Ranked as one of the lowest Prospect teams in the NHL by most experts the Rangers went into the 1999 NHL draft in Boston with the hopes of turning things around. Well I guess a 180 is about as big of a turn around as you can expect. Neil Smith took a gamble on moving up in the draft which should have been expected since he told all the NY papers he wasn’t interested in moving up. The first deal was a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning which gave Neil Smith the 4th overall pick in the draft and guaranteed him the chance to draft one of the tier one prospects in the draft no matter what. When the Atlanta Thrasher decided Stefan was their man and the Vancouver Canucks pulled off a coop by nabbing the Sedin twins the Rangers realized for the second straight year a top gun fell into their lap. Pavel Brendl, the offensive catalyst of the WHL Calgary Hitmen was theirs. Without a second thought the Rangers made their move and got what they have not had since Mike Gartner, a pure scoring sniper.
The Rangers weren’t done though. Shaking the pot a bit they traded Marc Savard and the 11th pick to Calgary for the 9th pick. The Rangers eyed Jamie Lundmark… the Rangers prize prospect all year long. Scouts saw him and they were screaming Jeremy Roenick…and he quickly became the guy the Rangers wanted. When the Isles claimed Taylor Pyatt 8th the groundwork was laid for the claiming of the kid who “turned the entire Moose Jaw Program around” as Martin Madden, director of pro scouting for the Rangers, called Lundmark in an interview before the draft.
With the 11th overall pick in a very deep draft the Rangers are in position to walk away with a very solid player for their future. Below is a brief list of some of the players the Rangers have focused in on with the 11th pick.
Taylor Pyatt: LW,6’4 220 pounds: A power left winger in the making, Pyatt is first on the Rangers wish list. He has super size, a great shot and great speed. His speed is what seperates him from the rest of big power fowards available. Forget about him playing in the NHL for at least two years. However he is the type of kid who could turn around and be the ultimate power foward when he does. He is such a big kid he could be a huge hit or a miss. He has to feel totally comfortable with his body and use his size more often.
Jani Rita: RW,6’1, 205: This kid is a power foward just like Pyatt. While his size isn’t as good as Pyatt’s his skill level is world class. Questions have come up about his scoring, but when you look below the surface you see his lackluster linemates and you see him playing against guys who in some cases are 4 or 5 years his elder. He will score at the NHL level… and in my opinion will net 40 goals someday at this level. He is actually better then Pyatt and if I had to chose I’d take Rita.
The 1999 NHL Entry Draft is projected as one of the deepest drafts in years. And for Neil Smith, it represents the most important draft in his tenure as general manager of the New York Rangers.
That’s because it could be his last.
With the Rangers having missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year, the pressure is on Smith to end that streak next season. And next season starts on June 26 at the Fleet Center in Boston. The Rangers will be picking 11th overall in this year’s draft, and it is up to Smith, Director of Scouting Martin Madden, and the rest of the Ranger scouting staff to select a cornerstone player for an organization that has very few of them.
Needs: The Rangers pool of young players and prospects is one of the shallowest in the NHL, so they have many holes to fill. But their most glaring need is at the wing position, specifically, wingers of the high-scoring variety. The Rangers haven’t had a pure sniper since the days of Mike Gartner. And their best prospect on the wings, Stefan Cherneski, is still recovering from a shattered kneecap. New York needs a scorer in their system, and they need it badly.
Another position of need is defense. The Rangers have a few nice prospects in Burke Henry, Kim Johnsson, and Mike Mottau, but they don’t have a franchise-type defenseman in the system. Brian Leetch is not going to be around forever.
The Rangers picked Stefan Cherneski as their first pick in 1997. The Rangers didn’t have a franchise player on their hands, but a hard working kid who was destined for the NHL. Two years later, Cherneski’s career has been filled with triumph and tragedy and his hockey career lays in question.
Cherneski’s life started out a battle. The second child born to his family, Stefan was born 8 weeks premature and doctors were concerned for him. They wouldn’t allow him to go home for another 8 weeks as they placed his tiny body in an incubator to increase his chances for survival. Growing up Stefan became involved in local midget clubs but was never seen as a knock over prospect and thus he never heard his name called in the WHL draft. After signing with the Brandon Wheat Kings prior to the 95-96 season, Cherneski’s rookie year was not the most memorable. Stuck primarily in a third line left winger’s role on a deep and talented Brandon team, Cherneski finished with only 8 goals. Only 5’11 and 185 pounds at the time Cherneski didn’t have the raw ability to crack the Wheat Kings top line, or so everyone thought.
After spending $44 million last year and failing to make the playoffs, things could not be looking worse for the Rangers. When the media is talking draft in March, something went wrong. What went wrong was the Rangers were just too darn old. Although possessing a few solid prospects, most were from resent drafts and thus were only 18 and 19 years old and most were not under contract. As the draft grew closer the Rangers had their sights set on a center, a big center with allot of upside. Unfortunately their top choices David Legwand and Manny Malhotra were ranked second and sixth respectively. Most experts actually expected them to go second and third. The Rangers chance to draft a big time center was slim. But something happened on that hot June day, somehow to the Rangers surprise Malhotra fell into their laps.