Rangers 2004 draft preview

By Brendan Fitzpatrick

Rangers Top 10 Prospects

1. Fedor Tjutin
2. Josef Balej
3. Henrik Lundqvist
4. Hugh Jessiman
5. Garth Murray
6. Thomas Pock
7. Maxim Kondratiev
8. Petr Prucha
9. Jarkko Immonen
10. Ivan Baranka

Team Needs

With their roster stripped down, and the team in full rebuilding mode, the New York Rangers have holes at every position.

In goal, the Rangers have Mike Dunham under contract for one more year. Dunham was a colossal disappointment in 2003-04, after putting up a great effort in his first year in New York. Whether he is not a No. 1 goalie or his troubles were simply injury related remains to be seen, but it is an area the Rangers can improve on.

On the blueline the Rangers lack a stable defensive force to complement a large amount of offensively talented defensemen. Up front the team is without a legitimate scoring left winger, and the probable departure of both Eric Lindros and Mark Messier leaves the Rangers very thin at center.

Organizational Strengths

In net the Rangers have two potential No. 1 goalies in Daniel Blackburn and Henrik Lundqvist, and also have 2003-04 AHL MVP Jason LaBarbera.

On the blueline the Rangers have several blue-chip prospects, headlined by 2001 second round pick Fedor Tyutin and the recently signed Tomas Pock. In Hartford the Rangers have solid-if-unspectacular Bryce Lampman, and Martin Grenier. The list is rounded out by 2003 second round pick Ivan Baranka, Minnesota freshman Jake Taylor, and deadline acquisitions Maxim Kondratiev and David Liffiton.

Up front the Rangers have great depth when it comes to grit players to fill out their third and fourth lines. There is also Hugh Jessiman, who the organization feels will be a top line forward one day, and Josef Balej who looked great at times after being acquired from Montreal in the Alex Kovalev deal. Nigel Dawes could be a top scoring winger one day, but first he must overcome concerns about his size. Finnish center Jarkko Immonen had a great year in Europe, and might turn out to be an impact player.

Organizational Weaknesses

The Rangers most glaring weakness is on the blueline, which lacks a large crease clearing defenseman. New York has a host of good young defenders, but they are a soft group. A mobile and physical presence, not named Dale Purinton, is desperately needed. Also, the departure of Brian Leetch leaves them without a true No. 1 guy who can play big minutes at both ends of the ice.

Aside from Balej and Jessiman, the Rangers do not have much top line talent. No one even resembles a top center. Defense may win championships, but it certainly does not hurt to have a few impact offensive players.

Draft Tendencies

Rangers GM Glen Sather loves collegiate players. His first picks in the last two entry drafts, Lee Falardeau and Hugh Jessiman, have both been from the NCAA. Sather also picks heavily from European leagues, and has never been shy about taking a chance on project from the USHL.

When drafting from the Canadian juniors, Sather favors the Western Hockey League. 2001 first rounder Dan Blackburn is one of many from the WHL.

With both the No. 6 and No. 24 picks in the first round, along with five second rounders, expect the Rangers to be busy on draft day. The Rangers could try to move up from No. 24, try to gain another first rounder as well, or both.

Player most likely to be taken with first selection (Hockey’s Future mock draft result):
A.J. Thelen, D from Michigan State University