Beginning Aug. 28, lohud.com and the USA TODAY Network will release our fifth annual ranking of the top 10 prospects in the New York Rangers’ organization.
These prospect profiles, with one set to be revealed each weekday through Sept. 8, are based on conversations with over 20 sources in total. They include coaches, trainers and executives who have worked closely with these young players, pro and amateur scouts from around the world and many of the prospects themselves. Any players who are eligible for the Calder Trophy − 25 or younger and have not played more than 25 NHL games in a season, nor six or more games in any two preceding seasons − are up for consideration.
No. 4: LW Adam Sýkora
There’s one photo that, in Tomas Chrenko’s mind, perfectly captures the essence of Adam Sýkora.
It was taken at the end of a penalty kill this past season, moments after the young forward had thrown himself in front of three consecutive shots.
“He was smiling after the last blocked shot,” the HK Nitra general manager recalled over the phone in August. “He was so happy.”
“That’s Adam,” he said before pausing, chuckling to himself and adding, “I think he likes it more than scoring goals sometimes.”
In a prospect world where highlight-worthy skill plays hog all the attention, Sýkora has made a name for himself by relishing the grunt work.
That all-hustle, all-the-time mantra made him a fan favorite for HK Nitra and drew the Rangers to him with pick No. 63 overall in the second round of the 2022 NHL Draft.
Since then, he’s been on the fast track. Sýkora played the past three seasons at the Slovak Hockey League’s highest level and signed his entry-level contract with the Blueshirts last year before he turned 18. (He’ll turn 19 on Thursday.)
He’s likely ticketed for AHL Hartford this coming season, with a chance to force his way into the NHL conversation within the next year or two.
“Through my summer preparation, I tried to be stronger and harder in every part of my body,” he said during Rangers development camp in July. “I think I’m going to be ready for it.”
Despite being listed at a modest 5-foot-10, 172 pounds − don’t be surprised if that weight moves up after he reports for training camp due to added muscle mass − multiple sources share confidence that Sýkora is up to the challenge of playing in the AHL.
Part of the reason is physical. His tree-trunk thighs − “He gets so much torque from his legs,” said one European scout − and advanced conditioning habits allow him to withstand the pounding required to play his courageous style.
It’s also helped him become arguably the best skater in the Rangers’ prospect pool. In fact, tests at development camp bore that out, with coaches informing Sýkora he posted the fastest times.
“When he was younger, I didn’t think that he would be so good as a skater, but this is the result of his hard work,” Chrenko said. “At the end of the shift, he still looks fresh because he’s in such good physical condition.”
The other part is mental.
It’s not just about blocking shots, throwing body checks or thrusting himself into harm’s way. It’s having the fortitude to keep his motor running high every shift and outwork opponents in all situations.
“He plays like he has no fear,” Chrenko said. “He goes everywhere. If he thinks it can help the team, he’ll take any role.”
— Vince Z. Mercogliano (@vzmercogliano) July 4, 2023
That attitude is apparent through good times and bad, making it feel all the more authentic. Chrenko took notice of that this past season while HK Nitra was struggling.
“He was under pressure because we could relegate from the league,” the GM said. “He played the whole season under pressure and I cannot say a bad word about Adam. He was always 100% with hard work, always gave 100% energy, always smiling, optimistic, supporting teammates. That’s great on him. He’s still a kid, but he was supporting with the older players with his energy and enthusiasm.”
Sýkora’s combination of speed and hustle makes him an ideal candidate to play on a matchup line once he reaches the NHL.
One scout said there’s an argument that he was the best forechecker in the 2022 draft class, while Chrenko referred to him as the top defensive forward and first-pair penalty killer on an HK Nitra team with players much more experienced than him.
Those are clear strengths, but his scoring capabilities are considered limited. Sýkora managed 21 points (eight goals and 13 assists) in 38 games for HK Nitra last season, plus another four (one goal and three assists) in eight playoff games.
Many were the result of his willingness to fight through traffic and make a home in the high-danger areas, hunting for tips, rebounds and broken plays. And while Chrenko noted that he was “more creative and more confident with the puck” last season, scouts sound skeptical about how much offense is in the tank.
“He’s a pest, but his upside is probably bottom six in the NHL,” said one scout.
“He has no outside shot,” added another.
There’s no shame in developing an effective bottom-six forward who excels on the PK, creates havoc and sacrifices himself for the good of the team on a nightly basis, which is certainly the direction Sýkora seems to be heading.
Every lineup needs those types of players to win − and the consensus is that he’s better equipped to succeed in that role than any other young player in the Rangers’ system.
The closest comparison is Brett Berard, another undersized, high-energy forward who came at No. 7 in this year’s organizational prospect rankings. They’ll be in direct competition for a future spot in the lineup, with three scouts who were polled giving Sýkora a better chance of sticking.
There’s value in having a player who doesn’t just understand his role, but embraces it with every fiber of his being − and, importantly, has the tools to get the job done.
“He’s a great example for our young players in the organization of how hard work can help you reach your goals,” Chrenko said. “Of course, he’s a talented guy. But the hard work is the biggest reason he has an NHL contract signed now.”
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Adam Sýkora: NY Rangers No. 4 in 2023 prospect rankings
Source: Yahoo Sports