2010 NHL Draft: Jesper Fast salvages draft class for New York Rangers

By David Hahn
Photo: Jesper Fast has picked up his game in the playoffs, chipping in with six points (three goals, three assists) in 17 games for the New York Rangers. (Courtesy of David Hahn/Icon Sportswire)

Photo: Jesper Fast has picked up his game in the playoffs, chipping in with six points (three goals, three assists) in 17 games for the New York Rangers. (Courtesy of David Hahn/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

Were it not for the recent success of Jesper Fast, the 2010 NHL draft would have been a complete swing-and-miss for the New York Rangers. General Manager Glen Sather and Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark oversaw the club’s activity at the draft, and an emphasis on size and strength played a prominent role.

That trend began early with Moose Jaw’s hulking 6’4, 212 pound defenseman Dylan McIlrath, who received the Warriors Most Improved Player Award after establishing career-highs in every major statistical category. This pick marked the fourth time in six seasons that the Rangers used their first round pick on a defenseman.

After McIlrath, the Rangers used five additional picks on forwards, with all but one of them drafted out of the CHL. Those players included a pair of talents who brought significant offensive totals to the table, and at the extreme other end of the spectrum, the others didn’t have much in the way of offensive skills but had plenty of size, toughness, and grit.

Overall, the Rangers still have time left to see if McIlrath can crack the NHL on a full-time basis, and with the exception of Fast, the remainder of the draft could easily be seen as a bust.

Dylan McIlrath, D, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 3

After his draft year, the Rangers returned McIlrath to Moose Jaw, where he competed for two additional seasons, finishing with consecutive 23 point seasons with over 100 penalty minutes. Clearly, he has not been, nor should be, relied upon for offensive production. However, any additional offense created has been a bonus for a player who has come a long way.

His first two professional seasons with Hartford were learning experiences for him, as McIlrath worked on his skating, positioning, and shot blocking. He was rewarded with two brief stints in the NHL in each season. McIlrath been unable to crack the Rangers lineup for good partly due to his limited skill set, but also due to a logjam on the right side of the ice. He is behind Dan Girardi, Dan Boyle, and Kevin Klein, all capable defenseman in their own right. And at this point, learning the left side of the ice isn’t in the cards for McIlrath.

Looking at the first round in 2010, it’s fair to assume that the Rangers flat-out missed with this pick, especially with Anaheim’s Cam Fowler taken just two picks after McIlrath, and Vladimir Tarasenko lurking six picks later. It is easy to point out what went wrong for the Rangers, however, all fans are hoping for is a steady, physical, crease-clearing defenseman that can carve a niche for himself. He will be waiver-eligible beginning next season, so it will be interesting to see what the organization decides to do. 

Christian Thomas, RW, Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 21

The Rangers appeared to absolve themselves of the lack of skill taken during the draft’s first day, and kicked off the remainder of the draft by taking Christian Thomas, son of former NHL forward Steve. At first glance, it appeared to be an astute selection, as Thomas was coming off career-highs in goals and points. In fact, Thomas finished third among 2010 draftees with 41 goals, behind high first-round picks Jeff Skinner and Tyler Seguin.

Looks can be deceiving, however, as Thomas carried concerns over defensive zone coverage and his work ethic away from the puck. Despite his critics, he returned to a Generals team loaded with talent, resulting in 88 goals over his last two seasons in the OHL. His transition to professional hockey didn’t go as smoothly as anticipated, as Thomas struggled with the physicality and responsibilities placed on him. He finished his debut AHL season with 19 goals and 16 assists in 73 games, respectable numbers for a player expected to produce offensively.

The summer of 2013 afforded Thomas with a new opportunity, as the Rangers traded Thomas to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for former North Dakota forward Danny Kristo. It was a fairly odd trade, as both players were cut from a similar cloth. Thomas has yet to maintain a regular NHL job, and his production has steadily declined since the trade, perhaps proving the Rangers were correct to send him packing.

Andrew Yogan, LW, Erie Otters (OHL)
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Heading into the draft, Andrew Yogan was considered a potential first-round pick, but concerns over his concussion history and a broken leg suffered while blocking a shot led to a slip down the draft board. Injuries have plagued Yogan’s career, as he hasn’t been able to thrive thanks to a full, healthy season of hockey.

Yogan missed all but 10 games of the 2010-11 campaign with a major shoulder injury, and was subsequently traded to the Peterborough Petes of the OHL where he finally began to put things together. He finished his final year in the OHL with 41 goals and 38 assists in 66 games, only his second full season of hockey since his midget days in Florida. As a player who has always struggled with speed, the transition to professional hockey was filled with bumps and three demotions to the ECHL over the last three seasons.

