Friday, June 24, 2011

Draft Day

DRAFT DAY '11

It's only been a week since a new champion was crowned with the Bruins claiming their fifth Cup and first since '72 over unlucky franchise Vancouver. Fast forward till now and already the awards were handed out the other night in Vegas- featuring Hart winner Corey Perry, Vezina winner Tim Thomas, Norris recipient Nick Lidstrom, who edged our pick Shea Weber. Other fun awards like the Selke (Ryan Kesler), Byng (Martin St. Louis), Calder (Jeff Skinner), Masterton (Ian Laperriere), Adams (Dan Bylsma) and King Clancy (Doug Weight) also were on display.

With the '10-11 season finally complete, we get a bird's eye view of the future over the weekend with the early stages of the NHL Draft tonight in St. Paul, Minnesota. With everyone still buzzing over the monster Flyer trades of former '03 Draft duo Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, blue chip prospects like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Jonathan Huberdeau, Adam Larsson and Dougie Hamilton take center stage later when our great commish is greeted with traditional jeers. If only he had a sense of humor like NBA adversary David Stern, who got the last word in at the end of Round One last night in Newark.

What makes Draft Day so intriguing is that puckers are always speculating who their team could wind up with. I'm no Draft guru but will be at the Rangers Draft Party in the city with our usual crew for what shapes up as one pick in the top 100 and a league low four overall due to the Tim Erixon deal. Assuming they don't trade down to acquire a second rounder, the Blueshirts will pick 15th, behind the Devils (4th), Islanders (5th) and Winnipeg (7th), who still don't have a team name after relocating from Atlanta. If they're not going to be called the Jets II, then why not honor tradition and go outside the box with the Winnipeg Flashes for Teemu Selanne? One can dream. Oddly enough, the Rangers get to pick right before the Sabres (16th), which could be fun. What if we snag their guy? Not that this organization has ever had a great track record. Outside of superhyped Marc Staal, our first round has been a disaster- highlighted by Hugh Jessiman in '03, Al Montoya in '04 sans Lauri Korpikoski, who got a raw deal here. A closer look at our First Round since the '99 debacle of Pavel Brendl and Jamie Lundmark:

RANGERS FIRST ROUND ('00 - '10)

'00 None
'01 Dan Blackburn-10th
'02 None
'03 Hugh Jessiman-12th
'04 Al Montoya-6th, Lauri Korpkoski-19th
'05 Marc Staal-12th
'06 Bobby Sanguinetti-21st
'07 Alexei Cherepanov-17th
'08 Michael Del Zotto-20th
'09 Chris Kreider-19th
'10 Dylan McIlrath-10th

The first thing that stands out is our most success has come with defensemen highlighted by Staal and Michael Del Zotto, who must bounce back from a forgettable '10-11 to still be in the picture. Obviously, Jessiman was a total bust- never the same after an ankle sprain- while Sanguinetti never got a sniff before being moved to Carolina last Fall. The club has had tough luck with a freak injury in the weight room dooming Blackburn while there's still shock over Alexei Cherepanov's death. Amazingly enough, it will be three years this Fall. One can only imagine how the super skilled Russian could've impacted our team. Instead, we're left wondering. Recent first rounders have been better with the aforementioned Del Zotto faring well his rookie year before taking a step back. Cherepanov was the right pick who probably would've been a steal. Though still unsigned, Chris Kreider shows lots of upside with quick wheels, good hands and solid work ethic as he returns to BC for his junior season. And Dylan McIlrath could be the punisher our back end has lacked. Of course, he better work out because they passed up on Cam Fowler, who would've looked good running our powerless play.

The thing about drafts is it's a crapshoot. You got so many experts telling us who won/lost before these kids even lace 'em up. Honestly, patience is a must with any prospect. The key being development. The Rangers haven't always fared well there, messing up Jamie Lundmark, Manny Malhotra, while showing no patience with Korpikoski or Ethan Werek, who was swapped for Oscar Lindberg with Rangers West. They also botched Evgeny Grachev, who now has two years of Connecticut under his belt. Will he ever make it?

More encouraging is how the organization stuck with Mike Sauer despite a slew of injuries. He now is our toughest D since fan favorite Jeff Beukeboom. Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov also have looked good thus far. So, it's not all negative. There's also gems like Henrik Lundqvist ('00-7th Rd), Petr Prucha ('02-8th Rd), Brandon Dubinsky ('04-2nd Rd) and Ryan Callahan ('04-4th Rd)- who prove that our scouts fare better later on. Sauer, Stepan and Anisimov were all grabbed in Round Two along with recently signed Christian Thomas while Carl Hagelin ('07-6th Rd), Tomas Kundratek ('08-3rd Rd), Dale Weise ('08-4th Rd) and Ryan Bourque ('09-3rd Rd) all were taken later with the idea they could be part of the future.

Sometimes, you luck out as they did when Bob Gainey was foolish enough to take Scott Gomez off our hands, giving up McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko while also receiving PK fixture Tom Pyatt. Unless the Habs win the Cup soon, that one could be a heist of biblical proportions. It won't get decided until down the road. It's what makes the Draft exciting. The projections, second guessing and trades all give the first '11-12 event some mojo. No wonder so many on Twitter are geared up. I'd much rather think about tonight than July 1 with a potential bidding war for Brad Richards, who I want no part of despite John Tortorella's obsession. That's for another day.

Tonight's all about starry eyed kids whose dreams will come true when they hit the podium greeted by Gary Bettman. A chance to smile and pose for the cameras in their new NHL jersey. That's what makes it so special. Who will be the next great stars for the Devils, Islanders, Rangers and Sabres along with 26 other teams? At least we find out who we'll be following. Enjoy every minute of it.

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