The remarkable journey of two Rangers prospects
Yegor Rykov and Tarmo Reunanen; two Rangers prospects who seem to have flown under the radar. But how realistic are their chances of making the team? A year ago, I would have called it a long-shot for either of them. But 2018-19 is when things changed.
Tarmo Reunanen is an interesting prospect. He was ranked quite high the year before his draft with a strong showing while a member of the U17 national team alongside Olli Juolevi. Then, in 2015, Juolevi moved to the OHL, while Reunanen stayed in Turku. After a full season in the U20 Liiga as a 16-year old, there was some hope he could make his Liiga debut, but a spinal injury caused him to miss the majority of the season, only playing 16 total games (3 at u18 level, 14 at u20 level) in the season. It saw Reunanen drop in the draft rankings, while Juolevi’s move to Canada got him more exposure, resulting in him being repeatedly ranked in the top-10. The Rangers ended up drafting Reunanen in the fourth round, and reactions were mixed. Personally, I loved the pick, because I knew the talent was there. For a team without picks in the first and second rounds to go with a player like Reunanen made sense.
This is a dream come true for me. Proud to be a part of the New York Rangers organization!! #NYR— Tarmo Reunanen (@ReunanenTarmo) June 25, 2016
Having fully recovered, Reunanen started the 2016-17 season with hopes of making the big team. But, with the arrivals of Ilkka Heikkinen, Jesse Dudas and Per Nagander (on loan), there just wasn’t any room for Reunanen who was then loaned out to TUTO in Mestis. Fast-forward a year to 2017, and Reunanen was still in the same position. He was fully healthy but did not get a shot with TPS who eventually moved him to Lukko near the end of the season. Two years after being drafted, he was turning into a long-shot prospect.
500 miles east of Turku, another player drafted late in 2016 was trying to make a name for himself. Yegor Rykov was drafted in the fifth round by the New Jersey Devils and two years later included in a deadline deal for Michael Grabner. Rykov played for three different teams in three different leagues in his draft year. Splitting time between the MHL (Russian Juniors) and VHL (Russian minors), he showed glimpses of brilliance. Having clearly outgrown the MHL level, he was promoted to the KHL team full-time on January 8th and played the remaining ten games. He started off with a few shifts, but the final few games he averaged more than ten minutes of ice-time per game.
The next season he had a limited role, but still played 53 games with an average TOI of 12:24, the most games by any defenseman on the team. Despite that, he never really managed to convince his coaches to give him a bigger role. Slava Voynov, David Rundblad, Vladislav Gavrikov and Patrik Hersley (to name a few) all getting picked ahead of Rykov made sense. Rykov just wasn’t as established as the others yet and with just one year left on his contract, it seemed inevitable Rykov would move to North America once his contract expires. 2018-19 was going to be the turnaround for Rykov as he was traded to HC Sochi, and becoming a top-pair defenseman for them, being an important piece of a team that is currently battling with Dinamo Riga and Vityaz for one of the last two playoff spots in the Western conference.
Which brings us to the current season for both prospects. The season of resurgence. Tarmo Reunanen in Rauma with Lukko and Rykov in the city that hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sochi. Reunanen had a great start to the season with Lukko, with 23 SOG in six games, getting a goal and three assists. His TOI was averaging 18 minutes between September and November, playing on the team’s second pair. November 12th, 2018 was the day things changed. With three goals and six assists in 26 games, his production was already impressive for a 20-year old defenseman, but it was the combination of offense and defense that had him bumped to the top pair. Tarmo Reunanen played 24 minutes that day against Lahti Pelicans and has had at least 20 minutes of ice-time in each of the next 21 games.
Having worked his way up to a true first pair defenseman in the Finnish professional league at the age of 20, he is back in the discussion as a legit prospect. He leads all Liiga blue liners under-21 in points with 21 but, historically he’s also having a great season. Only 7 defensemen 20 years old or younger have registered more points than Tarmo Reunanen in a single Liiga season since 2000.
Yegor Rykov’s story sounds all too familiar after reading what Reunanen has gone through, but it is still worth mentioning. At the start of the season he wasn’t playing for SKA, and he was traded to Sochi in exchange for the rights to Ivan Prosvetov. There were rumors about SKA not playing Yegor Rykov with him expressing interest in moving to North America at the end of the season. The decision to trade Rykov worked out great for HC Sochi. Playing under former Rangers defenseman Sergei Zubov, he has established himself as a legitimate first pair defenseman. With seven points in his last 18 games, Rykov has contributed on both sides of the ice in Sochi’s attempt to qualify for the playoffs.
Six months ago, both Reunanen and Rykov seemed long-shots to make an impact this summer but now, things are different. Going from being a “seventh defensman” to a legit top-pair defenseman in a top-five league in the world is something Ranger fans could have only hoped for with one of their prospects; the Blueshirts had it with two.The New York Rangers own Tarmo Reunanen’s rights until June 30th, 2020, which means they don’t have to commit to him just yet and have another year to decide. They can always sign him to an entry-level contract and then loan him out to Lukko again. Yegor Rykov plays in the KHL which does not have a transfer agreement with the NHL. This means that the Rangers can only sign him once his contract ends on April 30th, 2019. At the same time, it also means the rights do not expire. Having both of them leading their respective age groups in points among defensemen in their respective leagues is very impressive and a good sign for the future.