Like Thomas, the Rangers gave up on Yogan and packaged him with defenseman Steven Kampfer, sending the pair to the Florida Panthers in exchange for journeyman Joey Crabb. Yogan hasn’t been able to overcome injury concerns, and doesn’t appear to be anything more than a depth forward at the AHL level.

Jason Wilson, RW, Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Looking back to 2010, the clutch-and-grab style of game still common and enforcers maintained a prominent role with their respective clubs. Every organization needed a player like Jason Wilson, a heart and soul, combative forward who excelled during physical confrontation.

Wilson was a bit of a late bloomer for Owen Sound, who acquired the versatile forward from the London Knights after his first season in the OHL. Wilson killed penalties and worked hard on most shifts, but didn’t provide much else beyond that. He topped out with 43 points in his final year in the OHL, spending that campaign with the Niagara IceDogs. Wilson was signed by the Rangers and assigned to their ECHL affiliate in Greenville, where he continued his pugilist ways.

Following the 2012-13 season, Wilson was granted his unconditional release and has toiled in the ECHL as a NHL free agent since. He is a character player and a fine individual, but the game may have passed him by, much like his fleeting NHL hopes.

Jesper Fast, RW, HV71 J20 (SuperElit)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 69

The saving grace of the 2010 draft, Jesper Fast’s last name accurately described why the Nassjo, Sweden native made it to the NHL, finally sticking there this year. Fast’s game is all about speed and working through traffic, as he carved an important bottom-six role for the Rangers in just his second year playing within the organization.

Fast grew up playing through HV71’s junior system, and even made his SHL debut before he was drafted. Fast worked hard to become an effective role player, learning the finer points of the game while also starring for his country at the 2011 World Junior Championships.

He spent two additional seasons in the SHL, and topped out with an 18 goal, 17 assist season in 2012-13 before he was named the league’s Gentleman of the Year. He finally made the jump overseas in 2013-14, and positively impacted the game for Hartford—scoring 34 points in 48 games. He earned 11 appearances down the stretch for the Rangers.

This season, Fast spent a month fine-tuning his game in Hartford but earned a regular job in November and never looked back. He became an important contributor for New York, who has relied upon the speedy Swede to kill penalties and provide them with a responsible bottom-six presence.

Randy McNaught, C, Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Rangers closed out the 2010 draft by selecting Saskatoon enforcer Randy McNaught. Usually the type of player available in free agency, it was a bit of a wasteful selection, as McNaught didn’t exactly bring much to the table other than being a physical force and he was selected as a 19 year-old draft re-entry.

He was clearly going to be a long-term project for the Rangers, as the organization hoped to utilize his 6’5”, 225 pound frame for more than being just a bruising fighter. He returned to the WHL for an overage season, but suffered a season-ending ankle injury just eight games into the season. It was believed that McNaught would sign a professional contract following the season, but he decided to enroll at the University of Calgary instead.

McNaught ultimately turned down the Rangers’ contract offer after appearing in a handful of games with their minor league affiliates in favor of retiring from the game.

Notable Playoff Performances

The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds opened up the playoffs at the end of March, with Brandon Halverson firmly entrenched in net. The team rolled in consecutive sweeps over the Saginaw Spirit and Guelph Storm, allowing only two goals or less in six of those first eight playoff games. The Greyhounds were tested in their third round matchup, facing off against Connor McDavid and the Erie Otters. Undisciplined play and lack of special teams production doomed them, but Halverson still looked solid in the face of adversity.

In Hartford, Oscar Lindberg, who was taken in 2010 by the Arizona Coyotes and traded to the Rangers organization, has embraced additional responsibilities and has rewarded that decision with increased offensive production. Lindberg has three goals and 13 assists in 15 games, second on the team in playoff scoring. He has been especially productive with the man advantage, tallying a number of assists and setting up plays on the half boards.

Lindberg’s contributions are being felt up front, but Brady Skjei brought a whole new type of fluidity to the Wolf Pack defense corps. Skjei only has one goal and two assists in 15 playoff games, but has been highly regarded as a calming, competitive influence on those around him. Skjei has been a shutdown defenseman, perhaps a bit of foreshadowing to what the Rangers can expect in the near future. 

Prospect of the Month: Adam Tambellini, LW, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

Adam Tambellini - Surrey EaglesThe Calgary Hitmen may have fallen short of reaching the WHL Championship Series, but Adam Tambellini’s final playoffs in the WHL proved to be a successful one. Tambellini led the WHL in playoff scoring up until the final pair of games, and finished with 13 goals and 13 assists in just 16 playoff games. His breakout season resulted in an entry-level contract, and the budding sniper is expected to report to Hartford next season.