History Repeats in the Biggest Crap Shoot of All?

By Michael Theodore

It has been called a crap shoot, it has been called a game, but the one thing it has never been called was easy. The NHL entry draft is a sport onto itself. Unlike other sports where many kids come out of college as more mature 21 year olds (and sometimes older), the NHL draft features baby faced 18 year olds. It has been a subject of controversy for year and is now begining to stir up media attention as the NHL ponders raising the draft age. Each and every draft we see “blue chippers” and “risks” and despite their draft day labels we only discover the draft day winners and losers years later. The Rangers are a team that took a huge gamble this past year and, rightfully so, there was a lot of controversy over it. In the end the
Rangers got two blue chip prospectes, but the real questin is “Will they ever make it?” The answer to that question is probably a lot more
interesting than you think.

I am reminded of the Rangers ’99 draft by the Oilers 1994 draft. That year the Oilers held the 4th and 6th picks in that draft. With the 4th pick they nabbed highly skilled center Jason Bonsignore. Bonsignore was supposed to be the total package….size, skills, skating, he was supposed to be the type of player John LeClair has become today. But as we look back at that draft from 5 years ago we see that he has amounted to nothing more then a first line minor leaguer. With a poor attitude and a generally poor work ethic, Bonsignore single handedly flushed his career down the toilet. The Oilers like any team made excuse after excuse for Jason. When he was immature it was said that he was still just a kid. When he showed up to camp out of shape it was said he was still growing. In the end though the result was simply undeniable. Jason Bonsignore was a dud. The Oilers avenged their draft, however, when they picked Ryan Smyth with their “other” first round pick. All he has done is become a mainstay on the Oilers top two lines. Yet back in 94, every media article and most of the headlines went to Bonsignore. Don’t get me wrong, we all knew Ryan Smyth existed but for the most part he was “the other guy the Oilers drafted”. Perhaps that was exactly why as we stand here half a decade later, Ryan Smyth is a birght young LW in the NHL and Jason Bonsignore is a case for “Where are they Now?”.

Like anyone else, hockey players can succomb to pressure. Just like us they feel the burdens, and the enormous expectations placed upon them. Bonsignore had a bad attitude to begin with, mix that with high expectations and you get a recipe for disaster. Smyth on the other hand was far more down to earth. He didn’t come complete with his own ego trips like Bonsignore, and he benefited from playing in his shadow. While all eyes were on Bonsignore, Smyth developed into a offensivly gifted left winger who looked like the next generation Luc Robitaille. There was little or no coverage on his developement and so everything he did was a surprise. Had he been drafted 4th, who knows how the story would end. Ryan Smyth benefited because he was “second best”, but as it turns out he was first rate.

Five years later we see the Rangers. Their first pick, a high scoring right winger with the potential to change the face of the game. Like Bonsignore he was drafted 4th, though he has the skills to match the three guys drafted before him. Like Bonsginore he will sign a high incentive contract that is probably more then he should get. Like Bonsignore his work ethic is horrible and his attitude is immature. His name is Pavel Brendl and he is the Rangers prize prospect. Sounds all too similar right? Wait it gets better. The Rangers second first round pick (also a top ten pick) hails from the Moose Jaw Warriors the same team as Ryan Smyth. Like Smyth he is seen as the final piece to his junior teams rebuilding plans. Like Smyth he is ignored by the media because he is “further off” and because he was the second and not the first of the first round picks. Drafted 9th overall he was already in the shadow of Pavel Brendl. His name is Jamie Lundmark, and though you may not believe it is HE who is the future of the NY Rangers and not Brendl.

Like Smyth, Lundmark will benefit from another season in junior. Smyth was drafted at 6’1, 185 and was seen as a kid who needed to get physically more mature to be effective. His work ethic helped him to the NHL in one year when most experts said he was two years away. Lundmark was drafted at 6’0, 184. He, too, is said to need to get more physcially mature. He too has a strong work ethic. He too will probably only need one more year despite everyone predicting two. Unlike Brendl, Lundmark has many sides to his game. With Brendl you get goals and thats it. You don’t get defense, you don’t get checking, you don’t get leadership. You get goals, period. While if he developes that is a whole lot of goals, it is still only one of the many things a team needs to win. Lundmark may not net as many goals as Brendl, but then again he could net a lot more simply because Brendl could be a dud. Lundmark is a solid center, good on faceoffs, fast, agile, aggresive, a good team leader. He is capable of playing RW and Center and has even proven to be solid at playing the off wing. The deciding factor however could be the media. While all the hype and press goes to Brendl making the Rangers this year and scoring a bunch of goals, Lundmark will quietly slip back down to the WHL and do what needs to be done. He will bulk up, work hard and get one more year of training before his shot. Brendl on the other hand will have his every move analyzed…every mistake criticized and every step watched by fans who would just love to say I told you so.

The bottom line is once again that the draft is a crap shoot. The best player at the draft may not be the best player ten years later. Sixth round picks like Luc Robitaille turn into hall of famers. First overall picks like Alexandre Daigle turn into laughing stocks. While Brendl has all the potential in the world it is still a huge question whether he will be the next Pat Lafontaine or the next Pat Falloon. Will he net 50 goals a year or peak at 20 a year. While it is still too early to tell, it looks more and more that history will repeat. Five years from now we might look and see the trades were a wash. We might see Lundmark as a bust and Brendl as a star. Or we might see something which is the least expected and probably most accurate predicition. He will see an overpaid out of shape Brendl netting 15 goals a season on the third line and a hard working, very martketable Jamie Lundmark playing on all star teams and representing the NY Rangers. In the end it comes down to who wants it more and who can handle the cards they are dealt, but that’s what makes prospect watching so darn enjoyable now isn’t it?