Rangers 2006 draft preview

By Leslie Treff

Rangers Top 10 Prospects

1. Marc Staal, D
2. Al Montoya, G
3. Jarkko Immonen, C
4. Nigel Dawes, LW
5. Lauri Korpikoski, LW
6. Hugh Jessiman, RW
7. Brandon Dubinsky, C
8. Michael Sauer, D
9. Thomas Pock, D
10. Tom Pyatt, C

Team Needs

The New York Rangers organization is in the middle of a rebuilding process and, despite the accomplishments of the 2005-06 season, the team still has several holes that need to be filled to make it a consistent contender. Since a series of trades late in the 2003-04 season, the team has been in need of defensive help. Although former prospect Fedor Tyutin had a good rookie season on the blue line in 2005-06, most of the other additions to the Ranger defense corps this past season have not fared as well. Thus far, Top 10 prospect Thomas Pock has not been able to make the jump to the NHL level, and despite the addition of four defensive prospects in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, the Rangers are still weak in this position.

A big power forward would also be a useful addition to the NHL team. After the 2003 draft, the Rangers had expectations that Hugh Jessiman, the team’s first round pick that year, might become that player, however, thus far, Jessiman has not developed as quickly as the team had hoped.

Finally, the Rangers really need an agitator who can put some points on the board. This past season, management and fans were treated to the aggressive play of prospect Ryan Hollweg, however, he only tallied 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists) in 52 regular season games. An undersized sparkplug (5’11, 213), who took 84 PIM during the season, Hollweg was certainly able to raise the team’s energy. But the team needs more offensive production from a player in that role. The coaching staff has indicated that it has confidence that Hollweg can increase his total point production in the coming season, and if the agitating forward can do so, the need will be filled. However, if he cannot, the team really needs to find an agitator who can play on the fourth line and register at least 15 points during the regular season.

Organizational Strengths

The Rangers have an excellent crop of prospects who played for the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack this past season. Several are either ready to step into roles on the NHL team for the 2006-07 season, or are expected to be ready some time during the upcoming season. Additionally, several players came to the Wolf Pack after their junior seasons were completed this past spring and showed that they were more ready for professional play than expected.

At the goaltender position, rookie NHLer, and former prospect Henrik Lundqvist, played like a star between the pipes for most of the season. Additionally, one of the team’s top prospects, Al Montoya, had an excellent AHL rookie season. After he was injured in the playoffs, the Rangers’ other netminding prospect, Chris Holt, stepped up to give a very solid eight-game postseason performance.

The organization also contains many solid forwards that will be able to play on the second to fourth lines of the NHL team in the next few seasons. Both Jarkko Immonen and Nigel Dawes are ready to play in the NHL during the 2006-07 season. Additionally, Brandon Dubinsky may surprise everyone at camp and show that he is NHL-ready earlier than expected. Behind these players are a large number of forwards that have NHL-potential, but need at least one more year in the AHL. Of particular note are Lauri Korpikoski, who came from Europe to join the Wolf Pack at the end of the season, Greg Moore, who joined the AHL team after his career at the University of Maine had ended, and Ryan Callahan, who was assigned to Hartford at the end of his overage CHL season.

Considered high among the Rangers’ organizational strengths is one defenseman who toiled in junior hockey this past season. Marc Staal, who the Rangers are counting on as a big part of their future, may be called upon to play in New York this fall, if he has a good training camp in September. Behind Staal, who has the potential to be a top defenseman in the league, is the talented 23-year-old Pock, who thus far has been less than stellar each time he received a promotion to the NHL, and Michael Sauer, another junior prospect with a huge upside, but who has been injury-prone for most of his young career.

Organizational Weaknesses

One of the biggest weaknesses of the Rangers’ organization is the lack of a No. 1 center waiting in the wings. Although there is a small possibility that the abovementioned Dubinsky may be able to fill that role, he is not projected to do so, and the Rangers really need to consider either trading up to get one in this draft (there are six potential first line centers available projected to go in the top 10 of the draft) or making a blockbuster trade to get a top young center in the next few months. The longer the team goes without prospects to fill this position, the more difficult it will be to complete the rebuilding process.

As stated above, the Rangers also need at least one additional power forward to fill their ranks. In addition to Jessiman, the Rangers drafted the 6’6, 234 lb Bruce Graham in the second round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. After a very good showing at the Rangers’ training camp, the 19-year-old Graham was signed to an entry-level contract last fall. Unfortunately, he fell ill last December, and the lingering effects of that illness hampered his further development in 2005-06. Whether he develops further or even regains his full strength is somewhat questionable at this point. Even with the slow development usually expected of big forwards, the Rangers have to be disappointed with the development of both Jessiman and Graham thus far. The organization needs to continue to try to obtain a forward that can consistently plant himself in front of the opposition’s net and not be moved. Whether by draft or by trade, this need must be filled if the Rangers are to be a successful NHL team for the long term.

Finally, the Rangers need to continue to draft defensemen. Even though four were selected in seven rounds of last year’s entry draft, the team is very low on quality defensive prospects and more should be added next week. Both offensive and stay-at-home blueliners should be considered as potential Rangers. With the lack of high-quality defensemen available for trade, the search for home-grown blueliners must be ongoing.

Draft Tendencies

After several unsuccessful years selecting European players who never have come to North America to play, in the most recent years, the Rangers have looked north of the border for their draft selections.

In 2005, the Rangers chose all their draft picks from the Canadian Hockey League; this followed eight picks from the major juniors in 2004.

However, that trend is expected to change somewhat in this year’s draft. In what many consider a mediocre draft year, there are a large number of US players who are considered to be among the best players available. It is likely that the Rangers will choose at least one in the first two rounds of selection.

Additionally, now that some of the problems with the Russian players coming to North America have been resolved, there are several fine Russian players, who are very likely to come over next season, who would be excellent picks for the Rangers. That is not to say that the Rangers will not look to the CHL for draft selections this season. Although 2006 does not contain an overwhelmingly talented draft pool, there are several sleeper picks from the major juniors that the Rangers would do very well to pick up in the later rounds.

Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft Result: Michael Grabner, RW, Spokane

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