Rangers 2003 draft evaluation

By Leslie Treff

The 2003 NHL Entry Draft contained some of the finest prospects in recent memory. By the end of the 2007-08 season, every first round selection, save one, has played in the NHL. Most have become NHL regulars who are now making major contributions to their respective teams. The Rangers selected the most high-risk/high-reward player in the 50 highest ranked prospects that year — Hugh Jessiman, and made him the 12th overall pick. The Blueshirts are still waiting for the big winger to develop into an NHL-ready player, nevermind the star power forward he has the potential to become.

In total, New York selected 10 players in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, nine of whom were either European or college-bound. When all the NHL games of the 10 players are combined, they only total 71 NHL regular season contests, resulting in one of the lowest games/players average in the league of 7.1. This is made more significant by the fact that 69 of the NHL games have been played by Nigel Dawes, the only CHL player selected by the Rangers in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Although the Rangers have continued to select both European and college players in subsequent drafts, the team has never again drafted such a low percentage of CHL players.
 
Five of the 2003 draft picks have never been signed to NHL contracts, and three of the four 2003 European selections have never crossed the pond to play in North America. The fourth, Ivan Baranka, recently signed a contract to play in Russia during the 2008-09 season.

Nigel Dawes has become the bright spot for the Rangers as respects the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Other than Dawes, this draft year has to be considered a huge disappointment for the team. With Baranka’s return to Europe, only Jessiman, Corey Potter, and Chris Holt are still considered NHL prospects. 

Hugh Jessiman, RW—1st Round, 12th overall

Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

 At 6’4 and 200 pounds, several NHL teams were salivating at drafting and then developing Jessiman. Not only was his size an asset, the winger had good hands and a strong shot. Coming into the draft, the Dartmouth College freshman had an excellent rookie ECAC season and looked to become a dominating player in the league. Unfortunately, Jessiman did not make progress in his second NCAA season, and spent much of his junior year in college injured. After turning pro in 2005, Jessiman has been very slow to develop, spending time in both the AHL and ECHL over the last three seasons. While he may yet play in the NHL, it does not look likely that he will ever become the player that the Rangers hoped for when they selected him in the first round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

Ivan Baranka, D—2nd Round, 50th overall

Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 1

The Rangers traded down in the second round, giving San Jose their selection at 43rd overall, and got in return No. 50 overall and a third round pick at number 75.  With the 50th overall selection in the draft, the Rangers picked Baranka, a Slovakian defenseman, who had played well in the U18’s, as well as in Dubnika of the Slovakian Junior League. Known as a solid defensive player, the Rangers saw an offensive upside to his game that they hoped to develop in the CHL. Baranka began his North American play the following fall, and spent two solid seasons with the Everett Silvertips of the WHL. After turning pro in 2005, Baranka played three injury-shortened seasons with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack. He was called up to the NHL this past November and played one NHL game before being returned to Hartford. Considered a top Rangers defensive prospect, it is disappointing that last month, Baranka signed a contract to play for Spartak Moscow of the KHL.

Ken Roche, C—3rd Round, 75th overall

Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

After the Rangers traded away their 2003 third-round pick to the Flyers as part of the deal that brought Eric Lindros to New York, they were able to pick up a later third-round pick through a trade with San Jose. It is with that selection, No. 75 overall, that the Rangers chose Roche, a forward from San Sebastien’s High School outside of Boston.  Roche went on to play for four years at Boston University, graduating in the spring of 2007. Roche was not signed to an NHL entry-level contract and the team’s rights to him expired last summer. He played in both the AHL and ECHL during the 2006-07 season, and does not appear likely to become an NHL player.

