands IF (SHL)
2017 draft pick Själin, whose brother plays with fellow Rangers prospect Lundkvist in Luleå, was part of a team that successfully battled for promotion last year. Beating their fierce rivals Mora, they moved up from Allsvenskan to the SHL where Själin will now play against Sweden’s best teams. Paired on the second pair for most of last season, Själin battled injuries early on but is now back in the line-up anchoring the second pair on the right side. After losing to Brynäs, the next opponent is Karl Henriksson’s Frölunda on August 22nd.
Jakob Ragnarsson and Adam Edström – Rögle BK (SHL)
Two Ranger prospects are better than one. After the Rangers drafted Adam Edström in the sixth round in 2019, the Blueshirts knew they’d have two prospects playing together, as Rögle acquired 2018 draft pick Jakob Ragnarsson earlier this year from Almtuna. Both prospects were part of the team in the friendly tournament in Köln, Germany. Ragnarsson on the third pairing and Edström on the fourth line for two of the three games, both had a share in the unbeaten run to the Cup.
Olof Lindbom – Mora IK (Allsvenskan)
The controversial second-round pick in 2018 moved from Djurgården to Mora IK this off-season to get playing time for the men’s team after spending most of last season with the U20 side in SuperElit. Mora traveled to Belfast, Northern Ireland for two exhibition games. Lindbom started one, and made 30 saves on 33 shots, in a 4-1 loss to the Belfast Giants.
Lauri Pajuniemi – TPS (Liiga)
Kaapo Kakko’s departure from Turku is a tough pill to swallow, but it may open some doors for the other Rangers prospect on that team, Lauri Pajuniemi. The 2018 draft pick was moved up to the top line to replace Kakko in the first pre-season games. With four points (G, 3A) in two games against Lahti Pelicans and KooKoo, Pajuniemi is off to a good start. The regular season starts on September 14th and TPS has a handful of games still planned, including two against Danish clubs Herning Blue Fox and Rødovre Mighty Bulls.
Leevi Aaltonen – KalPa (Liiga)
My personal favorite selection by the Rangers of the 2019 draft, Leevi Aaltonen barely missed the cut for the Summer Showcase. The speedy winger started pre-season with his team KalPa in a bottom-six role. The first game he was on the fourth line, but a solid performance saw him being bumped up to the third line where he played alongside Montreal Canadiens prospect Joni Ikonen. KalPa has two pre-season games left before they start the regular season on Friday the 13th of September.