Could Blackburn make the Rangers?

By Jeff Bromley

When Dan Blackburn’s name was called
by New York Rangers GM Glen
Sather last June, you couldn’t help to
feel anything but pride and joy for the
18-year-old goaltending phenom
who in two short years had captured the
hearts of Kootenay ICE fans by
backstopping the club to a WHL title
and Memorial Cup appearance only one
year prior. It is, after all, the natural
progression of Major Junior hockey.

Budding teenage hockey prodigies
arrive, take the local club to glorious
heights, get noticed by pro scouts, are
drafted and move to the bright lights and
big cities of the NHL. In a perfect world
that would happen after four years of
yeomen service in the junior ranks.
Unfortunately in the world of Junior
hockey its fans and its burgeoning stars,
it is far from perfect.

Upon further examination of the New
Rangers roster it is enough to make you
cheer for the Canmore, Alta. native’s
chances but it is also evidence enough to
make you quietly cringe at the
realization that the ‘tender affectionately
known as ‘Blackie’ could quite possibly
be sitting on the bench for the Broadway
BlueShirts this season. Crazy talk, you
say? One look at the Rangers sheer lack
of depth in goal might make any
naysayers change their tune.

Two significant developments out of
New York this past week shed some
light on the situation. First, All-Star
goalie Mike Richter announces that he
almost certainly will be ready to resume
his place as the Ranger’s number one
goalie after recovering from blowing out
his knee back in February. His second
reconstructive knee surgery in as many
years. A collective sigh of relief can be
heard throughout Rangerland as any
dedicated fan most likely knows that the
depth at the goaltender position with the
Rangers is at best, somewhat thin.

Second, the media-frenzied
announcement that the much maligned
Eric Lindros will join the Rangers after
being obtained in a trade for Jan Hlavac,
Kim Johnsson, Pavel Brendl and a mid-
round draft pick likely for next years
NHL Draft. Why does this have
anything to do with the Rangers goalie
situation? Simply because in their failure
to land a high-market free agent in this
summer’s sweepstakes, the Rangers
have focused on landing first Jaromir
Jagr and now Lindros (including the real
possibility of Bret Hull if Lindros is in
the fold), New York has neglected to
shore up possibly the most important
position in the game – between the pipes.

A look in the system of the Rangers and
if you’re considering plucking a proven
backup in the very real scenario of Mike
Richter going down to injury, the
cupboard isn’t exactly full. On the
Ranger’s farm in Hartford of the AHL
are two quality Europeans ‘tenders in
Johan Holmqvist and Vitali Yeremeyev.
The two with the best shot at backing up
Richter or even supplanting him should
he succumb to injury. Deeper in the
system are a couple of WHL alumni in
former Spokane Chief and Portland
WinterHawk Jason Labarbera and ex-
ICE and Swift Current Bronco Bryce
Wandler who played last season in the
ECHL and UHL, respectively. Out of
the NCAA the Rangers have St. Cloud
State graduate Scott Meyer who could
challenge and Union College freshman
Brandon Snee who’s still some ways off.

If the aforementioned list maintains the
status quo into September’s training
camp there is the real possibility of
Blackburn playing his way into the
number two position of the Rangers.

With Blackburn being 18
obviously restricts the Rangers decision
to being up with the big club or back in
junior with the ICE. Of course if the
Rangers address the needs of an
experienced goalie than it will be that
much harder for Blackburn to make it
and possibly rendering the whole
argument moot. All things being equal,
the averages say that a goalie needs at
least one year of junior development
after being drafted and in most cases
more. In the case of Dan Blackburn,
average isn’t a word that exactly comes
to mind. Maturity beyond his years in
his focus, preparation and his talent
suggest to me that Ranger fans could be
facing the future of the club’s
goaltending a lot quicker than most