The New York Rangers, with General Manager Glen Sather at the helm, entered the 2005 NHL Entry Draft with many holes to fill on their docket. With nine draft selections in seven round at their disposal by the end of the day, Sather had given his scouting staff ample opportunity to go a long way in filling those holes.
The main hole in the organizational depth chart that Sather had to make strides towards filling was on the blue line. Sather made no mistake in focusing heavily on alleviating these defensive concerns, by selecting defensemen early and often, starting with his first selection, where one of the more highly touted defensive prospects available had fallen a little further down the draft board than was expected.
Marc Staal, D
1st round (12th overall), 6’3, 196 lbs., Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
In selecting Staal with their first selection in the NHL Entry Draft, Glen Sather added a solid, mobile, defenseman who played a key role with the Sudbury Wolves this past season. Staal is big at 6’3, and plays his size, though there is still the potential for him to fill out and get even stronger. Staal brings great defensive awareness to complement the all-around prowess of fellow top defensive prospect Fedor Tyutin, as well as a solid physical game. Staal regularly played against the opposition’s top lines, and posted the second-best plus/minus rating on the team (+22), while not bringing overwhelming offensive numbers (only 26 points in 65 games).
Staal is a very safe pick, who comes from a blossoming hockey bloodline. His older brother Eric Staal is already a valuable contributor to the Carolina Hurricanes, while his younger brother Jordan Staal, also highly touted, is currently coming through the junior ranks just behind him. In Mark, the Rangers acquired a player who may not be flashy, but is capable, and can get things done competently, but quietly.
Michael Sauer, D
2nd round (40th overall), 6’2, 198 lbs., Portland Winter Hawks (WHL)
With his second selection, Sather took a bit of a calculated risk in selecting his second defenseman of the day, American born blueliner Michael Sauer, from Portland of the WHL. Sauer is big and mobile and plays with a physical edge to his game, but along with that physicality, Sauer is also disciplined, knowing when to be physical and when to play positionally instead.
Last season was to be his first full year in the WHL, but he suffered a fairly serious injury at about the midway point of the season, tearing a muscle in his hip after only 32 games, which shut him down for the rest of the season. Prior to his injury, Sauer was having a good rookie season, garnering lots of ice time alongside highly-touted Braydon Coburn, and picking up 13 points. There was initial concern that Sauer, the brother of NHLer Kurt Sauer, would opt out of the draft as a result of what he may have deemed a lost season, however the Rangers were not dissuaded, selecting him relatively early, and adding another strong defenseman to the fold in as many picks.
Marc-André Cliche, RW
2nd round (56th overall), 6’0, 175 lbs., Lewiston MAINEiacs (QMJHL)
With his third selection in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft (acquired earlier in the day from the Montreal Canadians for the 45th selection), General Manager Glen Sather chose his third straight product of the CHL, in looking east to the Quebec League, taking Lewiston forward Marc-André Cliche.
Cliche, who was not rated in Hockey’s Future’s Top 40 QMJHL draft eligible prospects list in May, was hampered by injuries throughout his sophomore campaign with the MAINEiacs. Limited to only 19 games for Lewiston this past season as a result of chronic shoulder problems, Cliche, a slick (if slight) playmaking forward, compiled four goals and four assists, spending time on the second and third lines for Lewiston. A solid skater with great offensive instincts, Cliche, now healthy, will take on a leading role for a MAINEiacs roster that will be without Alexandre Picard and Alex Bourret in the upcoming season.
Brodie Dupont, C
3rd round (66th overall), 6’1, 192 lbs., Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
With the second pick acquired in the deal with Montreal, Sather went back to the Western Hockey League to snag Calgary Hitmen forward Brodie Dupont. Dupont, a native of Manitoba, brings a mix of size and skill to the table, with a fearless, up-tempo style of play that made him very attractive to scouts in spite of some inconsistencies over the course of the season.
Dupont had a very mediocre start to the season, with only eight points by the halfway point of the season, but turned it on in the second half, both offensively and physically, upping his point total to 25 by season’s end, and garnering him more ice time in the process. Dupont can and will play in all situations, thriving on special teams, and is not afraid to go to war in the trenches in high traffic areas, as he did for the Hitmen this past season. A leader and a fan favorite, he will look to continue to hone his skills and improve his discipline while maintaining his pit-bull demeanor in the 2005-06 season.
Dalyn Flatt, D
3rd round, 77th overall, 6’3, 215 lbs., Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
The Rangers used their fifth selection to head to the Western Hockey League again, selecting their third defenseman of the draft, selecting large Saskatoon blueliner Dalyn Flatt. In picking Flatt with their own third round selection, the Rangers added another invaluable defensive defenseman to their stable, which already included Staal and Sauer.
Flatt had an excellent season for the Blades last year, not bringing dynamite offensive numbers, though 19 points from a defensive-minded defenseman is nothing to scoff at, as he increased his career point totals nearly tenfold. He brought an in-your-face physical style that is lacking on the Rangers blue line. Flatt was third in the WHL in penalty minutes with 237, but this perceived lack of discipline did not adversely affect his defensive game, as he also finished fourth in the league with a +36 rating. A good, if unflashy defensive-minded defenseman, Flatt’s physical presence could be an important contribution for the Rangers in the future.
