The Rangers headed into the draft looking to take either Dan Blackburn or Pascal Leclaire, two goaltenders labeled as future franchise players, with the 10th overall selection. A lot of people thought that if they did happen to get one of them, it would be Pascal Leclaire. Minnesota was rumored to like Blackburn at 6th overall, and if they didn’t take him, he would be scooped up 9th overall by the Blackhawks. But the Blackhawks opted for Tuomo Ruutu, and it didn’t take long for General Manager Glen Sather and Assistant General Manager Don Maloney to walk up to the podium and select the 6’0 180 pound Dan Blackburn from the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League (WHL).
Dan Blackburn at 10th overall is a great selection. He will be a great player down the road. The Rangers filled a desperate need by drafting a goaltender in Blackburn, and they also took the best player available. The Rangers have already said they will not re-sign goaltender Kirk McLean, who is a free agent, and they have told Guy Hebert that he can talk to other teams to try and find a new home. Add in Mike Richter still recovering from a torn ACL in both knees, the goaltending for the Rangers looks shaky. Johan Holmqvist is still developing in Hartford and he could turn out to be a starter some day, and the Rangers have other goaltending prospects in Vitali Yeremeyev, Jason Labarbera, Johan Asplund and Henrik Lundqvist, but the Rangers felt Blackburn was the real deal and they proceded with the selection. Many scouts felt Blackburn was the best goaltender in the draft and would be the first netminder selected, but Columbus felt different and opted for Leclaire. Blackburn, as mentioned earlier is a 6 foot 180 pounder who catches left from Canmore, Alberta, Canada. Blackburn led the Kootenay Ice to the Memorial Cup in 1999-00 as a 16-year-old, being named the WHL’s Playoff MVP during that year and also the WHL rookie of the year. This past year as a 17-year-old with the Ice, he won 33 games while losing 14 and tying 2. He had a 2.77 Goals Against Average and a .907 Save Percentage. He was 7-4-0 in the playoffs with a 1.95 goals against average and a .939 Save Percentage before Kootenay was ousted from the WHL playoffs.
A goaltender who is completely focused during games, Blackburn fills the net well and has excellent lateral movement. He rarely leaves any holes for the shooter, and he is extremely confident with his puck stopping ability. He is not a stand-up goaltender nor a butterfly goalie, but he plays a style inbetween that is really effective. He has compared to Toronto all-star netminder Curtis Joseph, and if Blackburn can be that successful in the NHL, this selection will go down as one of the best 1st round picks by the Rangers in years. Blackburn will be given time to develop, and he will likely play 1 to 2 more years in the WHL and then a couple of seasons in Hartford of the American Hockey League before taking over for Mike Richter as the future in net for the New York Rangers. The Rangers now have arguably one of the best group of young goaltending prospects in the NHL, rivaling only the Buffalo Sabres, who have Martin Biron, Mika Noronen and Ryan Miller.
In the second round, the Rangers hit gold again. Fedor Tyutin, a 6’3 202 pound stay at home defenseman from Russia, was expected to be a middle-to-late 1st round pick. For some reason, Tyutin fell out of the 1st round and the Rangers grabbed him with the 40th overall pick. Tyutin shoots left handed and played this past season for St. Petersburg in Russia. The selection of this pick proves that the team took the best player available, as power forward Alexander Polushin, also projected to be a mid-to-late 1st round pick, was still on the board. Fedor Tyutin plays a physical game and is a solid defenseman at both ends of the ice. He has soft hands, good hockey sense and is a good skater. The Rangers defense got a lot bigger and better with this selection. On top of that, Tyutin could possibly be in the NHL or Hartford next season. He has played in the Russian Elite league against men for two years, and has been impressive to say the least.
In the 3rd round, the Rangers were slotted to pick 74th overall, but they traded down with the Minnesota Wild. The Rangers received the 79th pick overall in the deal. Jay Harrison, a 6-3 200 pound physical, dominating stay-at-home defenseman from Brampton of the OHL somehow was still on the board, yet the Rangers passed on him to take center Garth Murray from the Regina Pats of the WHL. Harrison fell in the draft and was picked 82nd overall, in the 3rd round, by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Murray is a 6’2 205 pound Center/Left Wing who will turn 19 in September. He scored 28 goals while adding 16 assists in 72 games for the Regina Pats this past season, including 183 penalty minutes. He is a projected 3rd liner who plays with a lot of heart and character. He is great in the defensive zone, as he blocks shots and plays the body effectively. He doesn’t back down from the physical play and mixes it up in the corners. He is a solid two-way forward, although he doesn’t project to be a scorer in the NHL. Murray will be given time to develop, and is a couple of years away from the NHL.
Heading into rounds 4-9 tomorrow, the Rangers hold a pick in each round except the 5th round, which they dealt to Colorado in mid-season for Alexei Gusarov, who they then dealt for Peter Smrek.