BY: Adam Gavriel

Although these “fan-fare” articles are supposed to be about the Rangers, this is still a Connecticut Whale blog, dedicated to the future of the franchise. This post will still be about the Rangers, but more importantly, what the future of the prospect pool has in store for us.

Before the NHL Entry draft this past June, had the New York Rangers prospect depth rated as 7th best among the 30 NHL franchises. This is a number that on that date (May 31, 2011) I could get behind. However with the addition of guys like Tim Erixon, JT Miller and Stephen Fogarty between May 31st and now, it’s a ranking that should either stay the same or go up.

This article will rank the Rangers top 3 prospects and (attempt to) predict when they will be making an impact at the NHL level. For this article alone, anyone who has registered a game at the NHL level will not be considered a prospect (even though that’s bologna) but this way we can give you, the viewer, a better look at the deeper parts of the Rangers prospect pool and introduce you to some names that you may have never heard about. So forget about guys like Dale Weise, Mats Zuccarello, even Ryan McDonagh (but not for long because they’re important too), and focus on the future.

Let’s get it started…

Chris KreiderLW

Kreider will be entering his Junior and final season at Boston College in the upcoming 2011-2012 season. You may recall that after he was drafted Kreider and the Rangers were at a crossroads as to where Chris should continue his development. The Rangers brass believed that it would have been best had Chris went to the QMJHL while Kreider wanted to live his childhood dream of playing for BC in the Beanpot tournament. Ultimately Kreider would choose the BC route.

In 70 games for BC, Kreider has recorded 47 points. Playing under Jerry York who tends to favor upper classmen Kreider saw more limited ice time than the Rangers and their fans would have liked to see. However it was Kreider’s development and successes outside of BC that should really get Rangers fans excited.

The 20 year old winger has represented the United States twice in the World Junior Championships U-20 team while also playing twice for the Men’s World Championship team. At the U-20s Kreider has excelled. Playing a pivotal part for the gold medal team in 2010, Kreider also helped the US U-20 team achieve a Bronze medal this past tournament in Buffalo. In the 13 games Kreider appeared in for the men’s team he recorded 5 points including 3 goals.

During the off-season, Kreider has taken summer classes in order to insure that he can graduate after his Junior year. The plan seems that Kreider will turn pro for the 2012-2013 campaign and have a great shot at making the Rangers out of training camp.

Tim Erixon – D

Erixon was acquired via trade by the New York Rangers this offseason after being unable to come to terms with the team that drafted him, the Calgary Flames, in 2009. Had the Flames not come to terms with Erixon, and not traded him either, Tim would have re-entered the draft where the Rangers (among many other NHL teams) believed that he would be a top 10 pick. Rather than risk losing him in the draft the Rangers made a last minute effort to bring Tim to New York to pick up where his father Jan left off. Erixon was signed shortly after.

Since his draft season of 2008-2009 Erixon has been playing full time in the top Swedish league, the Swedish Elite League, for Skellefteå. With Skellefteå Erixon had a ton of success for a young defenseman in the SEL. In 140 career games in the SEL Erixon has recorded 44 points. Playing in all situations for Skellefteå this past season, including on the power play with Senators top prospect David Rundbland, Erixon showed that he wasn’t afraid to unleash a slapshot from the point. It is also very encouraging to note that Erixon had no problem playing on his offside even as a dman as the Rangers have a shortage of right-handed defensive prospects in the system.

Erixon, like Kreider, has experience playing internationally as well. Appearing in the U-16, U-17, U-18, and U-20 tournaments for Sweden since the 06-07 season Erixon is very comfortable with international play. The young defenseman has also played in the men’s World Championship this past season helping the Swedes gain a silver medal.

The Rangers and Erixon agreed to an Entry-Level contract shortly after his rights were acquired from the Flames. The defenseman will be given every opportunity in camp and preseason to show that he belongs in the NHL and will put up a great fight for the openings on the Rangers bottom pairing.

Christian Thomas – RW

There might be a few reasons Rangers fans will recognize the name Christian Thomas. For one, his dad Steve “Stumpy” Thomas had a very long and successful NHL career in which he appeared in games for the Islanders and the New Jersey Devils. Also you may recall that during his OHL career Michael Del Zotto was traded (along with John Tavares) from the Oshawa Generals to the London Knights. Included in the package that was dealt for MDZ was now Rangers top prospect Christian Thomas.

Thomas was drafted by the Rangers in the 2010 entry draft after leading the Oshawa Generals in points with 66. A very tough year for the Generals as they went 24-39-5 in what was a rebuilding year for the OHL organization. The growth of the Generals, and Thomas, really took shape this past season however as Christian scored nearly 100 points finishing the season with 99 while adding 54 goals in the process. The Generals record that season improved to 39-19-10 and handing them the fourth seed in the playoffs. Thomas and the Generals would only make it past the first round to be eliminated by the Niagara Ice Dogs in round 2. However in just 10 playoff games Thomas was able to record 9 goals and 10 assists.

This year will prove to be a very interesting one for Thomas. Since the age regulation requires that no player under the age of 20 drafted out of the CHL can play in the AHL it is either the NHL or OHL for Thomas. The Rangers were faced with a similar decision in 2006-2007 when they decided to send Marc Staal back to the OHL for the full season. The Rangers will have the option of keeping Thomas around for 9 NHL games until a year on the entry level contract he signed this off-season kicks in. The Islanders were in the same situation this past season with Nino Niederreiter their top draft choice in the 2010 NHL entry draft. The Islanders decided to keep Nino around for 9 games, and after his extended tryout Nino was sent back to the WHL.

If the Rangers decide to send Thomas back to the OHL Thomas’ development will be heavily monitored. His offensive game should continue to grow and 100 points are certainly not out of the question while he and the Generals continue to grow and get better together. The Rangers will want to keep an eye on his defensive game, as well as how he continues to use his small frame during the game. Like his father “Stumpy” Chris is a smaller guy but most of Steve’s growth occurred later in his career. The Rangers are certainly hoping the apple does not fall far from the tree.

If Thomas finds a way to crack the Rangers top 12, that would be amazing. If not, don’t get too down, follow his improvements in the OHL and expect a very healthy transition to the professional game in the 2012-2013 season.

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