Sometimes in the world of professional sports we get so caught up in the state of the game we forget the underlying facts. As I visit sites on the Internet and listen to a million unemployed GM’s I soon realize that many of them simply have no idea what they are talking about. They talk about the Rangers prospects and obviously the first two to come up are the Rangers crown jewels, 1999 first rounder’s Pavel Brendl and Jamie Lundmark. Perhaps the most disturbing thing is how uninformed they are about the situations of these two very talented but very different players. They assume that they are simply draft day busts by looking at the stats, but the simple truth is that to understand where these kids are coming from you must look far beyond the numbers. Fortunately there are some observers (including the Ranger’s brass amongst others) who have realized this, but for the rest of the pack the answer simply isn’t clear to them.
Pavel Brendl was supposed to make the Rangers. Pavel Brendl was supposed to net 25 goals this year. Pavel Brendl was supposed to be the Ranger’s savior. Pavel Brendl is playing with Calgary down in the WHL. At first glance one can gather that just playing another year in junior that Brendl is already a flop. Once you read between the lines though you discover that going back to junior is probably the best thing that ever happened to him. Brendl came in out of shape and unmotivated, he figured he had a roster spot all locked up. The Rangers gave him every chance to make the team but Pavel simply blew it. But wait there is a silver lining to this cloud. Brendl’s demotion was a wake up by the Rangers. No longer could Brendl take anything for granted, if he was going to make it to the NHL he will have to earn it no matter what it cost the team to acquire the chance to draft him. So far this season Brendl has picked up right where he left up with points. But that’s not what the Rangers are most interested in. They know the points will come, face it netting 130 plus points as a rookie is no fluke. They also are aware that Brendl is on the most lethal offensive machine in recent WHL history. His points will come even with one hand behind his back. What the Rangers concern is how Brendl approaches the game. Brendl often seems, shall we say aloof at times. His mind has tendency to wander and you wonder if he is the second coming of Alex Kovalev and not Mike Bossy. But Brendl has grown up a little this year and taken his fitness approach to a whole new level. He still is not in peak shape, but working with a trainer appointed to him by the Rangers has helped considerably. Brendl is in the best shape of his life and it should only get better. He is down from his weight of 204 last year and has replaced much of his fat with more solid muscle. The 6’1, 195 pound winger has also shown a more gritty side this season as he is already approaching his penalty minute total from last season. Point in case that Brendl has heard the alarm clock and “the big bear” is done hibernating.
While Pavel Brendl is enjoying the fruits of playing for one of the top teams in the CHL, Jamie Lundmark is getting used to dealing with a team full of rookies. Last year Lundmark played for a Moose Jaw that was just slightly above average but at the very least a playoff team. This season Jamie hasn’t be quite so lucky. He has seen himself surrounded by WHL rookies for most of the season and has often had to deal with many of their rookie mistakes. Last year Jamie himself was a rookie but any mistakes he made were often covered up by his elder teammates. This year there is no room for error, so how Jamie buckled. No way! Jamie has taken his game and evolved it into a new facit. He has been solid defensively and would probably had a plus rating had it not been for break downs by his teammates. In fact Jamie’s minus one rating is very good considering in Moose Jaw’s history they have never been a solid defensive team and this year is no exception. The points haven’t come as easy this year as they did last year for Jamie but it’s not a result of his own skills but rather a learning process by his teammates. As of 12-4-99, Jamie was the only player on his team to have over a point per game average. In fact most of teammates weren’t even close to a point per game average. Yet Jamie keeps plugging away and his numbers have gone up. Whereas Brendl will get the points no matter what, Jamie has to work. It is scary to wonder what his numbers would be like if he were playing on oh let’s say a Calgary Hitmen team that surrounded him with all star linemates. Instead if Jamie wants points he has to get them by himself for the most part. While most draftees are disappointing if their numbers don’t go up, the general feeling around the league is that if Lundmark comes anywhere close to his point per game total of last year it shows he has continued to develop. He is doing it with a much less experiences team then last year and he is essentially the Warriors offense in a bottle. Netting anywhere around 80 points on an average at best Moose Jaw team is just about equal to about 115 points on a better team. His penalty minutes are down but then again why does he have to sit in the box? That only hurts his team…like a true leader Jamie fights when he has to or to juice some life into a sagging bench. Last year I said he reminded me of Jeremy Roenick but this year I see a lot more Steve Yzerman… a solid two way centerman. He has shown true character this season. Once again, it goes far beyond a numbers game.
As the old saying goes, there are two sides to every story. In sports this is always the case, as numbers can often fool you. Pavel Brendl is scoring like he did last year, but it is improved fitness and attitude that is what the Rangers wanted to see and so far have. If Brendl continues his commitment he could very well be everything everyone said he was. He has the skills, all he need was the mindset. Jamie Lundmark is scoring like he did last year too, but on a worse Moose Jaw team. He is a one man show, and is more then likely going to make the World Junior Championship team for Canada this winter. He has proven a two way threat and has shown character off the scale. His offensive numbers are deceiving because of his team, but Jamie too has hit a whole new level with his play. Both have matured physically as well. Pavel has worked off some fat and checks in at a more suitable 6’1 195 as compared to his more flabby 6’0 204 pound frame from last year. Jamie has continued to work out and bulk up without losing any of his speed. He is still 6’0 but is a more solid 185 compared to last year’s 174. The Rangers would like to see him reach about 190 or 195 but only if it doesn’t take away his speed. Both prospects have continued to develop and their games go beyond the numbers. The question with these two is not so much will they play but where will they play. The Rangers have a history of throwing prospects away for a quick fix, but these two blue chippers could someday form the backbone of the team as a first line unit. After seeing Mike York and Kim Johnnson as the only bright spots in the Big Apple this season, Ranger fans might want to know that Lundmark and Brendl are even better. Keep your fingers cross New Yorkers, pray that management doesn’t throw away these two crown jewels.