Ryan Gropp: Prospect or Suspect?
On June 27, 2015, the New York Rangers made an unpopular trade according to their fans. The Rangers sent restricted free agent forward Carl Hagelin and two draft picks (No. 59 and 179) to the Anaheim Ducks for Emerson Etem and the No. 41 pick in the draft. The very speedy Hagelin was a home grown favorite of the Rangers faithful. Cap constraints were sighted as the reason he was moved. The former first round pick of the Ducks, Etem, was a big time bust and was traded to Vancouver after only 19 games played (3 assists).
But, the Rangers were very interested in moving up in the draft to pick left wing Ryan Gropp in the second round. Gropp fit the mold of what the Blueshirts have been trying to do with their picks and acquisitions. That is, they put a premium on speed, size and skill. Just about all scouts agreed that Ryan Gropp had an abundance of all of those.
2016 Training Camp
He came into camp in September of 2016 with high hopes of leaving a positive impression on the coaching staff. To be sure, he was a very long shot to make the team, but he at least hoped to be a top line wing for Hartford. But Gropp looked lost in preseason. His play away from the puck was at a very low level. A lot of eyebrows were raised when he was sent not to the AHL Wolfpack, but to the WHL Seattle Thunderbirds for an rare overage season. The 6’3″, 205 pound Gropp was 20 years old and that’s generally when high draft picks with promise start their pro career. To be sent back to junior hockey had a lot of folks saying the he had taken a step back, and may not be close to NHL ready. And, that is very possible. But there is also another angle. The AHL Wolfpack was a terrible team. There wasn’t a lot of veteran AHL players to provide leadership on the team. It is certainly possible the Rangers thought sending him there with a lot of young players, may not be best for his development.
A quick look at Hartford’s roster from 2016 saw first season players Malte Stromwall, Robin Kovacs, Cristoval Nieves, and John Gilmour. Throw in some 2nd year players, and you have a team of neophytes. From a development standpoint it can stunt the growth of good young prospects when there isn’t enough veterans to show the way. Of the aforementioned players, only Gropp had “somewhere else” to go and develop. The chances are that there is probably a little of both in the thinking as to why he went back to Seattle.
Recently in an interview with Jess Rubenstein, the prospect editor for Blueshirt Bulletin, told our own Russell Hartman and Michael Kaplan that he was still very high on him. He went on to compare him to Rick Nash, which is high praise indeed. Ryan shoots the puck well, and isn’t shy about letting fly often. Combine that with his exceptional speed, nice hands and skills, and size, and comparisons to Nash, or James Neal seem fair. But with the tools does he have the toolbox?
Other scouts say he is dependent on a top playmaker to produce points. While with the Thunderbirds, Gropp put up his best numbers while playing with Matthew Barzal, a highly regarded center. He seemed to struggle when Barzal wasn’t in the lineup. Gropp will be coming into camp to show the team that he has made strides defensively. He will also have to show that he isn’t dependent on a certain center to succeed. There are plenty of players ahead of him currently on the Rangers roster, so he seems destined for Hartford. And there he will need to put up points and show he is a two way player. Big, skilled forwards take longer to develop, as a rule in the NHL. Adam Graves, Brendan Shanahan, John Leclair, and more recently Joe Thornton and Wayne Simmonds, all took a few years to become reliable players.
Because of the plethora of wings currently on the Rangers roster, they have time be patient with him. If a rash of injuries strike, his play would dictate if he makes his NHL debut this year. Looking ahead, in 2018, Nash and Michael Grabner are both unrestricted free agents. So, there will be a need for a top 9 wing that doesn’t make a lot of money. Despite his skill set, Ryan Gropp is no sure thing to fulfill his promise. The team has their collective fingers crossed because they need him to be the goods with the salary cap predicament.