Friday, February 15, 2013

Rangers Draft Focus: 2nd Round

In last week's introduction, we discussed past Rangers first round picks. The organization has moved in the right direction after years of failure. Drafting and development are two vital areas that determine whether a team made the right selection. For kids Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller, they're still in the developmental stage. Blueshirt fans should be paying close attention.

One area the Rangers have had success is drafting in the second round. Dating back to 2001, five former No.2 picks are still in the NHL and have had good careers. Let's break them down:

Player                        Year          Overall          Team(s)       GP      G      A     Pts    PIM  
Fedor Tyutin            2001          40th              NYR CBJ   571     43    152   195    376
Brandon Dubinsky   2004          60th              NYR CBJ   402     82    138   220    494
*Mike Sauer             2005          40th              NYR            98       4      14     18      96
Artem Anisimov       2006          54th              NYR CBJ   257     50     64   114      94
Derek Stepan            2008           51st              NYR           177     40     62   102      46

*LTI for post concussion syndrome

All five were part of the club's turnaround. Tyutin played on the '07 team that pushed the Sabres six games in the Eastern Conference Semis. Following a second round defeat to the Pens, Glen Sather traded him to Columbus for Nikolai Zherdev. A gamble that didn't work out. While Zherdev stars for Atlant of the KHL, Tyutin remains the Jackets' best defenseman at 29.

Dubinsky and Anisimov were on last year's team that had the East's top record. Along with Stepan, who's currently centering the No.1 line, they helped get the Rangers to the Conference Finals. In the offseason, Slats packaged Dubinsky and Anisimov with Tim Erixon and a No.1 pick to the Blue Jackets for Rick Nash. He used assets to acquire a need. Nash is a top power forward who is an upgrade offensively. Depth has come into question. Always the risk when you make such a move.

If Mike Sauer ever returns, it would be a big boost for the Rangers blueline. Sauer was the most underrated defenseman on the team. He played with an edge that's severely lacking since he went down. Sather has failed to address this hole. Instead, John Tortorella is forced to play Matt Gilroy, who he doesn't trust enough to use in third periods. Stu Bickel is basically a goon and Steve Eminger is serving a two week conditioning assignment. Former No.1 pick Dylan McIlrath remains a year away.

Overall, the Blueshirts have done an admirable job drafting in Round Two. Dubinsky and Anisimov were solid core players who brought Nash. Stepan is currently centering the top line with Nash and sixth round gem Carl Hagelin. Stepan's improvement is crucial to the club's success. He must improve on his playoff goal total. A paltry one over 25 games. He is unselfish to a fault. Shooting more would make him a better player. The coaching staff has encouraged it. Maybe playing with Nash will bring out his best.

The Rangers are hoping Christian Thomas is part of the future. Taken 40th overall by the club in 2010, the 20-year old son of former NHLer Steve Thomas is in his second pro year with Connecticut. He's tallied 10 goals and 11 assists for 21 points in 48 games. He's in the second year of a three-year entry level contract. It's do or die for Thomas next year.

Cristoval "Boo" Nieves was selected 59th last June. Most observers liked the pick. In his freshman year playing for Red Berenson at Michigan, Nieves has 23 points (8-15-23) in 30 games. A nice start to his collegiate career.

Friday, February 8, 2013

New Project: NY Rangers Draft

Ranger rookie J.T. Miller shows off the puck from his first NHL goal.

I was discussing the Rangers with Dad and we got around to the topic of the Draft. How do they stack up? Since Glen Sather took over, they've had better success drafting and developing players.

One of our questions is whether or not the organization is developing properly. When examining each team, some players project better than others. To be clear, we're not referring to no-brainers like Crosby, Ovechkin or Malkin. Those are easier decisions for hockey executives to make. If you finish last or luck out like Pittsburgh did in 2005, it speeds up the rebuilding process.

The real test comes for teams who remain competitive. Those must draft later and discover gems like Detroit with Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Under Sather, the Rangers have evolved from a laughingstock into a playoff caliber team who entered off the franchise's first Conference Finals appearance since '97. With the acquisition of Rick Nash, many viewed them as Stanley Cup favorites entering the shortened season.

So far, the results have been mixed with the team defeating the Islanders 4-1 on the strength of prospect J.T. Miller's first two NHL goals- improving to 5-5-0. Miller is only 19 and was taken by the Blueshirts in the first round of 2011. He was selected 15th overall. The center is in his first pro season. He totaled 20 points (8-12-20) in Connecticut before the Rangers recalled him. Miller became the first rookie since Don Murdoch ('76) to score twice in his MSG debut.

In two games, he's already proven he belongs. Miller skates well and goes to the right areas while possessing tools the big club can use. He isn't afraid to go into traffic and plays aggressively. It'll be interesting to see how John Tortorella handles the kid moving forward. Expectations have increased to astronomic levels. That's how this town is. Where in the blink of an eye, you're a superstar. Ranger fans can't expect Miller to score every game. Hopefully, he sticks to provide the team with better balance.

First round picks haven't been the Rangers specialty. However, they've found some success with core defensemen Marc Staal (12th '05) and  Mike Del Zotto (20th '08). Former '09 No.1 pick Chris Kreider (19th) is in his rookie season. He notched his first goal against New Jersey on 2/5. Kreider debuted in spectacular fashion during last Spring scoring five goals and two assists for seven points before playing a regular season game. In Thursday's win, he registered an assist on Miller's early tally. Only 21, Kreider is a player the organization wouldn't part with for Nash at last year's deadline. He has a bright future.

