The Rangers selected 13 players in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Three of those draftees, Lauri Korpikoski, Brandon Dubinsky, and Ryan Callahan, are now Rangers roster players, and one, Al Montoya, plays for the Phoenix Coyotes. Dane Byers is still a top prospect in the Rangers organization, while Zdenek Bahensky and Roman Psurny are still on the team’s reserve list. Jakub Petruzalek was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2004 and is still a prospect in that system. The five other draftees are either playing minor league or European hockey.
With two first-round selections and four second-round picks, the Rangers were hoping to get at least one top player. Although that has not come to pass, the blueshirts have developed three solid forwards out of this draft. In total, the Rangers’ 2004 draftees have played 393 games in the NHL, averaging 30.2 games per player selected.
After losing Dan Blackburn to injury, and only having Jason Labarbera and Henrik Lundqvist in the system, the Rangers used their top pick to add a netminder to the system. Although there has been some criticism of the pick, the University of Michigan star netminder, Al Montoya, was felt to be the best available player at the sixth position.
In his 2002-03 freshman collegiate season, Montoya was the youngest player in Division I hockey, but still managed to set a University of Michigan record with 30 wins. He was named to the CCHA Super Six Tournament Team and was the Most Outstanding Player at the NCAA Midwest Regional. The next season, his draft year, Montoya posted a 26-12-2 record, earned a spot on the All-CCHA second team, and was a finalist for the CCHA Goaltender of the Year Award. Most impressively, he was the gold-medal winning goalie for the US team at the 2004 WJCs, and won the directorate award as top netminder in the tournament.
Montoya signed a professional contract after his junior year of college. He played well for the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack during the 2005-06 season, however, Montoya did suffer three injuries, including a freak shoulder injury sustained during the 2006 playoffs that required surgery.
Back from the surgery, Montoya had a very good 2006-07, but began to display some consistency issues. When those issues were added to mental toughness questions, questions were raised as to his ability to be a No. 1 goalie at the NHL level. Trade rumors began to surface, and at the trade deadline of the 2007-08 season, Montoya was dealt to Phoenix.
The trade reunited Montoya with now Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney, and the young netminder has progressed in that system. Montoya saw his first NHL action this past season, and in five games with the Coyotes, he played extremely well. However, his future in the NHL is still uncertain.
Lauri Korpikoski, LW — TPS Turku
Round 1, 19th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 68
Currently a member of the New York Rangers, Korpikoski got his first chance to play in the NHL during the 2008 playoffs. He scored a goal in that game and played well enough to get a good hard look during training camp. Korpikoski did earn the final forward spot on the NHL team this past season out of camp, but just wasn’t getting enough ice time. In late October 2008, Korpikoski was returned to Hartford to get more playing time, but, within two weeks, was recalled. Since that call-up in mid-November 2008, Korpikoski has been a regular on the NHL team.
Speed is Korpkoski’s calling card, but he earned his roster spot with solid two-way play. As the 2008-09 season wore on, the Turku, Finland native was used extensively on the penalty kill. But, he does have a significant offensive upside, which the Rangers began to take advantage of after the coaching change this past February. Expect to see him get more offensive opportunities in 2009-10.
Darin Olver, LW — Northern Michigan University
Round 2, 36th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Olver was drafted after a fabulous rookie season at the Northern Michigan University. He was an honorable mention for the CCHA All-Rookie Team.
A slight, speedy forward who at the time of the draft had a huge offensive upside, Olver was a high risk/high reward draftee. However, it never panned out.
Olver spent four years at Northern Michigan, but he never did build on his superb freshman season. After being signed to an ATO by the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack in the spring of 2007, Olver was released after six games. For the past two seasons, he has played European hockey, including a stint in the German Elite League this past season. His game is more suited to the European style.
Dane Byers, LW — Prince Albert Raiders
Round 2, 48th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 1
When Byers was selected in the second round of the 2004 Entry Draft, an NHL scout commented about him, “What you see is what you get. He likes to run around and bang guys, start fights and get the team motivated but he’s just going to be a depth guy.”