Tom Pyatt, C
4th round (107th overall), 5’11, 180 lbs., Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Continuing their drafting of prospects with NHL bloodlines, the Rangers selected skilled forward Tom Pyatt, brother of Taylor Pyatt, with their fourth round selection, again keeping their drafting within the CHL.
Not boasting great size or good skating, like his brother, Pyatt is instead a gifted playmaker with great vision in the offensive zone, attributes, it turns out, were lacking in his brother’s repertoire. Solid and confident at both ends of the ice, Pyatt can light it up offensively, or serve in a shut-down role on penalty killing units and in the face-off circle. In his second season with the inexperienced Spirit squad, Pyatt compiled 48 points in only 57 games (missing time for the Under-18 championships, where he put forth a good showing), good enough for third on the team. There are concerns among scouts about his consistency, but when Pyatt is on his game, he is a treat to watch. If he can gain some consistency while maintaining his excellent two-way play, then he should be of excellent value for a fourth-round selection.
Trevor Koverko, D
5th round (147th overall), 6’3, 215 lbs., Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
Sather selected another defenseman with his fifth round selection, picking Owen Sound defenseman Trevor Koverko.
Koverko brings great size, solid defensive play, and a sound physical game to the table. Positionally sound, and willing to throw his ample frame around, Koverko is not easy to get around, and works well in one-on-one situations. Like the other Rangers picks on the blue line in the 2005 draft, Koverko is not going to dazzle with any offensive skills. He picked up only one goal and 13 points in 66 games for the Attack. If he can add an offensive dimension to his game without neglecting his sound defensive play, Koverko could be a bit of a surprise. However, what the Rangers have at present is another safe, competent, likely unheralded defensive selection.
Greg Beller, W
6th round (178th overall), 6’2, 188 lbs., Lake of the Woods (USHS)
The Rangers first (and only) selection outside of the CHL in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft was their sixth round pick, in which they selected American high school player Greg Beller. Beller, who will likely play in the USHL next season for Green Bay, is coming off a dynamite offensive season with Baudette, MN’s Lake of the Woods High School, where he posted 48 points in 21 games.
Beller has a great nose for the net and excellent stickhandling ability, putting up more than a goal of the game in high school play. He also has good size and decent foot speed. He has spent the part of the off-season rehabbing a slight knee injury, which slowed him a bit in a Rangers developmental camp, however he still performed quite well. If he can translate his success in high school the USHL, the Rangers may have a very good sleeper on their hands.
Ryan Russell, C
7th round (211th overall), 5’9, 165 lbs., Kootenay Ice (WHL)
The Rangers used their final selection in the 2005 draft to select another Canadian product, Russell, a pint-sized centerman for Kootenay. Russell, whose twin brother Kris Russell was selected earlier in the draft by Columbus, is a great offensive talent. He is small and shifty, with great foot speed and excellent on-ice vision and offensive creativity. Russell picked up 32 goals (second on the team to fellow Rangers prospect Nigel Dawes), and finished fourth on the team in points with 53, while also posting an excellent plus/minus rating.
His size is, of course, a concern at this point, as is his lack of physicality, but Russell’s skill set and quickness goes a long way in alleviating those concerns. If he can improve his strength and toughness, there is little reason why he cannot transfer his skills to the professional game a couple of years down the road.
The 2005 NHL Entry Draft class for the New York Rangers presents a major deviation from the typical approach of the Rangers on draft day. Eight of the nine players selected by the Rangers were products of the CHL, while the other played American high school hockey last season. Therefore, the Rangers selected no European players in this year’s draft, when in recent years, Europeans accounted for nearly 40 percent of their selections. Also, deviating from their recent history, the Rangers failed to select a single NCAA talent. The last three drafts saw the Rangers pick an NCAA player with their first selection (Montoya, Jessiman, and Falardeau), while 15 percent of their selections have come from the U.S. college ranks.
What the Rangers lacked in consistency to their past tendencies (which has kept them out of the playoffs for the duration of the focus period), they made up for in smart selections. With five of the first 80 picks in their possession, the Rangers went a long way in solidifying their blue line. Staal and Sauer give the Rangers two bona fide defensive talents, which, coupled with Tyutin, give them a solid base to build upon. Cliche, Dupont, Pyatt, and Russell give the Rangers solid offensive prospects with high skill levels, but each with their own deficiencies that will have to be remedied if they are to make the jump to the next level. Flatt and Koverko give the Rangers blue line further defensive responsibility, physicality, and muscle. And in Beller, the Rangers add another great (if still relatively unproven at a high level) offensive talent in the making with good size to match.
Though the Rangers may eventually make out like bandits from this year’s draft class, they will have done so in a risky fashion. Two of their first three selections are coming off major injuries in their draft year, and both were believed to be likely candidates to opt out in the period leading up to the draft. If Cliche and Sauer can recover fully from their serious injuries, and show the promise they displayed prior to their injuries, then the Rangers draft class will look like less of a risk. However, they have to show that they can remain healthy for an entire season first.
Jason Ahrens, Aaron Vickers, Sean Keogh, Guy Flaming and Holly Gunning contributed to this article.
Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.