Halfway through the season it is time to look at the three prospects in the New York Rangers pipeline who are playing in Canadian junior hockey.
The New York Rangers have drafted 25 players over the last three years and 20 were from Europe or the NCAA. Three are still in the CHL. It’s interesting that all three Canadian Juniors prospects are defensemen, a strength for the team, but an issue overall when looking at depth on the pipeline.
The Rangers are in dire need of prospects at forward and the fact that there is not a single Ranger draft pick playing Canadian Junior hockey has to be cause for concern. It has been a drafting trend for the Blueshirts recently. Of the 12 forwards currently starting for New York four came from the CHL, two from the NCAA and six from across the Atlantic in Europe or Russia. Of the four forwards from the CHL, Brendan Lemieux, Ryan Strome and Brett Howden came in trades and Greg McKegg was a free agent so no CHL forwards actually drafted by the Rangers are with the team.
Matthew Robertson, 2019 2nd round, #49 overall
Matthew Robertson is probably the best prospect in the Rangers pipeline playing CHL hockey. You may remember him from the pre-season when he was kept on the roster until late in training camp. He’s still only 18 years old and is playing for the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL.
Robertson is having a fine season, with nine goals and 27 points in 42 games. He is the top scoring defenseman for the Oil Kings and is 17th overall in the WHL.
In his most recent game he had a goal and an assist versus the Medicine Hat Tigers in a showdown of top WHL teams. The Oil Kings sit atop the Central Division.
Robertson is 6’4″, 201 pounds and he is serving as an alternate captain. He is a lefthanded shot and has spoken about his need to improve his defensive game. His offense is just fine.
Nico Gross, 2018 4th round, #101 overall
Nico Gross is coming off his third appearance at the World Junior Championships. As one of the senior members of the Swiss team, the defenseman played in three games and scored one goal. He is in his third season with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL so the Rangers have until June 1 to offer Gross an Entry Level Contract or they will lose his rights and he will become an unrestricted free agent.
This year has been a revelation for Gross offensively. After scoring 14 and 20 points for Oshawa in his first two years, this season he already has 20 points in half a season. He already has seven goals this season, three more than his career best. He actually notched a hat trick in early October. He is the top scoring defenseman for Oshawa, currently in third place in the East Division.
With the clock ticking on a decision on whether to sign him, his play the rest of the season will play a big part in determining if he has a future as a New York Ranger prospect.
Hunter Skinner, 2019, 4th round, #112 overall
Skinner is in his first season with the London Knights of the OHL and he has continued to impress with his offensive production. In 42 games, Skinner has three goals and 21 assists. That’s good for 21st overall in the OHL.
Skinner is another righthanded shooting defenseman and he will not turn 19 until April. As the 112th pick, the odds of him making the big leagues were slim, but he is showing much more than was projected when the Rangers selected him.
The play of these three young defenseman is encouraging, but it remains to be seen if Gross and Skinner actually have a future with the Blueshirts. Robertson is the stud pick and the team will be monitoring his development closely.