The scout under-estimated Byers, who has turned out to have quite a bit of offensive upside, at least at the AHL level. This first became apparent during the 2005-06 season, when he put up 48 points in 71 games with the WHL Prince Albert Raiders. He continued such production in each of his first two professional seasons in the AHL, surprising the Rangers with his offensive production.
Byers began the 2008-09 season very strongly, and was considered a likely mid-season call-up, when, after nine games, he injured his knee on a freak play. The resulting surgery and rehab required missing the rest of the regular season. Back for the playoffs, Byers was productive, but overall it was a disappointing season for the power forward who was expected to make the jump to the NHL this past year. He is expected to compete for a Rangers roster spot this fall, and has been one of the nice surprises for the Rangers out of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
Bruce Graham, C — Moncton Wildcats
Round 2, 51st overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Graham was the tallest player that the Rangers selected in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. At 6’6 and 220 pounds, Graham had an impressive sophomore season with the QMJHL Moncton Wildcats. He continued to improve during his third season, and, although they had one more year to sign Graham, they were anxious to get the big center moving along in the organization.
Never known for his skating or defensive play, Graham looked lost in his first professional games with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack. The Rangers decided to reassign him to the ECHL Charlotte Checkers, and he has since played most of his games at that level. The Rangers did not re-sign the big center after his entry-level contract expired last summer.
Graham had a good year in 2008-09 at the ECHL level, splitting his time between the Gwinnett Gladiators and the Bakersfield Condors.
Brandon Dubinsky, C — Portland Winter Hawks
Round 2, 60th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 170
Dubinsky, who was the sixth player selected by the Rangers in 2004, and the last of four picks in the second round, has been the most successful draftee for the Rangers.
Drafted out of the WHL Portland Winter Hawks, at the time, Dubinsky was under-sized and felt to be only a mediocre skater. There was never any question, however, about his mental toughness and desire to play the game. Dubinsky averaged about a point a game during is junior career, and when he joined the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack for the 2006 playoff race, the Alaska native continued on that pace. After Dubinsky spent most of the 2006-07 season in Hartford, where he was a leader both on and off the ice, he became a Ranger full time at the start of the 2007-08 season.
Now 6’1 and 210 pounds, Dubinsky has a tremendous work ethic, as well as an offensive upside. Over the last two seasons, he has averaged 40 points per season, and at times has played on a line with the team’s best players. Expected to settle into a second- to third-line center role in the future, Dubinsky is the brightest spot in a very mixed first and second round.
Zdenek Bahensky, LW — Saskatoon Blades
Round 3, 73rd overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0
When Bahensky was drafted in the third round, the Rangers knew that he was willing to play junior hockey in North America after spending his entire career in the system of the Czech team HC Chemopetrol Litvinov. The Rangers had scouted Bahensky at the 2004 U-18 WJC and felt that he had the speed and finesse to develop into an NHL player.
Bahensky had two solid seasons as a member of the WHL Saskatoon Blades, however, was not offered an entry-level contract by the Rangers to start the 2006-07 season. He did, however, sign a one-year AHL contract with the Rangers’ affiliate, and split the season between the Hartford Wolf Pack and ECHL Charlotte Checkers. Unhappy with his progress, Bahensky chose to return to the Czech Republic. For the last two seasons, he has played for two teams in the Czech Extraliga.
Ryan was drafted out of Cushing Academy in Massachusetts, and went on to play four years at the University of Maine, where he was an Academic All-American and one of the team captains in his senior year. Ryan missed nine games during his senior 2007-08 season due to a hip injury, which he chose to nurse along rather than have season-ending surgery. The surgery was performed after his collegiate years were over, but by then, the Rangers had chosen not to sign Ryan.
It was not until December 2008 that the AHL Philadelphia Phantoms signed Ryan to an ATO. In 15 games, he was unable to register a point. After his release this past February, Ryan joined the ECHL Wheeling Nailers. There, Ryan posted more than a point a game in the regular season, and was an excellent contributor during the playoffs.
Although Ryan will almost certainly get another chance in the AHL, his likelihood of playing in the NHL is slim.
Ryan Callahan, RW — Guelph Storm
Round 4, 127th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 147
Callahan was drafted out of the OHL Guelph Storm after making a very favorable impression during the 2003-04 playoffs. A speedy winger with grit, not much offensive production was expected of the Rochester, New York native when he was drafted.
