Monday, June 16, 2008

Finding Future Blue

While some pundits (especially Larry Brooks) have the Rangers looking for a future replacement for Jaromir Jagr, at No. 20, the Rangers just aren't going to find one in this draft. Actually, in theory, the Rangers already have one waiting in the wings: last year's top pick Alexei Cherepanov. If Cherry can't make it out of the Red, the Blueshirts already have good young wingers in Nigel Dawes, Ryan Callahan and Petr Prucha in the NHL and Alex Bourret, Hugh Jessiman (haha) and Lauri Korpikoski just waiting for a shot.

The Rangers head into the draft with six picks over the seven rounds: 20, 51, 75, no pick in the fourth, 141, 171 and 201.

While the Blueshirts are known for just picking the best pick available, they would be foolish not to pick a defenseman or three. They picked just one blueliner over the last two drafts and this year's crop is thick with quality prospects. Plus, let's face it, there isn't much depth on the team right about now. Andrew Hutchinson, Marek Malik, Paul Mara, Michal Rozsival and Jason Strudwick are all free agents and at least two of them are as good as gone - Malik and Mara. As for the other three, you have to figure that Hutch will leave looking for a guaranteed NHL spot, Strudwick isn't a top six defenseman so who cares and Rozy will not be worth the money he wants - especially now that he underwent hip surgery.

That leaves the Rangers with Dan Girardi, Fedor Tyutin, Marc Staal, Christian Backman, Thomas Pock, Michael Busto, Michael Sauer, Corey Potter and Bobby Sanguinetti. Backman - who was actually drafted two spots before that Scott Gomez guy back in 1998 - is utterly worthless. Sauer is coming off injury, Busto couldn't get out of the ECHL, Sather seemingly hates Pock and Bobby needs pro seasoning. And that means that the Rangers need to move to solidify the blueline and fast.

The top prospects who are clearly NHL-ready are at the top of the draft (top four or five) so Sather would have to make a deal - maybe someone will take the 20 pick with Prucha? Somehow I don't think so and if the offering price is higher, I wouldn't bother. Prucha was the one Ranger youngster not to carve a role out for himself last season and despite his dedication, he doesn't really have a place on the team anymore since Nigel Dawes came in. Regardless, the Rangers need blueliners so here are five guys I've read good things about that should be fitted for a new hat:

*John Carlson: He is not one of the Hanson Brothers kids, but he does have a mean streak. He's big - 6'2", 212 - and patterns his game after Scott Stevens. I couldn't think of one player I hated more that I wanted to have on my team than Stevens. Carlson could be perfect. Plus it would be a nice jab at the Devils since they supposedly have him in their sights at No. 21.

*Colten Teubert: He is taller than Carlson and has better experience (WHL vs. USHL). He definitely doesn't back down and I remember seeing him hammer some kid back in that stupid Russia/Canada series last summer. The Rangers could certainly use a big hitter ... (understatement of the offseason right there.) And just did a profile on him and his penchant for hitting.

*Shawn Lalonde: An OHL kid that has tasted the bitterness of team failure with Belleville (they lost to Kitchener in several big games), Lalonde could/should use that as motivation to push himself harder to be the Lidstrom-esque defenseman he wants to be. They say he has the tools, so why not? He was coached by former Binghamton Rangers coach George Burnett and the Ottawa Citizen said some good things about him.

*Jack Gardiner: The thought of an American high school kid getting picked is unnerving but Gardiner has already made the good call to commit to Wisconsin. Mike Eaves is a helluva coach and UW has done well with Rangers in the past (Richter, Granato, Brian Mullen, Bruce Driver). Gardiner is very mobile and would be a decent safety net should Sanguinetti not work out.

*Jyri Niemi: Outside of Kimmo Timonen, Finland hasn't produced a stud defenseman in almost 20 years. Maybe they're due? Niemi supposedly has a Souray-esque slap shot and man, the Rangers could have used that this past season. He may turn out to be a Sami Salo clone without the injury problem so that would be nice.

For all of the prognosticating, the amateur draft is a crapshoot and we will just have to wait and see how things work out three, four years down the line. Any immediate help will come on July 1st (or thereafter) so this coming weekend's draft will just be some fun fodder to fill the time (and the blog) until the free agent signing begins.

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