(See previous post, too. A version of this is in paper and on newsday.com. Remember to join me today and beyond at twitter.com/stevezipay
In this city driven by the movie industry, where fantasies reign, the Rangers have to be realistic in the NHL entry draft, which begins tonight.
Still smarting after missing the playoffs for the first time since the lockout and hindered by the salary cap, the front office is proclaiming publicly that they want to encourage their youngsters on the roster, develop their prospects and draft well.
But the Rangers do not have a top two pick to land a game-changer, which is how scouts describe forwards Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin. Neither is projected as second coming of Mario Lemieux, but teams at 1 and 2, Edmonton and Boston, will be overjoyed to have them. As will the next teams on the ladder, who have a choice of touted defensemen.
At No. 10, the Rangers, who last season scored 222 goals---tied for 20th in the NHL---will search for future offense. As Gordie Clark, the team’s director of player personnel has said, each team rates players after the top five according to need. The Rangers haven’t tipped their hand except to express interest in Vladimir Tarasenko, a skilled Russian teenager playing in the KHL who might not be free to play in the U.S. without a transfer agreement.
Among the others who may be on the board are two forwards for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks: Swiss left wing Nino Neiderreiter and center Ryan Johansen, each of whom have size and can score, and Jeff Skinner, who scored 50 goals in 60 regular-season games and 20 in 20 playoff games in his second OHL season. Alex Burmistrov, a Russian waterbug who played for the Barrie Colts, removing the transfer issue, is another possibility; so is speedy Emerson Etem, a Long Beach, Calif. native who scored 37 times in Medicine Hat.
The Rangers haven’t been shy about drafting Russians or Americans. Last season’s first-rounder and 19th overall selection, Chris Kreider, is from Boxford, Mass. Center Derek Stepan, from Hastings, Minn, was a second-rounder in 2008. Last year’s third-rounder, Ryan Bourque, is from Beverly, Mass. Evgeny Grachev was a third-rounder in 2008, Artem Anisimov was tabbed in the second round in 2006, and Alexei Cherepanov, who died of a heart condition at 17 while playing in the KHL, was picked 17th overall in 2007.
There are no guarantees at No. 10; since 2000, the spot has been shaky ground. The pluses: Michal Frolik, (Florida, 2006) and Andrei Kostitsyn (Montreal, 2003). The jury’s-still-out guys: Magnus Paajarvi-Svenson (Edmonton, 2009), Brampton’s Cody Hodgson (Vancouver, 2008); Keaton Ellerby (Florida, 2007); the sad: Dan Blackburn (Rangers, 2001, injured and retired), Luc Bourdon (Vancouver, 2005, who died in 2008 when his motorcycle collided with a tractor-trailer). Throw in the unfulfilled expectations: Eric Nystrom, (Calgary 2002), 39 points in 204 NHL games; the misses: D Boris Valabik (Atlanta, 2004); Mikhail Yakubov (Chicago, 2000), and it’s a mixed bag.
Beyond the 10th pick, the Rangers have four on Saturday: No. 40, No. 100, No. 130 and No. 160.
Vladimir Tarasenko. Right wing. Born: Yaroslavl, Russia. 5-11, 202. Explosive, dynamic, one scout called him “a poor man’s Ovechkin.” Quite possibly, but the question of when he is allowed to come to the NHL and the lack of a transfer agreement is vexing. More skilled than Neiderreiter and Johansen, he scored 24 points in 42 games in sophomore season in KHL Says he wants to play in the NHL, but coach/father wants him to remain home for a while. Still, the skill level, exactly what the Rangers need, is alluring.
Nino Neiderreiter. Left wing. Born: Chur, Switzerland. 6-2-,205. In 65 games with the Winterhawks, he scored 36 goals, 24 assists and racked up 68 PIM. In 13 playoff games, he had 16 points (8-8). A power forward who can work around the net. Given the Rangers lack of size in their top nine, seems like a very safe pick.
Ryan Johansen. Center. 6-2, 192. Born: Vancouver. The Portland Winterhawks youngster fills a need at playmaking center. Had 25 goals and 44 assists in 71 games in his WHL rookie season, and added another 18 in 13 playoff games. An all-around forward who can handle special teams at both ends of the ice.
Jeff Skinner. Center. Born: Markham, Ontario. 5-10, 180. The fastest-rising forward in the draft after scoring 50 goals in 60 OHL regular-season games and another 20 in 20 playoff games for Kitchener in his second season. Lethal touch, good puckhandling skills, fared well in draft combine, solid work ethic. Weaknesses: Size, average skater