After Callahan’s play in the 2005 Rangers’ training camp did not warrant an offer of an NHL contract, Callahan chose to go back to Guelph for an overage year, rather than accept the AHL contract that was offered. During that year, Callahan matured greatly as the captain of the Storm and a team leader on and off the ice. The young winger not only taught with words, but he practiced what he preached, always giving the maximum effort. It was his impressive work ethic and leadership skills that gained Callahan that coveted NHL entry contract in the fall of 2006.
He was assigned to Hartford as expected. What was not expected was his sudden prolific scoring abilites — Callahan recorded 55 points (35 goals, 20 assists) in 60 games. Called up to the Rangers mid-season, he registered six points in 14 games with the NHL club.
That total improved to approximately one half point per game during this past season, his first full one with the big club. In many ways, now the heart and soul of the New York team, Callahan has the ability to raise the energy of the game through hits and top-notch skating, while at the same time be able to crash the net and put one past the opposing netminder almost at will.
Roman Psurny, LW — Zlin ZPS HC
Round 5, 135th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0
Psurny was another Czech Republic junior player that impressed the Rangers during international play. Roman and his undrafted twin brother, Michal, had been playing in the Czech Republic when Roman was drafted, and the following fall, both joined the WHL Medicine Hat Tigers.
In 2004-05 Roman lead his team in offensive production, registering 49 points (21 goals, 28 assists) in 69 games, which ranked fourth on the team. Michal was not as successful. It was expected that both Psurny brothers would improve their offensive production the following season, however, in 2005-06, Roman only garnered 54 points (24 goals, 30 assists) in the 66 games he played.
It was possible that some of Roman’s total production issues were the result of his brother being traded to Kootenay mid-season. Although Roman completed the season on fire in Medicine Hat, the brothers decided to return to the Czech Republic in the fall of 2006, and have continued to play in the Extraliga since then.
Foote was drafted after an excellent rookie season as a member of the Nanaimo Clippers of the BCHL. An outstanding skater, Foote was an excellent defensive forward with a tenacious attitude. His work ethic and grittiness were what attracted the Rangers to the Edmonton, Alberta winger
From the fall of 2004 though the spring of 2008, Foote played for Michigan Tech, but never developed the offensive side of his game. Not signed by the Rangers, Foote played professional hockey at the “AA” level, first with the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL and then with the New Mexico Scorpions of the Central Hockey League.
The only defenseman selected by the Rangers in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Paiement had just completed an outstanding rookie 2003-04 season with the Lewiston MAINEiacs when he was selected. He continued to post impressive numbers the following season, and the Rangers gave him a very long look at training camp in the fall of 2005. After a less impressive 2005-06 campaign, the Rangers decided not to sign him.
Since that time, he has competed for Rockford, Hershey, and Albany of the AHL, as well as Texas and Florida in the ECHL. In February, Paiement was sidelined by injuries sustained in the early morning bus crash of his Albany River Rats team. Paiement was out approximately six weeks with cuts on his left thumb, face, and around the left eye. After just one game at the AHL level this past April, Paiement was returned to the ECHL Everblades.
Petruzalek was the final player the Rangers selected in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, and the third from the Czech Republic. A teammate of third-round selection Bahensky, Petruzalek was also anxious to come to North America to play hockey. In the fall of 2004, Petruzalek joined the OHL Ottawa 67s and quickly became an asset.
A small player, with huge offensive creativity, Petruzalek is a wizard with the puck. When he was younger though, his downside was that he was weak defensively. This tag as a one-way player was why he was not drafted higher overall.
None of this had changed by the fall of 2005, when the Rangers were disappointed in his training camp performance and wanted Petruzalek to return to junior hockey for an overage year. Instead, that fall, Petruzalek returned to the Czech Republic to suit up for HC Litinov Chemopetrol of the Czech Extraliga. His decision was short-lived, as after 19 games in Europe, Petruzalek returned to North America to play for the OHL Barrie Colts. He was a prolific scorer for that team during the rest of the season and into the playoffs.
In the fall of 2006, Petruzalek was signed to an AHL contract and assigned to Hartford. In November of that year, the young winger was traded to Carolina and assigned to Albany.