Rangers 2008 draft preview

By Leslie Treff

Top 10 Prospects

1. Alexei Cherepanov
2. Bobby Sanguinetti
3. Artem Anisimov
4. Alex Bourret
5. Michael Sauer
6. Ivan Baranka
7. Greg Moore
8. Lauri Korpikoski
9. Dane Byers
10. Hugh Jessiman

Team Needs

It is no secret that the Rangers need more defensive prospects in their system. The highest ranked defensive prospect, Bobby Sanguinetti, has just completed his junior hockey career and will most likely need at least one year of AHL seasoning before becoming an NHL-ready offensive blueliner. Ivan Baranka, who has been injury-plagued for the last three seasons, has returned to Europe and it is questionable as to whether or not he will return to North America. Finally, although Michael Sauer has the potential to become a No. 3 or 4 defenseman, he has a bit of development left to get there.

Given the Blueshirts weakness in this area (both in the system and on the NHL club), the team would be most helped by either drafting an NHL-ready blueliner this year or signing one of several available defensive UFAs. Given the expected tight salary cap situation and the competition from other NHL teams, both a power play quarterback and a solid hard-hitting defensive blueliner will be difficult to obtain.

Drafting an NHL-ready blueliner would be preferable, however, although there are several of those players potentially available in this week’s NHL Entry Draft, the Rangers would have to trade up from their No. 20 draft position to get one. The question then becomes what assets the Blueshirts would have to give up to draft one of the potentially NHL-ready blueliners, whether there is an NHL team interested in making such a deal, and whether the Rangers’ management is willing to pull the trigger.

This is not a likely scenario, as the price would be too high for the Rangers to move up the approximately 15 spots to be assured of getting that NHL-ready player. Alternatively, given the plethora of solid defensive players available in this Entry Draft, the Blueshirts might choose to move down several spots to gain an extra second or third round pick this or next year. This is more likely, as the Rangers will probably be able to get as good a defensive prospect in the mid-20s as at number 20.

The Rangers are also in need of a power forward. Although both prospects Dane Byers and Hugh Jessiman have the potential to be that player, neither appears to be on the cusp of filling that role, and there is a good chance that neither will ever develop into it. Although 2008 draftees Joe Colborne and Kirill Petrov have the potential to become NHL power forwards, it is unlikely that either will be available at the 20th pick. Jared Staal and Jimmy Hayes also have the potential to become the kind of wingers that the Rangers are looking for, however, both are likely to go later, so using the late first-round pick on either of those players would most likely be a mistake. And if the team can trade down and pick up an early second-round pick, either Staal or Hayes would be good pickups in that position.

Thus, the Rangers are likely to select a defenseman with the 20th or slightly lower pick and wait until the second round to pick up a forward.

Organizational strengths

The Rangers are very strong up the middle. With Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, and Brandon Dubinsky as NHL centers, as well as Artem Anisimov and converted wing Greg Moore soon to join them, New York’s greatest strength is at center. Additionally, with Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes, absent injury, the Blueshirts are set for many years. Just in case Lundqvist should falter or go down to injury, prospects David Leneveu, Miika Wiikman, and Matt Zaba are waiting for an opportunity to show that they are ready to step into the highest level.    

Organizational needs

The Rangers defense has been a problem for several years. With no legitimate offensive blueliner to quarterback the power play, scoring on special teams has been weak. Although the additions of Dan Girardi, Fedor Tyutin, and Marc Staal over the last two seasons have improved the Rangers’ defense corps, it is not yet of the quality that can withstand the playoff grind at the end of the season. The defense needs to be upgraded, including the addition of a top offensive defenseman and a very gritty, tough stay-at-home blueliner, for the Rangers to contend for the cup. Although Bob Sanguinetti has the potential to be such a power-play quarterback, the Rangers don’t have a very tough big defenseman among their prospects.

Draft tendencies

The Rangers have made 45 draft selections over the last five years. Over that period of time, New York has selected a very good mixture of CHL, college-bound, and European players (19, 11, 15, respectively). Although that total is somewhat deceptive (2007 Swedish selection Carl Hagelin attended the University of Michigan this past year), over the course of the five-year period, more and more CHL and European players have been selected. Over the past three years, the Rangers have only drafted three college-bound young men, while they selected 13 CHLers and six European athletes. Of the four that have played regularly for the NHL team (i.e., Marc Staal, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, and Nigel Dawes), all were drafted out of the CHL. It is expected that the trend toward drafting CHLers and Europeans will continue (the lack of an IIHF transfer agreement notwithstanding) this year.

Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft Result:
Colby Robak

Over the last four years, the team has only selected six defensemen in the NHL Entry Drafts, and every single one of them came from the CHL. Although choosing another CHL blueliner is not a sure thing, with this year’s wealth of highly-rated major junior defensemen who have faced top-level competition, it is hard to believe that the Rangers would pass up an opportunity to select another one in the first round of the Entry Draft. With Alex Pietrangelo, Zach Bogosian, Drew Doughty and Luke Schenn all long gone, the Rangers were hoping to draft either Tyler Myers or Colten Teubert at No.  20. However, even in the HF’s mock draft, the Rangers’ draft position was too low to secure one of these big defensive blueliners.  With puck moving defensemen Michael Del Zotto and Luca Sbisa also taken at 18 and 19, the Rangers select Colby Robak, of the WHL Brandon Wheat Kings. Robak is an offensive blueliner who played well in the recent U18 WJCs.  Although somewhat weak defensively during the WHL season, the big defenseman made huge strides in all areas of his game during his sophomore major junior season, and is expected to continue to grow into well-rounded blueliner over the next two years.