Rangers Defensive Prospects Who May Make Opening Roster
Throughout the course of the Rangers rebuild, General Manager Jeff Gorton and his crew have made it a point to load up on defensemen in the hope of creating a potentially rock-solid unit. The Rangers acquired multiple exciting prospects from their trade deadline sale, in addition to over the course of the past year.
Of all the prospects in the system, there’s a set few who will not make the team. Nils Lundkvist, who the Rangers selected with the 28th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, will likely be returning to Sweden to continue his growth. He will not be part of the Rangers defensive corps going into October. Six picks prior to Lundkvist, the Rangers selected K’Andre Miller. Miller is an extremely intriguing prospect for the Rangers and has the potential to be a top-four defenseman. But with that said, he has already committed to play next year for the University of Wisconsin. Rangers fans will have to wait because he’s not joining the team just yet.
Acquired from the Devils in exchange for Michael Grabner, next on the list is Yegor Rykov. Rykov is a talented player who may compete for a spot at some point, but with the number of prospects higher on the list, it’s reasonable to conclude that he most likely won’t make the opening night roster. Lastly, acquired from Boston around the trade deadline was Rob O’Gara. O’Gara is a big-bodied defenseman who plays a lock-down style. But given the amount of talent in the Rangers system, he will probably get booted out of the mix. He saw a fair amount of playing time last year when Kevin Shattenkirk and Steven Kampfer were injured, but the other young guys have a step on him.
Neal Pionk was one of the top performers for the Rangers during their epic collapse in the second half of the season. He was called into action following the trade deadline and performed well above expectations. Despite not being known for his offense, he put up 14 points in 28 games played. At that rate, he would’ve notched 41 points over 82 games, impressive numbers for such an inexperienced prospect. Pionk making the opening night roster, barring any injuries, is just about set in stone.
Gilmour was another young defenseman who arrived with Pionk to fill the newly punched holes in the Rangers defense. Gilmour is a gifted skater who can overpower just about anyone with his speed. He didn’t produce offensively like Pionk but was very quick to enter offensive plays and create scoring opportunities. He made some solid defensive plays throughout the spring, but there were multiple indications that he needs to work a little more on that side of his game. A seventh-round pick by the Flames in 2013, the question is how high his ceiling is; and that could be what pushes him out of the starting lineup.
DeAngelo was brought over from Arizona, along with the pick that eventually landed Lias Andersson, in exchange for Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta. He has had behavior issues in the past but is a tremendous skater with a high level of offensive ability. He showed flashes of his skating and offensive prowess last season but didn’t break out. DeAngelo has a chance to be a great offensive-defenseman, which could land him on the opening night roster.
Libor Hajek is one of the most exciting of the Rangers defensive prospects. He was one of the main pieces to come over from Tampa at the trade deadline. He is an extremely solid two-way defender with potentially the most upside out of any defensemen in the system. Once he acclimates to the NHL, he will be a top-four defenseman and maybe even see time on a top pairing.
Lastly, we have Ryan Lindgren, who the Rangers acquired from Boston in exchange for Rick Nash. Lindgren has very high upside and was a top performer in the NCAA. He has a tremendous amount of determination to make the team, but he may not be ready for the pros just yet. Lindgren will have to put up quite the fight to make it to opening night, but he has the ability.
Claesson was just signed on Sunday at the start of the free agency period. Claesson was drafted by the Ottawa Senators and was a solid piece of their defensive corps. At only 25, he still has some developing to undergo, but he is a great young defenseman to play alongside the Rangers inexperienced group. He has a very good chance of making the opening night lineup.