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Where Rangers’ top prospects stand and how much progress they’re making

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Where Rangers’ top prospects stand and how much progress they’re making

Second of two parts

The organizational infrastructure is in place. So is the talent. As the next wave of prospects prepares to hit Broadway, director of player development Jed Ortmeyer provided The Post with a progress report on the cream of the Rangers’ crop.

Hartford’s Big 3 on ‘D’

The Blueshirts are expected to be in the market for a physical, right defenseman as the scheduled March 21 trade deadline approaches, but before attempting to deal for someone like say, Anaheim’s Josh Manson, would the team give an opportunity to Braden Schneider, who is in his first season of pro hockey and will not turn 21 until September?

“That’s a question way above my pay grade in terms of what the timeline is and what moves are made and who is making those calls,” Ortmeyer said of the 19th-overall selection of the 2020 draft for whom the Rangers traded up to select. “But as an organization we believe that the best players are going to play, and if somebody is ready to go and we believe he can help us win games, then I am assuming he would be the next man up.

“I couldn’t put a timeline on it because I don’t have that information and I’m not taking over [general manager] Chris Drury’s job, but in terms of putting the best team on the ice, if the time comes for someone in Hartford to get a look and that helps us win games, I think management would do the best for the organization.”

Coming Tuesday to Post Sports+:  Larry Brooks goes even deeper into breaking down the Rangers prospects ranks. Not a Sports+ member yet? Try it now.

Rangers
Braden Schneider
Bill Kostroun

Matthew Robertson, the 49th-overall selection out of the 2018 second round, is also 20. The 6-foot-4, 201-pounder, also in his first season of pro hockey, has been paired much of the time with the 6-2, 210-pound Schneider.

“Consistency is the biggest thing you want to see from young prospects, being able to come to the rink every day and take care of your on-ice and off-ice responsibilities while seeing the big picture,” Ortmeyer said. “[Robertson] is big, he skates well, he handles the puck pretty well.

“He’s worked hard at his offensive game of moving across the blue line, getting pucks through and being effective that way. For his size and the way he can skate, he’s not one-dimensional. He could fill whatever role would be needed in your lineup, could be a Swiss Army knife to move up and down.”

Zac Jones, 21, of course, played 10 games for the Rangers at the end of last season after leaving UMass. He had an outstanding NHL camp, but the slick, 5-10, 172-pound lefty will likely have to force his way onto the varsity that already includes smaller types in Adam Fox and Nils Lundkvist.

“I think there’s a little disappointment [that he is not in New York] but if there isn’t disappointment, then we’ve got the wrong guy, right?” Ortmeyer asked rhetorically. “To Zac’s credit, his attitude never changed. He comes to the rink, he’s got a smile on his face, he wants to work hard, he’s good in practice and he has been playing very well in Hartford.

“He wants to play 25 minutes and in all situations, and I know he would want to be in New York. But Zac also sees the value of getting those minutes and working on his game so he’s ready when the time comes. He has understood that. It shows in his attitude and in his play.

“There are certain things you can’t get away with in pro hockey that you could in college hockey when it comes to things like boxing out,” Ortmeyer said. “As a smaller guy, you have to learn how to do that away from the net as opposed to at the net. There are tricks you learn playing against bigger bodies, more mature, hungry pro hockey players. That’s the value of Zac spending this time in Hartford.

“He’s gifted offensively and makes plays you can’t really teach. He scored a power-play goal the other night going coast-to-coast to tie the game. That was just a special play that shows how talented Zac is. If we can enhance all those other aspects, his offensive game becomes even more valuable.”

The OHL Kids

When this year’s No. 1, Brennan Othman, was returned to Flint after a strong first Rangers training camp, the winger vowed to dominate his league. And that is what he has done, tied for third in the OHL with 20 goals and tied for 10th with 37 points in 24 games as an 18-year-old — even as he was snubbed for a spot on Canada’s World Junior team.

“His mindset is in the right place. He’s using this as motivation to get better,” said Ortmeyer, who visited with Othmann last week. “He’s putting up points, has a great shot and has a knack for finding the back of the net. But the thing I really like that translates and you can’t teach, is his compete.

Rangers
Zac Jones
Bill Kostroun

“He’s willing to block shots, he finishes his checks, he wants the puck on his stick all the time, to almost a fault. He’s very passionate about winning and achieving success. You can’t teach that. Whether you call that swagger or determination, if you add that to his natural scoring ability, there’s something really special there.

“It’s going to take time for him to physically mature and add some strength to his [6-0, 180] frame but once that catches up to his hockey ability, the sky is the limit.”

Will Cuylle, selected 60th overall in 2020 with the pick obtained from LA for Lias Andersson, will represent Canada in the World Juniors after recording 18 goals in 22 games for Windsor. The 6-4, 210-pound winger picked right up where he left off following an outstanding Rangers camp after having the benefit of playing for the Wolf Pack last year under unique COVID protocols.

“We wanted him to go back, be a man amongst boys and dominate physically and have success offensively,” Ortmeyer said of the 19-year-old. “He’s got a big, heavy shot and we wanted him to use it and get that confidence that comes with scoring goals while building off those habits he was able to establish last year in Hartford, like backchecking responsibly, finishing checks, stick position and details like those. We’re excited.”

The Prodigal (Maybe?)

It was Ortmeyer who raised the name, unsolicited, when asked if there’d been a prospect he’d not yet been asked about. “Kravtsov?” he said. “I’m pretty excited about him.”

That of course would be winger Vitali Kravtsov 21, the ninth-overall selection from 2018, who has been here, gone home, returned here, went back home again and is now on assignment to KHL Traktor Chelyabinsk with perhaps one last chance of playing for the Rangers.

“I think he’s got a lot of talent,” Ortmeyer said. “We want to see him do well. He’s still one of our guys and we want to be a resource for him and be there for whatever he needs. We hope he has a great season, and what happens after that is obviously above my pay grade.”

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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