The Rangers are a team known more for using their “big bucks” rather then their “brain trust”, but times seemed to have changed at the 1999 NHL draft as the Rangers decided they were going to try and swing for the fences. After acquiring Pavel Brendl with the fourth selection many people thought the Rangers were done, but they were just warming up. After completing the deal with Calgary GM AL Coates the night before, the Rangers nabbed a kid whom they had been watching since early November, Moose Jaw Warriors forward Jamie Lundmark. Though the price was heavy the Rangers might just be able to look back and say they got the steal of the draft for the second year in a row.
In 1998 the Rangers fortune rolled a lucky seven when Guelph Storm center Manny Malhotra fell into their laps. Touted as a good character player, their were still concerns about his scoring ability. After all is said and done he may be a decent scorer and a very solid second line center a la Mike Peca. He is however not the kind of player you build a team around. Then as luck would have it, the hockey gods sent the Rangers another gift. With the 9th pick the Rangers hoped to nab left winger Taylor Pyatt of the Sudbury Wolves. They had him 7th on their list but when Pyatt was taken 8th that meant Jamie Lundmark was still there at number 9. The Rangers had Lundmark 5th on their list but as usual, teams have different preferences. While there is some speculation as to whether Al Coates really liked Saprykin better, sources close to Calgary said the Flames had no idea that Lundmark would slip to ninth. The deal was completed the night before but neither team wanted to announce it because the veto power laid with the Rangers. Even though Pyatt was gone, the Rangers were not going to pass on Lundmark and thus the trade went through. As much as the Flames will mention “their own list” and how happy they are with Saprykin… two seperate sources within the Flames tell me that had they known Lundmark would be there the deal “would never have taken place”. For the second straight year the Ranger’s nabbed a kid they didn’t think they’d get.
The Rangers were one of the first teams to scout Lundmark back in November and right away they fell in love with him. His wreckless style reminded chief scout Martin Madden of a young Jeremy Roenick, while scout Darwin Bennett saw a lot of Adam Graves in the young hard working kid. It is rare to find a kid with as much natural skill and works as hard as Lundmark.
Lundmark has a right handed shot which makes him especially dangerous on the powerplay. He has a beautiful wrist shot that is better then 90% of the centers in the NHL. He can top shelf with it and get some really deadly speed on it too. Everytime this kid is on the ice he is a threat to score. He is by far one of the swiftist junior skaters ever. This kid set all kinds of records at the CHL prospects game. He leaves a trail of fire behind him. In a game against the Regina Pats earlier this year he went end to end and then beat the goalie with an awesome wrister. This kid is talented enough to score highlight reel goals but the difference is this kid takes a pounding too. His jersey is always covered with black marks because he fearlessly goes into the corners and battles. Can’t beat you with a pretty goal? No problem he will just stand right in front of the crease and annoy your goalie. Shut him down scoring a goal? Good luck trying to stop him from setting one up. His on ice vision is very good. While he will never be an elite passer like an Adam Oates, he can find the open man often. His passes are always right on the tape. Lundmark also is a decent fighter. Make no bones about it, he isn’t a heavy weight and shouldn’t be the one fighting, but he doesn’t back down one minute.
The question of course comes up “Why would he slip so far if he is so good?”. That is not as hard of a question to answer as some would think. It makes sense with an NHL trend. Last year, in the 98 draft, size took a back seat to skill, and hastiness took a back seat to patience. Teams knew they would have to wait a year or two to see the results of their draft. However the 99 draft was filled with 4 picks who could easily play next year. Below that were a level of kids who were talented but a little bit further away. As it turns out the Islanders simply preferred Connolly over Lundmark despite most people agreeing that Lundmark had more upside. The Preds went with a goalie which they need more then another center, that is understandable. The real key came at number 7. The Capitals opted to go with more size in Beech, and thats all it came down to. Beech is a very talented center but other then size Lundmark is the better pick. The caps however are not a big team and thus a bigger center was needed. It was one of those judgment calls depending on the team drafting. The Islanders picked 8th, the only reason they decided not to pick Lundmark was that Connelly was already chosen and Pyatt is a better winger then Lundmark. So essentially Lundmark just didn’t get lucky. Had LA kept the 8th pick he would have slipped no further then them. Had he been available in 98 it can be argued that he would have gone as high as third. In the end it was just a fluke that he slipped that far.
With all his skills there is only one knock on Lundmark and that is his size. At 6’0, and 180 pounds he is not physically ready for the NHL yet. However his work ethic is not to be forgotten. He is the type of kid who will do anything to make the NHL and in his case he will add the necessary weight. With some kids you wonder if they are willing to work to be in prime NHL shape. With some kids like Stefan Cherneski it’s a no brainer, with other kids like a David Legwand you have to press them a little more. Lundmark should go back to the WHL for one more year at least.
Lundmark may be the best player in the draft once he physically matures. Five or six years from now he may turn out to be the steal of the draft. He will be a great two way center.