Sleepers: Tracking The Progress Of The Rangers’ 1st Round Picks

By pbadmin
When you’re in New York, the pressure is always on. New York sports fans demand a winner, and they will usually accept nothing less. The New York Rangers
are no exception. Despite having some of the most loyal fans in the NHL, the Rangers also have some of the most scrutinizing fans, and they are not shy about
voicing their displeasure over the team’s performance. The fact that New York City is the media capital of North America doesn’t make it any easier. The pressure
to win places the general manager in a tough decision when it comes to developing talent. Can the team afford a few off-years in a row, but be able to develop
players through the minors and the draft? Or do they use those draft picks and prospects to get established players that allow them to compete for the Stanley Cup?
In the 1990’s Rangers’ GM Neil Smith has employed the latter strategy, and it has resulted in the Rangers’ first Stanley Cup in 54 years, in 1994. Sometimes the
strategy has worked, like when the Rangers traded Doug Weight and Tony Amonte for Esa Tikkanen, Stephane Matteau, and Brian Noonan, respectively. These
three players were integral parts of the Rangers ’94 championship teams. Other times the strategy has failed miserably, like when the Rangers traded young
defenseman Mattias Norstrom and a draft pick for Jari Kurri and Marty McSorley. Both players were ineffective in the playoffs, and were not on the team the
following season.
The one constant of this strategy is that the Rangers have always remained near the upper echelon of NHL teams, therefore, their first round draft picks have been
relatively low. That places even more pressure on the GM and the scouting staff to pick the right player, because the lower the draft pick, the higher the uncertainty
that the player chosen will make it in the NHL. The last high draft pick the Rangers had was in 1993 when they picked 8th, and chose Niklas Sundstrom.
Sundstrom is now developing into an outstanding player for the Rangers. However, the team’s last three first round picks have been relatively low, and they didn’t
even have a first round pick in 1995. So the Rangers scouts have had to really do their homework. Did they make the correct selections? And how have the
Rangers 1st round picks progressed since their selection?

Dan Cloutier, 1st round pick(26th overall) in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft

Current Team: Hartford Wolf Pack(AHL)

After winning the Stanley Cup, the Rangers were faced with the last pick in the first round of the ’94 draft. They already had a goaltender in his prime in Mike
Richter, but Neil Smith decided to improve the depth in the organization and picked Cloutier from the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL. The Mont-Laurier,
Quebec native became an OHL second team All-Star with Guelph in 1996, and joined the Rangers’ AHL affiliate in Binghamton for the 1996-97 season. After a
horrible start, Cloutier finished the season with a respectable 23-28-8 record and 3.55 GAA, and earned a spot on the AHL All-Rookie Team.
This year, the 6’1″ 185 lb. netminder has enjoyed a fine start to the 1997-98 season, and was named AHL Player of the Week for November 1-November 9.
During that week, he was 3-0, with 98 saves. With a year of professional experience, Cloutier has become a more confident goaltender, and is using the skills that
made him a 1st round pick to their full potential. He is extremely athletic, with excellent reflexes and an outstanding glove hand. He possesses good on-ice vision,
and can follow the puck through traffic. He handles the puck smoothly, and uses the paddle of his goal stick to cover low parts of the net and rebound shot, a la
Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils. Sometimes he drops down a little too early, but with a little more seasoning, that problem should be alleviated. He is also
a fiery competitor, and is not afraid to clear the crease or stand up for his teammates.
Cloutier should make the Rangers next year, probably as Mike Richter’s backup. As for his long-term potential, there seems to be no reason why he can’t be the
Rangers’ starting goaltender for years to come, and an excellent one as well.

Jeff Brown, 1st round pick(22th overall) in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft

Current Team: London Knights(OHL)

Picking late in the first round again, the Rangers decided to go the defensive route, and drafted 6’2″, 211 lb. blueliner Jeff Brown from the Sarnia Sting of the OHL.
After being traded to the then-lowly London Knights, Brown finished the 1995-96 season with 6 goals and 31 assists in 63 games.
Despite being tabbed by the Rangers as a stay-at-home defenseman, the smooth skating Brown has become more of a two-way threat this season, averaging more
than a point a game, and helping the improved Knights reach the top of the OHL’s West Division. Besides being a fine skater, Brown also handles the puck and
takes the body extremely well. However, for a big defenseman, he has surprisingly few penalty minutes. But he has displayed excellent leadership qualities this
season, and was named team captain.
While Brown is projected as a #4 defenseman in the NHL, he has the tools to become a #3, or even a #2, and receive substantial time on special teams. He is still a
couple of years away, but if he continues to polish his game, he could be a fixture on the Blueshirts’ blueline for a long time.

Stefan Cherneski, 1st round pick(19th overall) in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft

Current Team: Brandon Wheat Kings(WHL)

After not having a first round pick in the 1996 Draft, the Rangers had their highest pick since 1993, and used it to choose Brandon right winger Stefan Cherneski.
The 6’1″ 195 lb. Cherneski was drafted because of his offensive ability, as he scored 39 goals and added 29 assists in just 56 games last season. He would have
probably scored 50 last year, but an abdominal injury in February shelved him for the rest of the season, and caused him to miss the CHL Top Prospects game.
Nevertheless, he impressed scouts enough to have a final ranking of 12th on the 1997 Central Scouting Bureau’s prospect list.
This season, Cherneski has remained healthy, and is putting up impressive numbers for the Wheat Kings, once again averaging almost a goal a game. That has
earned him an invitation to the Canadian training camp for the ’98 World Junior Championships. He is a deceptive skater, an outstanding puckhandler, and has a
hard and accurate shot. He excels on special teams, and is among the WHL leaders in power play goals and points. He has also improved his defensive play this
season, and is among the team leaders in plus/minus rating. He is also an extremely intelligent player, winning the CHL Scholastic Player of the Year last season.
Some scouts were concerned by his lack of size, but he is only 19, and still has a couple of years to fill out.
Many scouts say that Cherneski has the potential to be a 30-goal scorer in the NHL, but he still has two years of junior eligibility left, so there is plenty of room for
improvement. If he has a strong camp, makes the Canadian national team, and has a good tournament, his stock will only increase. He’s a few years away from the
big club, but if he continues to improve, he could be a productive player for the Rangers, who lack scoring punch from the wings.

Looking at these three players, you could say that the Ranger scouts did an excellent job in scouting and drafting them. The Rangers have drafted a potentially
high-scoring wing, a potentially solid, two-way defenseman, and a potential franchise goaltender. However, the key word when discussing these three players is
potential. Only time will tell if they fulfill these expectations. They might exceed them, or not reach them at all. That is the challenge of drafting low in the first round,
and Ranger fans hope that all three players justify their selections, and become consistent producers for the Blueshirts for many years to come.