Rangers 2008 draft review

By Leslie Treff

The Rangers drafted seven players, including four forwards and three defensemen, in this weekend’s NHL Entry Draft. Of the seven draftees, four players were selected out of the CHL, two are from Europe, and one from the pre-eminent Minnesota hockey high school, Shattuck St-Mary’s.  The team added size and skill to its stable of prospects, and continued in its recent pattern of selecting players who for one reason or another had fallen somewhat out of favor. For the past several years, the Rangers have drafted several high-risk, high-reward players, and this year was no exception. Given the team’s position in the draft order, it is a reasonable strategy; whether it will work out in the long term remains to be seen.

The Blueshirts went into the draft with six selections (one pick in every round but the fourth), but as the result of two Saturday trades, the team added two picks. The cost was prospect Alex Bourret and a fourth-round selection next year.

Michael Del Zotto, D — OHL Oshawa Generals

First Round, 20th overall
6/24/90; 6’0, 196

Marc Staal, Bobby Sanguinetti, Alexei Cherepanov and now Michael Del Zotto — all highly skilled players that dropped to the Rangers from an expected higher position. Some pundits had Del Zotto going in the Top 15 in the draft, some even in the Top 12. When he was available in the 20th position, the Rangers grabbed him. The best player available at that draft position, the Rangers got an offensive defenseman who has experience playing with top notch talent — Steven Stamkos and John Tavares among them.

Del Zotto was touted as a Top 10 selection when the rankings first appeared last season. A former first round, 2nd overall, OHL Priority Draft selection, Del Zotto’s stock has dropped over the last year because he has at times struggled in his own end. Additionally, although he put up excellent numbers in his rookie 2006-07 season, he did not significantly improve his offensive production this season. Finally, Del Zotto’s international experience for a player of his caliber is slim. In fact, he was not chosen to play for the U-18 team last season nor named to the 2009 U-20 Summer Development Camp roster announced today by Hockey Canada.

Despite questions about his defensive play, there is no question that Del Zotto has excellent offensive skills and is excited to be a Ranger. "Unbelievable to be drafted by a team with such a great history, great young players coming up… I am just happy to be a part of it," he said.

Head Coach Tom Renney appreciates Del Zotto’s offensive instincts, looking forward "to seeing how much he can create for us on the back end."

Derek Stepan, C – USHSW Shattuck St. Mary’s

Second Round, 51st overall
6/18/90; 6’0, 168

The Rangers and the Stepan family have a history — Derek’s father Brad was selected by New York as the 91st overall pick in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft. Although Brad never played beyond the IHL level, Derek is hoping to become a Ranger "one day in the not too distant future."

It was more than the Rangers connection that influenced the team’s decision to select the lanky forward in the second round of this weekend’s draft. Stepan was the leading scorer on the Shattuck team, a roster that included top prospects David Toews and David Carle. Stepan’s 111 points (44 goals, 67 assists) in 60 games played were the best in the state at his level of play.

The scouting report on the center is that he has an excellent release and good hands, which when combined with his skating speed, make Stepan a top prospect. A good forechecker, who is a creative playmaker, Stepan has all the raw tools to become an NHL player.

Stepan will attend the University of Wisconsin this fall and continue to work on improving his size and strength.

Evgeny Grachev, C – RussiaDi Yaroslavl Lokomotiv

Third Round, 75th overall
2/21/90; 6’3, 202

Grachev was ranked second among European skaters in the NHL Central Scouting Midseason Rankings. He dropped to ninth among European skaters in the final listings, however, he was ranked 24th overall by ISS pre-draft. He is a very physical player, big and very strong, who can intimidate and protect the puck ass well as the top players in this year’s draft. If he has a weakness, it would be his skating, but Grachev has been working hard on improving his play in that area.

There are still questions as to whether or not Grachev will play in North America over the next few years, however, there is no doubt that he is very happy to have been drafted by the Rangers. He is currently attending the Rangers’ Conditioning Camp and no one has a bigger smile on his face coming off the ice.

Tomas Kundratek, D – Czech Elite Trinec HC

Third Round, 90th overall
12/26/89; 6’1, 180

The Rangers traded Alex Bourret to Phoenix for the 90th overall pick (which had originally belonged to Pittsburgh), and with the selection, drafted Czech defenseman Kundratek. The Rangers had traded for Bourret in February 2007, and at the time, there were high hopes for this very creative, high-skill winger. However, inconsistencies and poor decision-making marred his play over the last year and a half, and the Rangers did not feel that he would develop in the way they expected.

Therefore, when the opportunity to obtain the 90th overall pick arose, the Rangers saw the availability of Kundratek, a solid defensive blueliner, who has some offensive upside, but is known more for his responsible play in his own zone.

Not afraid to be physical in his play, Kundratek will have to continue to build upper body strength to be competitive in North American play. He is the only Rangers 2008 draft pick who is not in the Rangers Conditioning Camp this week.

Dale Weise, RW – WHL Swift Current Broncos

Fourth Round, 111th overall
8/5/88; 6’2, 206

The Rangers traded their seventh-round selection this year and the fourth round pick next year to get its original fourth round selection (No. 111) back from Nashville. With the pick, the team chose Weise, who was in his second year of draft eligibility.
Weise is a slow developer, having improved incrementally each year over the last three seasons. This season, he took a major step toward being more defensively responsible while continuing his physical style of play. Excellent on the power play, Weise knows how to finish. He also played more on the PK this season, proving to be more and more valuable in all situations.

Chris Doyle, C — QMJHL Prince Edward Island Rocket

Fifth Round, 141st overall
3/22/90; 6’0, 193

Doyle is a prolific scorer who played on a very challenging PEI team last season. The Rocket were one of the worst teams in the league, with only one player on Doyle’s team managing a positive plus/minus for the 2007-08 regular season. Doyle was second on the team with 63 total points in as many games, and tied for the league in power-play goals. A better than average two-way player, Doyle is a long-shot to make the NHL, however, he could surprise opponents with the extent of his offensive skill.

Mitch Gaulton, D — OHL Erie Otters

Sixth Round, 171st overall
4/25/90; 6’0, 210

Gaulton could turn out to be the steal of the draft for the Rangers. A highly-skilled defenseman, Gaulton missed most of the season with an elbow injury. When the fact that he only played in 20 games during the 2007-08 campaign was combined with his membership on one of the worst OHL teams, Gaulton was overlooked by most scouts and went unranked by NHL Central Scouting. The Rangers, however, saw an opportunity to select him with their last pick and hope that the elbow completely heals and Gaulton fulfills his great potential. The former first round OHL Priority Draft selection is an excellent puck-moving blueliner, who has a heavy shot and can put the puck in the net. Although he needs strengthening of his defensive game, if Gaulton had not been injured, he most likely would have been a mid-round selection.