The Rangers' influx of four first rounders is something unheard of in these parts. We're not used to seeing our No.1 picks make it. There have been many flops like Hugh Jessiman, Al Montoya, Bobby Sanguinetti, Pavel Brendl and Jamie Lundmark, who for one reason or another failed. There also have been extreme cases such as Dan Blackburn, Stefan Cherneski and the tragic death of Alexei Cherepanov that still hurts to this day.

History hasn't been kind. Until recently, you had to go back to 1991 when Neil Smith took Alexei Kovalev to find a player who was a regular that became one of the first Russians to get his name on the Cup. Niklas Sundstrom had a decent career as did Dan Cloutier, who's best remembered for this beating of Tommy Salo. Outside of that, our first round picks may as well have existed on an island. Just ask Manny Malhotra, who wasn't handled correctly until he was on his third organization with Columbus of all places.

So, what will our new project tell us? For one, we already know the unpredictability and cruelty of the Rangers first round. With the snow coming, be prepared.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Islander prospects battle Ranger prospects

JT Miller is a prospect the Rangers are watching closely.

Last night, it was a battle of prospects between the Islanders and Rangers. The Bridgeport Sound Tigers defeated the Connecticut Whale 5-4 in overtime at Hartford. Sean Backman notched the winner at 1:57.

Bridgeport rallied from two one-goal deficits. John Persson's power play tally in the third period tied the game 4-4. It was his 15th from defensemen Aaron Ness and Ty Wishart. Wishart had two assists. Three Tigers had multi-point efforts, including Backman (1-1-2) Persson (1-1-2) and Wishart (0-2-2). They also got goals from Jack Combs, Blair Riley and Matt Watkins. Kevin Poulin made 32 saves.

Regarding the Prospect Watch, Brock Nelson, Matt Donovan and Kirill Kabanov each had helpers. Nino Niederreiter was held without a point and only had one shot. It'll be interesting to see how El Nino responds following his trade request. The Islanders are doing what's best for his development. He's having a good pro year with 36 points (19-17-36) helping him become an AHL All-Star. He's only 20 and shouldn't be rushed with the big club off to a good start.

For the Whale, Blake Parlett, Micheal Haley, Brandon Segal and Kelsey Tessier scored. Haley has five goals and seven assists with 113 penalty minutes with Connecticut. He's tough as nails and has played in the NHL before with the Islanders. You wonder if the organization might consider recalling him if the Rangers continue to play soft. The fourth line is giving them zilch. At least with Haley, you know he can bang. Though he's a bit of a loose cannon.

Prospects J.T. Miller and Christian Thomas combined to set up Parlett on the power play for a 4-3 lead with 26 seconds left in the second. Miller was an integral part of Team USA's gold at the WJC 2013. He played well, setting up red hot linemate Johnny Gaudreau. Miller also did the little things, going to the net to screen goalies. The former No.1 pick is a smart player, who could see a cameo on Broadway soon. He's still adjusting to life in the pros. Yesterday, his two assists gave him 19 points (7-12-19) for the season.

Thomas is kind of forgotten. He was a second round pick in 2010. The son of former NHLer Steve Thomas possesses skill in a diminutive 5-9, 174 frame. He's had an up and down year in Connecticut, posting nine goals and eight assists in 44 games. He's just 21 and turned pro last year. The question is can he make the next level. We've seen other small players do it with other teams. The Rangers must show patience.

AHL vet Mike Vernace had two assists. Prospect Andrew Yogan added a helper as did Kris Newbury. First-year pro Kyle Jean had no points and was minus-one. He's cooled considerably since a hot start. The undrafted rookie center from Lake Superior State has eight goals and 10 assists. Goalie Cam Talbot faced 41 shots and stopped 36.

Some notables from Bridgeport this season are Donovan and Johan Sundstrom. Donovan has performed well on the blueline. He's a name Islander fans should be hearing from in the future. With 21 points (6-15-21) in his second pro year, he's a player with upside who can help the Islander back end. Sundstrom is faring well in his first season. The 20-year old Swede has 11 goals with 14 assists for 25 points and a plus-10 rating. He's tied with Nelson for third in team scoring. Nelson being a former second round pick who also flies under the radar due to '11 No.1 pick Ryan Strome.

When the Islanders hit Brooklyn, they'll be rich in talent and ready to be a playoff contender.

Prospects Plus

Seth Jones (right) battles Nathan MacKinnon.

For over five years, we've covered hockey as best we can. New York Puck has continued that tradition of the Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Sabres and NHL.

One of the best aspects of the lockout was having the opportunity to follow our prospects playing in the AHL, hockey juniors and the NCAA. We're going to continue to see how those former draft picks are doing on this page. This way, we give you two quality blogs to follow.

When the NHL restarted, I never wanted to deviate from keeping up with kids in each system. We're not going to limit it to only our teams. I will include players who are 2013 Draft Eligible.

In Bob McKenzie's recent mid-season rankings, American Seth Jones topped the list. His strong performance in Team USA's run to gold at the WJC in Russia pushed him over Nathan MacKinnon. Most experts love MacKinnon because he projects as a power center who could be a franchise player. However, the teammate of Halifax Mooseheads' Jonathan Drouin didn't have as prominent a role for Canada.

Jones was outstanding for USA playing big minutes for United States Hockey Hall Of Famer Phil Housley. The smooth skating and skills on both sides of the rink were on display. Jones is the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, who is a Nets assistant. It's a pretty cool story. He's expected to go in the top three.

Much will depend on what a team's need is. It's looking like it could be the Blue Jackets, who took big defenseman Ryan Murray last year. They likely need another forward. Keep in mind that all 14 teams who miss the playoffs will have the same chance in the Draft Lottery. There could be some surprises joining Columbus. Especially if the Flyers, Caps and Panthers keep struggling. In a 48-game sprint, anything's possible.

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