The New York Rangers selected Michigan State University forward Lee Falardeau with the 33rd overall pick of the 2002 entry draft, which seemed a bit of a reach as he was ranked 31st among North American skaters by Central Scouting. Better-known and more highly regarded prospects such as Jarret Stoll or Joakim Lindstrom were still available. This, coupled with poor offensive statistics, led many people to write the selection off as bad scouting.
Falardeau’s journey to Rangers actually began three months prior to the draft on March 18th, the day before the 2002 NHL trade deadline. Hoping for a last push at the playoffs, the Rangers made a blockbuster deal that sent journeyman defenseman Igor Ulanov, prospect Filip Novak, and both the Rangers first and second round picks, 10th and 41st overall, to the Florida Panthers in exchange for injury-prone superstar Pavel Bure and Florida’s second round pick, 33rd overall. The move left the Rangers without a first rounder for the second time in three years, and made acquiring a solid player at 33 that much more important.
So when it came time for the Rangers to pick, the 6’4” 215 lbs Falardeau was their man.
“We had him rated a lot higher on our lists,” said Sather after the draft, a comment eerily similar to one made about Hugh Jessiman after the 2003 draft, which shows perhaps how important size is to Rangers scouting.
Falardeau, a native of Midland, Michigan, describes himself as reliable, two-way forward in the mold of Bobby Holik.
“I use my size to forecheck effectively and work hard at both ends of the ice,” said Falardeau on draft day, “I really enjoy going to the front of the net to create scoring opportunities.”
Sather likened him to former Ranger nemesis Joel Otto, who throughout his career was seen as the prototypical-checking center, but perhaps a more honest comparison is fellow collegiate and former Ranger Mike Eastwood, who shares Falardeau’s impressive frame, blue-collar attitude, and mediocre foot speed. Falardeau is one of the Spartans’ best defensive players, and is also one of their best penalty killers. He does not play much on the Power Play, but did notch one power play goal, along with one shorthanded.
Assuming his size and work ethic will translate well into the NHL, and his average speed will not be too much of a problem, the biggest question surrounding Falardeau is his offensive skill. After scoring 4 goals and 14 points in 34 games as a freshman, Falardeau followed with a solid sophomore effort where he netted 9 goals and 15 points in 39 games. This year both his goal and point totals dropped, down to 5 goals and 10 points in 35 games, along with a team worst –4.
Most of this can be attributed to Falardeau’s defensive responsibility of centering MSU’s “Grind Line”, which typically faces the opponent’s best players, but it should also be mentioned that Falardeau started off the season recovering from a knee injury that probably negatively affected his play through the first part of the season. Falardeau had arguably his best offensive outing of the season in the CCHA Playoffs opening round match against Ferris State back, where he notched a goal and an assist in a 5-3 Michigan State win. In the next round they were upset by Northern Michigan, 2-1, and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Minnesota Duluth 5-0.
So where does Falardeau fit into the Rangers future? If everything stays as it is, probably either as a third or fourth line grinder. But does the reliance of the NHL today on defensive systems make big hardworking players like Falardeau more important or less important? Since everyone is expected to work hard and play defense, does a one dimensional defensive player like Falardeau have a home anywhere other than the fourth line, earning limited minutes? Or does will his size let him flourish in today’s clutch and grab, interference filled game to the point where he could become an important piece of the Rangers puzzle?
These are questions that can wait at least another year, as Falardeau still has one season left at MSU. A year older, a year wiser, and more importantly a full year removed from injury, Falardeau may show in his senior year what the Rangers in him from the beginning.