Rangers 2009 draft preview

By Leslie Treff

Rangers Top 10 Prospects

1.  Artem Anisimov, C
2.  Michael Del Zotto, D
3.  Evgeny Grachev, C/LW
4.  Bobby Sanguinetti, D
5.  Derek Stepan, C
6.  Michael Sauer, D
7.  Dane Byers, LW
8.  Tomas Kundratek, D
9.  Matt Zaba, G
10.Carl Hagelin, LW

There is only one current Rangers roster player, Henrik Lundqvist, drafted by the team prior to 2004. It was in that year that Rangers General Manager Glen Sather stated his intention to rebuild the team, and despite some stops and starts, by the end of the 2008-09 season, Sather had developed a nucleus of young players that are the heart of the NHL team. Three of the 2004 draftees (Lauri Korpikoski, Brandon Dubinsky, and Ryan Callahan), one 2005 draft selection (Marc Staal), and a young undrafted free agent (Dan Girardi) are regular roster players, and four more draftees are on the close horizon: Michael Sauer (selected in 2005) Artem Anisimov and Bob Sanguinetti (selected in 2006), and Evgeny Grachev (selected in 2008). All four of these skaters are expected to compete for roster spots this fall.

Team Needs

The biggest team need is for scoring forwards, including a first-line center. Although the team had hoped that their 2007 free-agent signings of Chris Drury or Scott Gomez would have filled the need for a top line center, over the past two seasons, neither has done so. Dubinsky has stepped up and centered the Rangers first line at times since becoming a full-time NHL player during the 2007-08 season, but his potential is more of a second-to-third line role. Although Anisimov is expected to take a roster spot this fall, it is not at all clear that he will be able to successfully center the top line. As it stands this need most likely will have to be filled outside the organization, but with four centers already signed, a trade between now and the start of the season to open up a slot is likely.

In addition to a top-line center, the Rangers also need scoring on the wing. The team had no point-per-game players on the roster this season. In fact, 59 regular-season points was the highest number posted by a Blueshirt, and that was by trade-deadline acquisition, Nik Antropov. The individual skaters on the Rangers were among the lowest point producers in the NHL, and the only team whose highest point producer had a lower total than Antropov was the last place New York Islanders. To rectify this issue, the Rangers need to add at least one high-scoring winger. Although it is hoped that 2008 third-round draft selection Grachev will fill that spot, free agency is another vehicle that might have to be employed to obtain the needed player.

Although the Rangers had some of the best defensive numbers in the NHL during the regular season, a power play quarterback is one of the biggest organizational needs. Two recent draftees, Sanguinetti and Michael Del Zotto, have the potential to fill that role, however, the timetable on their emergence is still unclear.

Organizational Strengths

The Rangers also have system-wide strength on the blueline. Unfortunately, many are not NHL-ready, but Del Zotto, Sanguinetti, Michael Sauer, Corey Potter, and Tomas Kundratek are the Rangers’ future on defense, along with recent free-agent signees Matt Gilroy and Ilkka Heikkenen. With Staal and Girardi already in place, the Rangers will have a powerful back end over the coming years.  

The Rangers are also strong in depth forwards, with many true third- and fourth-line players and prospects on the NHL team and in the system.

Organizational Weaknesses

The Rangers are weakest on the wing, where size and finesse are needed. Grachev and Dane Byers are hoped to fill some of that need in the coming year or two, but more highly skilled roster players and prospects are needed on the wing for the team to become the constant scoring threat required to compete at the upper echelon of the league.

Although there is organizational strength on defense, there is a weakness in blueliners that are NHL-ready. This need is likely to be filled in the short-run by at least one free-agent signing.

The Rangers have just two goaltending prospects, but this is not a year with strong goaltending options, so it’s not a sure thing that one will be picked. One of either Matt Zaba and Miika Wiikman is expected at some point to become the backup to Lundqvist in New York.

Draft Tendencies      

For the last three years, Rangers Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark has been running the Rangers draft. In the first round of each of those drafts, the Rangers have selected a highly skilled player that has fallen out of favor. Whether the issue was a hole in his game or, in the case of Alexei Cherepanov in 2007, because of other teams’ fears that the prospect would not come to North America to play hockey, the Rangers had the opportunity to select a top-ranked player. That is not as likely to happen this season, as any top player that falls out of favor is more likely to have off-ice than playing issues, and the Rangers are currently seeking a more sure pick. It is therefore more likely that the Blueshirts will pick a player that they feel is under-rated than a player falling out of favor.  

Overall, the Rangers are about average in terms of their mix of CHL, college-bound, and European players.

Hockey’s Future Draft Mock Draft Result: No. 19, Kyle Palmieri, C/RW, U-18 NTDP

Palmieri has a high offensive upside, an excellent work ethic, character, grit, and he performed well at the Combine. An engaging young man, Palmieri is a local boy, who would be absolutely thrilled to be selected by the Blueshirts.