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.

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