Corey Potter, D—4th Round, 122nd overall

Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The year before the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, the Rangers had traded their fourth round selection (#116 overall) to the Florida Panthers as part of  Pavel Bure deal. The Rangers had gotten back a fourth-round selection (#122 overall) a few months later when the team traded the rights of Mike Richter to Edmonton. With this pick, the Rangers selected Potter, who had just completed his freshman season at Michigan State. After a good, but not spectacular, four years at Michigan State, Potter was not immediately given an NHL entry-level contract. He split his time between the AHL and ECHL during the 2006-07 season. However, he impressed the Rangers sufficiently to obtain an NHL contract. Potter continues to develop and shows the potential to be a second or third pairing NHL defenseman.

Nigel Dawes, LW—5th Round, 145th overall

Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 69

Dawes had scored 92 points in 72 WHL games in his draft year. Had he been a few inches taller, there would have been no question that he would have been a second or third-round selection. Speedy, with great hands, and quite a bit of grit, Dawes was an excellent prospect. After four years with the WHL Kootenay Ice, the diminutive winger began his professional career with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack in the fall of 2005. He made the Rangers out of camp in the fall of 2006, but failed to make a sufficient impression to stay with the team for the entire 2006-07 season. Dawes saw AHL action again early in the 2007-08 season, however, he spent the majority of this past hockey season with the Rangers. At this point, he is considered an everyday roster player — the only Rangers’ 2003 NHL Entry Draft selection in this category.

Ivan Dornic, C—6th Round, 176th overall

Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Rangers selected three players in the sixth round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, the first of which was the Slovakian center Ivan Dornic. Dornic had played extremely well in the Slovkian Junior League prior to being drafted, and made a good showing in the 2003 U18 World Championships. Additionally, his intention was to play junior hockey in North America the following fall. Dornic played for the WHL Portland Winter Hawks for a little more than one season. After Dornic requested a trade away from Portland in the fall of 2004 and there was no interest in the forward, he returned to Slovakia and has played in Europe ever since. It is unlikely that Dornic will return to North America to play hockey and is no longer considered a prospect in the Rangers’ system.

Philippe Furrer, D—6th Round, 179th overall

Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

A star in the 2003 World Junior Championships, this blueliner was said to have great offensive upside when he was drafted. However, he has never reached his potential. Furrer has played all his regular season hockey in his native Switzerland, however, he did come to North America to play in the 2006 Traverse City Prospects Tournament, where the Rangers coaching staff got another chance to evaluate his talent. Furrer returned to Europe after a unimpressive tournament and is no longer a prospect in the Rangers’ system.

Chris Holt, G—6th Round, 180th overall

Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 1

The Rangers obtained their third selection in the sixth round as a conditional pick in the 2002 trade of Derek Armstrong to the Los Angeles Kings. New York selected Holt, who was about to enter his freshman season at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. After a good, but not exceptional freshman season, Holt was a standout as a sophomore. In a surprise move, the Rangers signed the big netminder in the fall of 2005, and, except for one NHL game during the 2005-06 season, he has played in either the AHL or ECHL since. With hindsight, it probably would have been better for Holt’s progress had the Rangers gotten him at least one more year of NCAA hockey development. However, at the time, the Rangers were short of goaltenders in their system and were anxious to move Holt along. Holt has improved his play with each season, however, his future with the Rangers is in doubt as his entry-level contract expires in the next few months and a new contract may not be readily forthcoming.

Dylan Reese, D—7th Round, 209th overall

Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Reese put up strong offensive numbers in the NAHL prior to being selected by the Rangers in the seventh round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. The next fall, he joined  Harvard University, where he played for four years. Reese played well at Harvard but did not show the offensive upside that the Rangers were hoping for. Not offered an NHL entry-level contract last fall, Reese played for the AHL San Antonio Rampage during the 2007-08 season.

Jan Marek, C—8th Round, 243 overall

Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Marek was the last draftee for the Rangers in the 2003 Entry Draft. Small, but a prolific scorer, Marek has not come to play North American hockey since he was drafted. Until this last season, the center played in the Czech Republic, but during the 2007-08 campaign, he played for Magnitogorsk Metallurg of the RSL. Marek is no longer considered a Rangers’ prospect.