Off to Broadway we go. Next up are the New York Rangers.
Christian Thomas - Oshawa Generals
Let's just say that Christian's last year in the OHL wasn't a strong one. Quite often with strong NHL prospects, we see the NHL camp hangover in their fourth year in the league. They come back from NHL camp and look disappointed to be back in the OHL. It's not uncommon. But most of these guys snap out of it within the first month. Christian didn't really come to life until the final two months of the season. Obviously, he's incredibly talented, but something was lacking this year. His shot and ability to get himself open are pro ready. He's a tremendous goal scorer, which everyone knows. I think the biggest difference in his game this year was the lack of aggression. While Christian's never been an overtly physical player, he has previously been a very tenacious and hungry player without the puck. That part of his game was lacking a bit this year, as he seemed to coast at times. Moving on to Connecticut of the AHL this year, Thomas is going to need to re-discover that passion and step up his play away from the puck. He's got plenty of natural offensive gifts, and he should be fine in the long run. He's plenty strong enough for a smaller guy, so I don't see him having too much difficulty transitioning as a goal scorer. The big question is whether the rest of his game is up to snuff.
J.T. Miller - Plymouth Whalers
I liked what I saw from Miller this year. He came as advertised, after watching him at the Under 18's the year before. He's very versatile, as I saw him play down the middle and on the wing this year. He's definitely a hard worker who battles for every inch of ice. He's also more physical than I thought he'd be. He's certainly not afraid to rub out a guy in the corner to get a loose puck. But best of all, he knows what to do with the puck. His playmaking skill and vision are definitely assets, as I saw him make a lot of intelligent plays after winning battles in the corners or behind the net. He's also a committed two way player who works just as hard away from the puck in his own end. The Rangers have some options with him this year. He was drafted out of the U.S. Development program, and not Plymouth, so he's eligible to play in the AHL this year. New York has already signed him to his ELC, so this is clearly something they've considered. However, that'd burn a year off his ELC, a year he probably has little shot of making an impact in the NHL. This could lead him back to Plymouth for another year where he would be a part of a very talented Whalers team, who could be considered contenders for the OHL title. If he's back in the OHL, I'd definitely expect him to increase his offensive numbers. Something around the 75 point mark would be a realistic expectation.
Scott Stajcer - Owen Sound Attack
It was kind of an up and down season for Stajcer. I'm not entirely sure it was the type of season the Rangers envisioned when they sent him back for his overage year. He started the year very well, playing with a lot of confidence in the first two months. He was using his big frame to fill the net really well, challenging shooters and doing a better job of controlling his rebounds. But even with him playing well, he was still splitting time with Blues prospect Jordan Binnington. Then as the year went on, Stajcer's play began to drop, including a pretty miserable final two months and playoffs. During that time, Binnington essentially took hold of the number one spot, even earning the start in the team's first playoff game. Next year, it looks like he'll have a good shot at playing time in the AHL, where he'll fight to back up Cam Talbot with former OHL Jason Missiaen. I'm not entirely confident he's ready for the challenge, but I guess we'll see. If he loses that battle, it'll be the ECHL for him, where he can at least start every game.
Andrew Yogan - Peterborough Petes
It was definitely a breakout season for Yogan, who for the first time in his OHL career, was being counted on his team's primary offensive weapon. He also managed to stay healthy. Pretty much every aspect of his game looked better this year. He was much more determined to drive the net, and much more effective at creating chances from it. His size and puck handling ability made him very difficult for OHL defenseman to stop this year. He was also a load in front of the net, where he spent a lot of time. His skating looked better this year and it made him a more effective offensive player off the rush. Most of all, his confidence was clearly at an all time high. It's clear that he enjoyed being the go to guy. His 'power forward' game also took steps forward as he was more physical and way more involved without the puck. To sum it all up, he became a bit of a beast this year and finally became the player many envisioned he would when he was a fresh faced rookie with Windsor. He'll continue his journey in Connecticut next year, where his game will definitely be challenged. He'll no longer be that go to guy again, back to the bottom of the ladder. The key for him will be continuing to play a hard nosed game and to fit into whatever role he's being asked to play. I could see him struggling offensively a bit, but I do think he's turned a bit of a corner as a prospect.
Peter Ceresnak - Peterborough Petes
Not really sure what to make of Ceresnak to be honest. In the times I saw the Petes this year, he didn't really stand out for better or for worse. I know that sometimes people say that's a great thing for a defenseman, but an OHL player who is an NHL draft pick should stick out from the average at least a little bit. One thing I was little bit disappointed with was his physical play. For a big guy, I definitely expected him to be meaner. On the powerplay, he's got a heavy shot, but he's a bit of a one trick pony in that regard. I felt like he didn't look comfortable moving the puck. On the plus side, I don't ever remember him sticking out for the worse because of a poor defensive play. It looks like Ceresnak will be back in Peterborough, where he'll be expected to fulfill a top four role. The Petes could and should be a bit better this year, and hopefully Ceresnak can make more of an impact, especially offensively. A 25 point season, with increased aggressiveness/physicality would probably be considered a success by Ranger management.