New York Rangers: Top 8 prospects worth getting excited about

Alexis Lafreniere #13 of the New York Rangers. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Alexis Lafreniere #13 of the New York Rangers. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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Alexis Lafreniere (13)
Alexis Lafreniere #13 of the New York Rangers. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

If there was a perfect example of how to speed through a rebuild, the New York Rangers are the team to follow.

After many years of being one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, thanks in large part to goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, the New York Rangers went from a contender to a bubble Playoff team at best, though it shouldn’t be long until they are back on top.

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In recent years, the Rangers have traded many high profile players for young prospects and/or picks, making it clear that they were in rebuild mode. However, thanks to some nice moves by General Manager Jeff Gorton, the team never went through the grueling years that most do during a rebuilding phase, and they currently possess a very talented lineup. Of course, the appeal of playing in New York certainly helps, as they were able to sign superstar Artemi Panarin to a seven-year, $81,500,000 deal as a Free Agent during the 2019 offseason. He has not disappointed thus far as he was one of the NHL’s three Hart Trophy finalists in 2019-20 following a stellar 95-point (32 G, 63 A) year.

This offseason marked yet another major move by the Rangers as they chose to buyout the contract of Lundqvist. The 38-year-old had been the team’s backbone for over a decade but, with his game deteriorating, along with having Igor Shesterkin ready to take the reins, made it a necessary move. Making things even better for this Blueshirts team is that they have one of the better prospect pools in the entire league. Whether they choose to continue to develop them or trade some for immediate roster help is yet to be seen, but they are in a great position regardless.

As mentioned in every other Top 8 Prospects articles throughout this series, any player who has played in more NHL games than any other league in a season, regardless of the season, will not be included. (Exception has been made for the 2020-21 season, given that many leagues, including the AHL, have yet to play any games).

Here are the Top 8 Prospects in the New York Rangers system:

Lauri Pajuniemi
Lauri Pajuniemi of the New York Rangers. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

8. Lauri Pajuniemi

Deciding who would take the eighth spot on this list was a very difficult decision, as many prospects who won’t appear on this list were certainly deserving, but it was nearly impossible to leave Finnish forward Lauri Pajuniemi off the list. The 21-year-old was drafted in the Fifth-Round (No. 132 overall) of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft after his rookie season in the SM-liiga with TPS Turku where he had seven points in 32 games.

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While he is still playing for Turku three seasons later, his offensive totals have majorly increased. Last season saw him score 26 goals, which was third in the entire league, along with 40 points in just 49 games played. The offensive outburst shot Pajuniemi way up the Rangers depth chart, and he is off to another great start this season with 10 goals and 17 points through 22 games. He has yet to sign an Entry-Level Contract, which is something Rangers management will need to try and get done as soon as possible.

Julien Gauthier (12)
Julien Gauthier #12 of the New York Rangers. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

7. Julien Gauthier

Almost exactly a year ago, the New York Rangers were able to acquire six-foot-four winger Julien Gauthier in exchange for defenseman Joey Keane. The 23-year-old was taken in the First-Round (No. 21 overall) of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes after establishing himself as a goal scoring forward in the QMJHL. After being drafted, he spent just one more season playing junior hockey before turning pro heading into the 2017-18 campaign.

Through the last three seasons he has had in the AHL, he has proven he has the ability to put the puck in the back of the net, particularly during the 2019-20 season prior to being traded when he scored 26 goals in just 44 games with the Charlotte Checkers. Since the trade, Gauthier has remained in the NHL, but has struggled to put up offense for the Rangers with just two assists in a combined 18 regular-season games. There is no doubt that the talent is there, but he will have to find his game at the NHL level soon to prevent his label changing from prospect to bust.