Tuesday, August 21, 2012

One To Watch: New York Rangers

The New York Rangers have managed make the most of the draft in recent years and at the same time they have exploited other franchises for their key prospects. The combination has led to a Stanley Cup contender with more top prospects still on the way. 

Derek Stepan, Michael Del Zotto, Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider were all Rangers picked and Ryan McDonagh was practically stolen from Montreal. 

Potential NHL players still to come include J.T. Miller, Steven Fogarty, Boo Nieves, Brady Skjei and Scott Stajcer.

The player I have settled on for the conclusion of this 30-player feature series is someone I get to see on a regular basis and has the production to get fans excited. 


Michael St. Croix (C)

Edmonton Oil Kings
5'11, 180 lbs
Drafted 106th Overall in 2011

Expectations have been high for the Winnipeg native after the Edmonton Oil Kings used a 4th overall pick on him during the 2008 WHL Bantam draft. He wet the appetite of local fans after picking up two points in his two WHL games in 2008-09 as a 15-year-old.

In his first full year in the Western League, St. Croix led the Oil Kings in scoring with 46 points. It was also the club's worst season in their short 5-year existence as the Kings managed just 16 wins. 

The following season was a fresh slate for the team with a new coaching staff and an influx of new players too. St. Croix struggled early on, as did many players, to find his rhythm within the new systems employed by coaches Derek Laxdal and Steve Hamilton. By the end of the year the club had rattled off 31 wins, a franchise high, and St. Croix finished with 75 points, second most on the club. 

Photo: Andy Devlin
Eight players were able to break the 100-point barrier in the WHL last season and one of the them was St. Croix. His 105 points featured 45 goals.

You would expect that with offensive production of that nature, Michael St. Croix would be a top prospect. But he was a 4th round pick for a reason and the reason is because he's not considered by everyone as a bona fide NHL prospects. 

He is slightly undersized and although his speed has improved, no one would consider St. Croix to be a speedy player. Fortunately he has skilled hands to either set up or finish plays but while that leads to junior success it's not a guarantee that it will translate to pro hockey. 

Photo: Andy Devlin
I've spoken with numerous scouts who aren't sold he can play in the top 6 for a NHL club and because he's not considered a checker, he won't fit in on the bottom 6 either.

He didn't get a sniff from Hockey Canada for the summer U20 series against the Russians and although that doesn't preclude at 2013 WJC opportunity, it's not an endorsement either. 

There are plenty of examples of guys who dominated at the major junior level but for one reason or another, just can't get to the NHL. Most often that's footspeed and that could be the case for St. Croix as well although, as I said earlier, he's improved in that department since his draft season. 

The coming year has the potential to be a massive one for St. Croix. The team is poised to contend for more than just a defence of their WHL title but to better their performance at the Memorial Cup. 

Photo: Andy Devlin
How much higher can he bump his offensive numbers from 105 points though? Frequent linemates  Tyler Maxwell and Kristians Pelss won't be back and others like Curtis Lazar and Henrik Samuelsson will push for more ice time than before. 

It's too early to say that he does or doesn't have what it takes to be considered a serious NHL prospect but I think we could find that out this year. That's why I consider the Rangers' Michael St. Croix as "One to Watch" in 2012-13.

No comments: