Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Guest Post: The New York Rangers 2013 Draft Preview

by Matt Lavanco

Skimming stones is one of those activities that is a heck of a lot of fun to do. The satisfaction you feel from finding that perfect stone, flicking your wrist and watching it skip across the water is tremendous. Properly skimming a stone requires as much as skill as it does luck, much like predicting an NHL Draft. Such a task is made even harder when your general manager trades the first and second round selections. The farther away from shore you get, the more chance your stone will sink.

It is a shame that the Rangers – at the moment – will start a ways away from land. If they still had their own selections, they could use talented forwards like Ryan Hartman, Adam Erne, Kerby Rychel Max Domi or Bo Horvat. But, alas, the first time the Blueshirts will call a name will be in the third round, where they have three selections. Add them to the fourth and sixth round spots that the team still possess and this makes for a boom or bust draft and Gordie Clark and the rest of his scouting staff have their work cut out for them. I’m no expert prospect prognosticator, but I’ll try sorting through this year’s crop of talent for our beloved New York Rangers:

First off, the thought of sitting on the sideline for two entire rounds is disappointing. Perhaps Gordie can talk Glen into packaging a pair of their third round picks to move up into the second and draft dynamic winger Oliver Bjorkstrand. Bjorkstrand led all WHL rookies in scoring and plays a hard, fast game. The Portland Winterhawks winger needs to add some more weight to handle the rigors of a pro game, but his scoring and overall skill make him an exciting prospect. Jumping to the defensive side, while still thinking offensively, the Belleville Bulls’ Jordan Subban is a pure puck-moving defenseman that would make quite a pick. Although he is undersized, Subban is a fast skater who possesses a hard shot and is highly intelligent on the ice. Size, however, is a concern and he does need to improve his own zone play, but the Rangers really could use his skill set on the right side of the blueline. If Sather decides to sit on his three third rounders, I’ll be bummed. But there will still be plenty of projects the Rangers could decide to undertake.

One of which is the Kingston Frotenacs’ Ryan Kujawinski. The slick skating center excels in the dot and has a hard shot that challenges goaltenders. But the big hold out is his lack of consistency throughout season. If he can be coaxed into producing night-in, night-out Kujawinski could be a contributor.

The Rangers might also consider a pair of U.S. National Team Development Program players: Hudson Fasching and Tyler Motte. Fasching, a Golden Gopher-commit, is a big rangy power forward with a nose for the net who uses his size to attack the goalmouth and is not easy to knock off the puck. Motte is a small, speedy winger who tied for the Team USA lead in points at the World Junior Under-18s with five goals and two assists in seven games. But he isn’t just a scorer, Motte earned his Stars and Stripes for doing the little things as well - killing penalties, blocking shots, and jumping passes. Motte plays a lot like our own Carl Hagelin (BORK!) and will be taking his game to the Swedish Chef’s old kitchen at Michigan in the fall (BORK! BORK! BORK!).

Another possible third round selection could be Roberts Lipsbergs of the Seattle Thunderbirds, a winger who finished second behind Bjorkstrand in WHL rookie scoring. The Latvian turned it on for the T’birds down the stretch and scored 20 points in the final 21 games. His head coach in the Emerald City, ex-pro Steve Konowalchuk, has lauded Lipsbergs’ abilities as a playmaker and goal-scorer. He is encouraged by Lipsbergs desire to be a complete player, but he says Lipsbergs has to learn to finish his checks and block shots in order to do so.

A pair of offensive defenseman in Dakota Mermis and Niklas Hansson should be available in the middle rounds. Mermis was passed over last year so he defected from the Denver Pioneers to head to the OHL’s perennial powerhouse London Knights to raise his draft stock. He did just that, but this undersized offensively skilled d-man still needs to improve his consistency. Hansson is more of a sleeper, having played the majority of 2013 with Sweden’s Rögle BK Under-20 team. He is another highly skilled d-man with a big upside and he even managed to get in nine games with Rogle’s top team in the Elitserien. But, much like Subban, Hansson’s own zone play leaves a lot to be desired.

Seattle’s Jared Hauf and Sudbury Wolves’ Jeff Corbett are two of your more traditional stay-at-home defenseman. The 6’5 Hauf plays the shutdown role for the Thunderbirds and is a capable puck mover. Corbett flew up the Sudbury’s depth chart with his play and leadership. His own zone play is steady and his offensive game is improving.

A forward that the Rangers are familiar with that may slip through the cracks is Michigan’s Andrew Copp. Copp ended the season in Red Berenson’s top-6 and routinely shared the ice with the Blueshirts’ second round selection last summer Boo Nieves. This Wolverine is a solid two-way center that is adept on the penalty kill and is a leader on and off the ice. Bloodlines always get noticed and Cole Cassels, (son of former NHLer Andrew) also fills the two-way center role for the Oshawa Generals. Cassels’ feisty play earned him 43 points in 64 games but, by his own admission, had a poor postseason that will send him deeper down the draft board.

Other projects include the oversized Tyler Hill and the undersized Taylor Cammarata. At 6’6 Hill has all the tools to be a power forward in the NHL, but has yet to put it all together consistently. Cammarata, all 5’7 of him, led the USHL in scoring with 93 points in 58 games and what he lacks in size he compensates with skill. Headed to Minnesota in the fall, is always around the puck and makes plays happen on the ice.

Apologies but no goaltenders have really stood out amid my scouting that deserve spotlighting. The majority of netminders in this draft class are largely unproven and using one of the limited draft choices is a risky move, even for Sather.

It’ll be interesting to see how the draft plays out on June 30th. The many moves Sather made to strengthen John Tortorella’s team have left the Rangers cupboard close to barren. Now with a new coach coming in, does the scouting staff add size or skill, defense or offense? Do they take a flyer on a no-name foreign goaltender to eventually replace the no-name foreign goaltender they took in the seventh round in 2000, the one who turned into the King? Clark and co. are going to skip some stones, let’s hope some help this team stay afloat.

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