New York Rangers: Who is the next Neal Pionk?

CALGARY, AB – DECEMBER 18: Jake Elmer #27 of the Kootenay Ice in action against the Calgary Hitmen during a WHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on December 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

The  New York Rangers made waves signing Jake Elmer as an undrafted free agent.  They have had luck in the past signing undrafted players like Neal Pionk and Dan Girardi.  There are some players worth looking at.

It’s the time of year when NHL teams like the New York Rangers are sifting through the prospect pool trying to find that unsigned gem, the next Martin St. Louis.   The Blueshirts saw one of those players in a Red Wings uniform in Taro Hirose,  leading scorer in the NCAA, who signed a deal with Detroit out of Michigan State University.  The Rangers have not been idle, signing Jake Elmer from the Lethbridge Hurricanes last week.

The Rangers invited several collegiate free agents to their prospect camp last summer. Of that group, forward Josh Melnick (Miami of Ohio)  has signed with Dallas and defenseman Josh Teves (Princeton) has signed with Vancouver.  There are a few other unsigned NCAA free agents worth taking a look at.

Dylan McLaughlin

McLaughlin was invited to the Rangers prospect camp and just finished his NCAA career at Canisius College. He’s a native of New York State and just signed a two year contract with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL so it appears that he didn’t impress the Blueshirts.

Bobo Carpenter

I’d be surprised is the Rangers aren’t taking an active look at signing Bobo Carpenter.  He is the son of former Ranger Bobby Carpenter (his experience in New York may be a negative) and is finishing a four year career at Boston University. He played for three years under Rangers coach David Quinn.

Quinn had this to say about Carpenter a year ago in the B.U. Daily Free Press:

Quinn said that Carpenter’s leadership this season has been “outstanding,” and that he is a player the other members of the team respect for his work ethic and personality.  “He does everything right,” Quinn said. “No matter what aspect of his life it is, he’s doing it right. He’s a great example for our guys.”

He’s a center, 23 years old and he has already been to several NHL development camps.  Although he was ranked as the 119th best American prospect before the 2014 draft, he wasn’t selected.  His numbers aren’t overwhelming as he has ten goals and 19 points in 26 games.  However, with Quinn as a coach who values work ethic and leadership, you have to believe that Carpenter is a candidate to sign with New York.

Nico Sturm

Nico Sturm is a German born forward who is playing for Clarkson College. He’s big at 6’3″ and 211 pounds. He has scored fourteen goals each of the last two seasons and this year became a point a game player.

He’s one of the top defensive forward in NCAA hockey, named the ECAC top defensive forward in his sophomore year. He could be seen as a successor to Jesper Fast who is one year away from unrestricted free agency.  This kind of roster planning makes sense.

Sturm attended an Ottawa Senators development camp last summer, so they may have the advantage.

Jimmy Schuldt

I don’t know if Jimmy Schuldt is on the Rangers’ radar, but if not, he should be. He is the captain of the top ranked St. Cloud State Huskies and is a Hobey Baker finalist.   He is a lefthanded shooting defenseman who has a decent offensive upside.  The latest rumor has him getting interest from the Montreal Canadiens though he has tried out for the Islanders and Vegas Golden Knights.

Schuldt decided to return to St. Cloud State for his senior year and so far they are the best team in collegiate hockey.

Kevin Hancock

Kevin Hancock is not an NCAA player, but is like Jake Elmer, an undrafted player in Canadian junior hockey.  He attended the Rangers prospect camp last summer so he is on their radar.  He had some eye popping numbers as an over-age player in the OHL  Splitting the season between the Owen Sound Attack and the London Knights, Hancock scored 52 goals and had 107 points in 70 games.

At 5’11” and 178 pounds, Hancock is not a big player and his skating is average, but he obviously has skilled around the net, a feature the Rangers are sorely lacking.  Over-age players tend to put up big numbers in junior hockey (see Ty Ronning) and that doesn’t necessarily guarantee success in the pros, but for a team as offensively challenged as the Rangers, it may be worth taking a shot at Hancock.

The Rangers have a decent record when it comes to undrafted free agents.  Pionk is the best recent example with Vinni Lettieri also making the varsity.   But for every Pionk there is a Viince Pedrie, a defenseman signed out of Penn State who could never make it and is no longer a prospect, playing for the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals.