Rangers prospects that could join Wolf Pack playoff run
As the AHL season begins to wind down, all 31 teams will begin looking into the college, junior and even international ranks to bring players to their roster through Amateur/Pro Tryout Agreements. This is done for several reasons, from giving undrafted players an audition for a pro contract next season to NHL teams looking at unsigned prospects to see how ready they are for the pro. For the Hartford Wolf Pack, they fall right into that criteria while also fighting for their first playoff berth since 2015. With the NHL and AHL trade deadlines having passed, I look at a short list of players that have the potential to join the Wolf Pack as their junior, college or international teams’ seasons come to a close along with Brett Howden and Julien Gauthier.
Note: players mentioned currently have NHL rights held by the New York Rangers.
Drafted in the 6th round (174th overall) by the Rangers in 2016, Wall has been his namesake, a wall in goal for the UMass-Lowell River Hawks in Hockey East. Having been the number one goaltender for most of his 4 seasons, Wall flew under the radar during his freshman and sophomore seasons but has had strong junior and senior seasons for the River Hawks. Last season, Wall went 11-7-3 with a GAA of 2.09 and a .921 save percentage with 4 shutouts. This season has seen Tyler Wall post a 2.14 GAA, a .930 save percentage, 2 shutouts and a record of 17-8-6. Those numbers this season have lead UMass-Lowell to rank 15th in the NCAA at 17-10-6 and to a berth in the Hockey East Tournament with a conference record of 11-7-5.
While it’s not expected that UMass-Lowell will exit the Hockey East Tournament early as they currently rank 3rd in the conference, the Rangers have a decision to make regarding Tyler Wall once their season does come to an end. New York has until August 15th to sign him otherwise he becomes free to sign with any NHL team. Even with the recent acquisition of JF Berube, the Pack’s goaltending is still a question mark going into the playoffs, particularly with Adam Huska. I think Tyler Wall will be signed by the Rangers and will join the Pack on an Amateur Tryout Agreement to play out the rest of this season here as Brady Skjei did in 2015. Tyler Wall doesn’t need to put up Igor Shesterkin type numbers if he joins but there should be little worry if and when he does make the trip south to Hartford.
Players who have size, can move the puck and score and can play a physical game in a tough conference such as the ECAC are sometimes hard to find but the Rangers have such player in their prospect pool with Morgan Barron. Drafted 174th overall in 2017 in the 6th round, Barron has used his mix of size and skill to help lead Cornell to maintain their ranking as the number 2 team in the NCAA. Last season as a sophomore, Barron lead the Big Red in goals (15), PPG’s (7) and points (34) and became only the 3rd Cornell player to earn All-ECAC First Team honors since 1987. The other 2 being Matt Moulson in 2005 and Riley Nash in 2009. As a junior this season, Barron ranks 5th in the conference as a +17 and leads Cornell in goals (14) and points (32) while ranking 2nd in assists (18) and is a nominee for the 2020 Hobey Baker Award.
As Cornell ranks 2nd in the country in hockey, many expect the Big Red to not only win the ECAC Tournament but to make a run at the Frozen Four, which means if Morgan Barron were to join the Wolf Pack this season, it wouldn’t be until late March or at the conclusion of the regular season at the earliest. If /when he does, he should fit right in as a middle 6 forward and can use his size to his advantage on both sides of the puck, something the Pack need to complement players such as Steven Fogarty and Matt Beleskey when trying to wear down opponents. It will also be nice, being a Yale fan, to root for Morgan Barron should he does join. Barron will play in the NHL one day but the start of his pro career could be here in Hartford helping the Pack in their run to the postseason.
After signing with the Rangers back on June 6th, Reunanen, the 98th overall pick in 2016, was expected to compete for a top 6 defensive spot in New York this past training camp with a worst case scenario of being assigned here to Hartford much like Yegor Rykov before his injury. Neither scenario would be the case as he was loaned to his Liiga team Lukko in his native Finland. Touted as an offensive defenseman, Reunanen through 46 games this season has amassed 4 goals and 12 assists, a similar pace to last season where he scored 6 goals and added 19 assists. While not among the top players on his team in terms of numbers, Reunanen can move the puck, help set up the attack while not being a liability on the back end.
With the Pack’s defense having run into a bit of inconsistency the last few weeks, adding a player like Reunanen would give the back end a much needed boost. It could be some time if Tarmo Reunanen is to join the Wolf Pack though as Lukko rank among the top Liiga teams and their playoff format could see them in a deep playoff run. One other factor that could see Tarmo Reunanen not joining the Pack this season would be his contract. Having already signed to an entry level contract, the Rangers may not want to burn a year of eligibility.
While the most unlikely candidate to come to Hartford this season if at all, Lundkvist was drafted 28th overall in 2018, a pick acquired as part of the trade that sent Ryan McDonagh and JT Miller to Tampa and has had a career year with Luleå in the Swedish Hockey League. He currently leads Luleå with 20 assists and ranks 3rd on the team in points with 27 which has helped Luleå to the top of the standings in the SHL. As with Reunanen, an offensive minded defenseman that likes joining the rush and contributing offensively but with more offensive skill based off numbers.
With Libor Hajek underperforming to expectations and with Yegor Rykov appearing to have peaked early on this season and stalled in his progression, one has to wonder whether Reunanen or Lundkvist will be tempted to make the move to North America. Just as with Reunanen and Lukko, it’s expected that Luleå will make a long run at a championship and that Nils Lundkvist will play a vital role in making that happen. The question is when all is said and done, does Lundkvist come to Hartford to possibly contribute to a run to a title?
The Wolf Pack have gone from near the top of the Atlantic Division at the beginning of February to 3rd place but only 3 points out of a very tight race for a division crown as March has come upon us. 6 weeks remain before the Calder Cup playoffs begin and for the Hartford Wolf Pack, the latest answer to the questions they have about their roster going forward could lie in players such as Tyler Wall, Morgan Barron, Tarmo Reunanen and Nils Lundkvist.