Thursday, June 21, 2012
Preppin' For Some Pickin'
by Matt Lavanco
Scotty Hockey Note: This was due to run on the NY Rangers Blog but seeing as Kev called it quits for now, I offered to put it up. Matt is a friend of the blog and a diehard Ranger fan with an appreciation of the amateur game. Some good stuff.
The draft is a day away and it is my favorite event of the offseason. I do not claim to be a pro scout – I simply enjoy amateur hockey and looking at players that might help the Rangers for years to come. One of the main things I like to consider is who may be a good fit with the current make-up of the Rangers squad. Unfortunately where the Rangers pick at 28th, the odds of selecting a dynamic offensive scorer or an elite puck-moving defenseman are slim. Additionally the Rangers are organizationally thin when it comes to goaltending prospects. But, with only four draft picks in seven rounds, I don’t feel it’s appropriate for the Blueshirts to use a first round selection on a goalie.
So if a 30-goal scorer or a power play quarterback are not within reach, I think Gordie Clark and company could certainly look to add some toughness to their lineup. The Rangers were pushed around, knocked off the puck and just flat outworked along the boards all too many times during the playoffs. Right off the bat, or the puck drop, there are two potential draftees with familiar last names that play a tough, physical game that could contribute to the top-9 set of forwards.
First off, Stefan Matteau (Matteau! Matteau!) is a hard-nosed kind of player who is not afraid to go into the dirty areas and is a physically strong kid for his age. Matteau spent last season with the U.S. National Team Development Program, where he played all three forward positions. He has the skills to contribute offensively but would be better suited on a checking line. He has backed out of a commitment to play at the University of North Dakota and will head to the QMJHL next season to skate for Blainville-Boisbriand, where the elder Matteau is working as assistant coach.
And secondly Henrik Samuelsson has travelled a fair amount over the last 18 months. Ulfie's boy was playing with Matteau and the USNTDP until he followed his dad to MoDo in Sweden. After being dropped to MoDo's junior club, Samuelsson returned to North America to join 2011 Rangers 4th round selection Michael St. Croix on the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings. Samuelsson jumped onto the Oil Kings' second line and contributed right away with 10 points in his first 8 games. At 6'3 young Henrik is a big body in front of the net and has a mean streak not unlike his pops. Samuelsson might have raised his draft stock with 14 points in the playoffs, which doesn’t include the five points he put up in four Memorial Cup games.
After toughness, the other glaring weakness that really lasted the length of the Rangers season was faceoffs. The team lost too many draws all over the ice, especially in their own defensive zone. Colton Sissons is a player I think would help with depth down the middle. Sissons plays a smart two-way game, is a quality faceoff man and has an NHL-caliber shot. Sissons served as the captain for the Kelowna Rockets (Gordie Clark loves character!) and finished third on the team in scoring despite a concussion-shortened season. He was able to return in time for the playoffs and by all indications has had a full recovery.
Should the team decide to shore up the blueline, there are two defensive draftees that project in the final third of the first round that interest me. The first is Dalton Thrower. Thrower has a particular snarl to his game that a team can never have enough of and he is unafraid of all physical aspects of the game. True to his surname, Thrower is ready and willing to fight to defend his teammates. His offensive skills might be underrated as well, as he is more than capable of chipping in offensively. The second defenseman is another USNTDP product in Brady Skjei. Skjei plays a solid well-rounded game, but his skating is what really sets him apart as he is one of the better skating defenseman available. At 6’3, Skjei has good size and played top-pair minutes for the gold medal winning Under-18 U.S. team.
If the Rangers do look at a goaltender – Malcolm Subban, Andrei Vasilevski and Oscar Dansk are at the top of this year’s goalie class. Subban is the most athletically gifted of the three and has worked hard in the OHL this past season to round out all areas of his game. Vasilevski is the most technically sound but his status playing in Russia might scare off some teams. Dansk is a big-bodied Swedish goaltender that plays somewhat deep in his net and is known for his intense focus. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Now I’m not saying he’s as good as our beloved Hank, they just have some similar qualities. It’s hard to say if any of the three will be available in the second round, and it's even harder to determine if any are worth a first round pick.
Other options for second round and beyond include: Derek Stepan's cousin Zach. Zach is a two-way center that is starting to get some attention, is coming into his own both offensively and defensively. He does not project to be as offensively talented as Derek but would certainly be an asset. Cristoval "Boo" Nieves, a Michigan Wolverine-commit, would also be worth a look. Nieves has slick hands and a solid 6'2 frame to grow into that he has used last few years playing prep school puck in Connecticut. He also dominated the draft combine finishing in the top-10 in most fitness categories. Defensively, Shayne Gostisbehere is a name worth knowing (and knowing how to spell). Gostisbehere is a true puck-moving defenseman who played quality minutes as a freshman for the Union College Dutchmen. He showed real poise down the stretch for Union and was one of the better defenseman in the entire NCAA tournament.
These drafts are always impossible to predict as one never really knows who will be selected or when. Personally though, I like Colton Sissons. I think he does a lot of the little things that are needed for a team to be successful and most importantly could help this team in the face-off circle. I also think Boo Nieves could be a solid pick-up in the second round as his ceiling is still rising.
Whoever the Rangers draft, they certainly will be well scouted. Gordie Clark and staff have certainly done a good job the past few years and we are beginning to see the returns of their labor at the NHL level with Stepan, Hagelin and Kreider. Here’s to Mr. Clark and co. surprising us with a player we can get excited about and look forward to pulling on that blue sweater.