Rangers: Update on 1998-2000 draft picks

By Michael Theodore

Heading into the 2003 National Hockey League Draft, the New York Rangers were faced with a variety of holes to fill in an attempt to return to respectability. The Rangers had to find a way to uncover not only solid prospects in their first few rounds but with their late round picks as well, because despite their relatively high draft position the past several years, the Rangers draft crops have yielded only a few positive returns so far.

The 1998 Entry Draft saw the Rangers take character forward Manny Malhotra with the seventh overall selection. Despite playing in the NHL at 18 years of age, Malhotra has yet to develop into the solid checking center the Rangers envisioned five years ago. He is currently playing for the Dallas stars and a serious cloud looms over his ability to score or even remain at the NHL once and for all.

In the second round of the 1998 draft, the Rangers selected power winger Randy Copley out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. However being drafted is seemingly as close as Copley will ever get to wearing an NHL sweater. After two frustrating junior campaigns in which he didn’t score or check enough to warrant a pro contract, Copley has bounced around the East Coast Hockey League where his results have been less than spectacular.

The Rangers selected goaltender Jason Labarbera and wings Boyd Kane and Patrick Leahy with their third, fourth and fifth round picks respectively. Though all three players have enjoyed some degrees of success in the American Hockey League, none seem likely to make any permanent homes in the NHL in the foreseeable future.

With a second fifth round pick, the Rangers chose defenseman Tomas Kloucek. Following a dramatic post draft development in which Kloucek jumped from the QMJHL to the AHL, Kloucek found himself on the fast track to the NHL. After being called ‘the best young defenseman I’ve seen come through our system’ by Brian Leetch during his rookie campaign, Kloucek was beseeched by injuries that plagued his development. Finally in the fall of 2002, he was traded to the Nashville Predators in a deal that brought Mike Dunham to New York. His luck in Nashville’s system didn’t improve and the jury remains out on whether Kloucek can remain healthy enough to start a long-lasting pro career.

The seventh round saw the Rangers draft three European players in Stefan Lundqvist, Johan Witehall and Jan Mertzig. Lundqvist’s lack of foot speed has thus far prevented him from making the jump to North American pro hockey while Witehall and Mertzig served as depth players in the AHL for a few seasons. The latter two are both currently back in Europe where they continue to play.

In the 1999 NHL draft, then General Manager Neil Smith tried shaking things up by boldly acquiring the fourth and ninth picks overall in the hopes of landing two future superstars.

With the fourth selection in the draft the Rangers drafted offensive dynamo Pavel Brendl from the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen. Despite Brendl’s offensive abilities, he has thus far been unable to duplicate his gaudy junior hockey numbers in the professional ranks. Brendl was a key component in the deal that brought Eric Lindros to the Rangers and has since been traded again. He is currently playing for the Carolina Hurricanes, his third NHL organization, and has shown few glimpses of being the impact player the Rangers envisioned.

The ninth pick was used to select Jamie Lundmark from the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors. Though he slipped further in the draft than expected, the Rangers snatched up the shifty forward with a pick they acquired from the Calgary Flames. In the four years since draft, Lundmark has steadily developed into an NHL player and looks poised to remain there for years to come. He gradually added the weight needed to compete at the pro level and successfully moved from playing center to the wing. In 2003 he completed his first NHL campaign by scoring 8 goals and adding 11 assists.

Speedy forward David Inman was taken in the second round of that year’s draft, and proceeded with three up and down seasons for Notre Dame college. His immense talent, but limited hockey sense was still enough to earn a pro contract in the summer of 2002 and he split his first professional campaign between the ECHL and the AHL. Though he seems unlikely to put all the pieces together and have a standout career, there is hope he could still develop into a solid depth player.

Third round pick Johan Asplund was seen as a solid goaltending prospect out of Sweden but thus far has not progressed as expected. Patrick Aufiero another third selection, has just completed his first pro season, splitting time between the AHL’s Hartford Wolfpack and the ECHL’s Charlotte Checkers. Like Inman, he could still develop into a solid depth player.

Fifth round pick Garrett Bembridge was never signed and reentered the 2001 draft where he was selected by the Flames in the seventh round.

Jay Dardis, Arto Laatikainen, Evgeny Gusakov, Petter Henning and Alexei Bulatov, whom the Rangers took in the seventh through ninth rounds have played a combined one game of North American professional hockey.

The 2000 Entry Draft saw the Rangers without a first round pick as a result of the trades that landed them the chance to select Pavel Brendl a year earlier.

The Rangers first pick was in the second round where they took puck moving defenseman Filip Novak. The European defender from the WHL’s Regina Pats was very impressive in first training camp and nearly made the team. He returned to his junior team and refined his game but was less impressive in his second training camp. His rights were traded to the Florida Panthers in March 2002, as part of the trade for Pavel Bure. After agreeing on a contract with the Panthers, he enjoyed a solid rookie season for their AHL farm team. He figures to take another stab at earning an NHL roster spot in the fall.

Third round pick Dominic Moore was the youngest of three brothers who have all played for Harvard’s hockey team. Though he lacks a large frame, he is a shifty skater who just finished his senior year of college and figures to play an important role for the Hartford Wolfpack next season. Projected as a possibly two-way forward with an emphasis on defense, Moore has a chance to become a solid NHL player in the future.

Fourth round pick Premsyl Duben showed nothing to warrant attention as an NHL player and has fallen off the radar.

Fifth round pick Nathan Martz is a big centerman playing for University of New Hampshire. Like most big kids, he has been slow to develop. The Rangers will likely be keeping a close eye on this 6’3″ pivot as he enters his final year of college.

Brandon Snee another fifth round pick is toiling in the lower ranks of professional hockey, splitting time between the UHL and the ECHL. He was not offered a contract by the Rangers.

Sixth round pick Sven Helfenstein is an undersized forward playing in the Swiss Hockey League. Though he’d likely have the ability to be descent minor league defensive forward, it’s not likely in the cards for him to come over to North America anytime soon. He’s making more money in the Switzerland than he likely would halfway around the world in Hartford.

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (no relation to Rangers prospect Stefan), could possibly be a diamond in the rough for the Rangers. He has been one of Sweden’s top goalies for two years and could very well make the jump anytime he wanted to North America. Time will tell whether he ultimately wants to play in North America but the he is possibly the most talented Ranger selection from the entire 2000 draft class.

American Danny Eberly has just finished his senior year of college in Rhode Island but the eighth round pick is a longshot to receive a contract offer. While he wasn’t horrible, he also didn’t stand out in four years of NCAA play.

Older Czech defenseman Martin Richter was the Rangers ninth round and last pick of the 2000 draft. Though he played 30 games over two years in the AHL, he has since returned to his native country and is not likely to be granted a third shot by the Rangers.