Rangers Prospects Getting Ready For WJC 2019 and More

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NHL.com

My friends, the date is almost here. The date that has been circled on the calendar for months. The date that is filled with hope, expectations, and promise. The date that should be a crystal ball into the future. The date that Rangers fans and management have been eagerly awaiting and anticipating. Which date am I referring to? Well, I am talking about December 26th and the commencement of the World Junior Championships taking place in western Canada.

Yes, the day after Santa and his reindeer have made their rounds giving out gifts to the “nice” kids, the most talented teenage hockey prospects in the world will congregate, clad in their country’s respective colors, competing for Word Junior supremacy. Normally, this tournament means very little to the Rangers. Normally, the Rangers would be lucky to have one or two marginal prospects selected for the WJC. Normally, Rangers fans would be apathetic to this annual competition. Normally, Rangers fans would be on the outside looking in watching other franchise’s top prospects strutting their stuff in this international showcase. Kind of like that lonely kid who, on a Friday night, stares out of his or her bedroom window while others take part in jocularity and debauchery.

Russian Ice Hockey Federation

In this space, we have mentioned the World Juniors quite often and for quite some time, mainly because Ranger fans can finally get an extended look at the upper echelon prospects that they have only read about or caught brief highlights of. We have followed the progress of Russian forward Vitali Kravtsov who has turned more heads in the hockey world than a car accident. We have kept track of the University of Wisconsin’s outstanding defenseman K’Andre Miller who could end up being the steal of the 2018 draft. These two high-end talents are, without question, the Rangers top two teenage prospects and will almost certainly fulfill those lofty expectations once they don the Ranger sweater.

The Rangers have four other prospects playing in this tournament. Team Sweden’s preliminary roster has the last of the 2018 first-round picks in defenseman Nils Lundkvist, who is enjoying a wonderful season playing for Lulea HF in the Swedish Elite League. His six points in 24 games were deemed good enough to be selected by his native country. Joining Lundkvist in the Team Sweden camp is a fellow defenseman, and 2018 third-round pick (70th overall), Jacob Ragnarsson.

Team USA will not only feature the exciting K’ Andre Miller, but it could also have Illinois native and New York Rangers third-round pick from the 2018 draft (88th overall), defenseman Joey Keane. Keane has 20 points in 29 games and has accumulated 46 penalty minutes. Anyone who has watched the Rangers over the last several years knows how desperately they need blue-liners with an attitude to patrol the area in front of Henrik Lundqvist’s crease. Keane’s point total is impressive, however, the amount of time he spends in the “sin-bin” could be what separates him from the crowded defensive prospect field.

The Athletic

Nico Gross, the Rangers’ 2018 fourth-round draft pick (101st overall), will compete for his native Swiss national team. The 6’1″ defenseman, like Joey Keane, plays in the Ontario Hockey League and is enjoying a fine season. Like Keane, Gross can provide offense, tallying twelve points in 30 games and can absolutely stand his ground with his 51 penalty minutes. The Rangers need for toughness on their blue-line is tantamount to Popeye’s need for spinach.

Victoria Grizzlies

In other prospect news, our buddy Igor Shestyorkin keeps rolling along. The 22-year-old acrobatic netminder has continued his impressive run of great goaltending for Team Russia in the 2018 European Hockey Tour. A 0.50 GAA and a .982 SV% shows that the heir-apparent to King Henrik’s throne can have success outside of his dynamic KHL team. And hey, Riley Hughes, the Rangers’ seventh-round pick from last June’s draft, is starting to get more and more recognition. His 35 points in 31 games playing for the BCHL’s Victoria Grizzlies is earning him some well-deserved adulation. In addition, Hughes represented his native Canada in the World Junior A Challenge, helping bring home a bronze medal. Perhaps, the skilled forward can be one of those diamond-in-the-rough type late round draft picks?

Yes, several key pieces to the future of the New York Rangers will be on display during the World Junior Championships. Ranger fans can see for themselves what the scouts have been promising them. Make sure you have an ample supply of coffee at the ready because, on Saturday, December 29th, at 10:30 pm Eastern Standard time, Team USA will take on Team Sweden. Miller, Keane, Lundkvist and hopefully Ragnarsson will represent their respective countries and the Rangers organization.

While the big club in Manhattan is meandering through what will assuredly be a second straight non-playoff year, Ranger fans can feel good about the future of the franchise even as the current team resembles a cross between the Keystone Cops and the Bad News Bears. For the first time in a long time, a very long time, in fact, the Rangers have a bountiful supply of legitimate prospects that will only continue to grow if, as expected, there is another purge of veterans from the current roster in exchange for highly touted prospects and future first-round draft picks. Rangerstown should keep their collective chins up. The future is bright, and yes, it’s bright enough to wear shades.