After some 40 years at the forefront of free agency spending, the New York Yankees and their fans found out what it was like to have one of your own stars leave when Robinson Cano signed as a free agent with the Seattle Mariners.

On July 1, the New York Rangers and their fans learned a similar lesson about free agency as they watched Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman head south to Tampa Bay to join Ryan Callahan and Benoit Pouliot head west to Edmonton.

While the three Rangers players are not on par with Cano, Blueshirts fans learned the hard lesson that turnabout is fair play in free agency.

The major difference between the Yankees and the Rangers is in the why. The Yankees let Cano walk because of the franchise’s “desire” to stay under the Major League Baseball Tax threshold of $189 million – a figure they raced past in signing the likes of Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Masahiro Tanaka.

The Rangers decisions on free agency came down to having very little wiggle room due to the NHL’s strict salary cap. The league didn’t do the Rangers any favors when they set the 2014/2015 cap at $69 million instead of the anticipated $71 million. The Blueshirts had to weigh keeping the three Unrestricted Free Agents at the risk of losing their Restricted Free Agents (Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider, John Moore, and Mats Zuccarello), as well UFA Dominic Moore.

While having an interest in keeping the players, the Blueshirts were not going to match the five-year deals that Pouliot and Stralman received, and the Boyle situation came down to a difference in perception – the Rangers see Boyle as a fourth line center and Boyle sees himself as a top nine forward.

“We’re trying to fit guys who were good players for us. We wanted to sign them, but once that one-week period hit, we started to get wind of what their numbers would be and their terms would be,” Assistant GM Jeff Gorton explained during a conference call with the media on July 1. “Going forward, with some of the contracts we have to do and the players we have, it just became difficult.”

With all of the Rangers UFA signings (both NHL and AHL players), CapGeek lists the Rangers available cap space as around $14 million. The Rangers do have the ability to add an additional $6.9 million – which represents the summer salary cap buffer (10% of the cap). However, the team would still need to get down below $69 million by Opening Night.

As you can see, not only were the Rangers handicapped in terms of keeping their own free agents, there is not much wiggle room in terms of bringing in a second or third line center – never mind looking to bring in a first line center – unless President/GM Glen Sather gets extremely creative in terms of dealing away salary.

Even if Sather morphed into the second coming of Houdini, his ability to perform magic tricks on the salary cap is further limited because the team tries to get Marc Staal signed to a new deal before he becomes an UFA next summer.

Yes, Sather could trade him but the cost at replacing him could be even higher – in terms of talent and salary – especially when you look at some of the crazy contract figures that were thrown around for the likes of a Brooks Orpik.

The Rangers first priority is to sign Staal to a long-term contract extension. It was one of the reasons why the Rangers chose to sign Dan Boyle to a two year deal, as opposed to re-signing Stralman to a five year deal. If the Rangers went five years on Stralman and then re-signed Staal to a long-term deal, it would be difficult to have any salary cap maneuverability with five (don’t forget Kevin Klein) of your six d-men working on long-term contracts (four or more years in excess of $2.9 million).

If you figure that Brassard and Zuccarello will get contracts in excess of $3 million per season, and if you round Klein’s contract up, the Rangers will have 11 players making $3 million or more. Believe it or not, that is not the highest number of players. New Jersey has 13 players (and is under the cap) and Philadelphia has 12 (and is over the cap). Five other teams have 11 players making $3 million or more with Boston having $4.7 million in carryover bonus overages that were not factored into the number of players.

I have to admit that I thought the Rangers would have been, far and away, the leader in top-heavy contracts. I suppose it is some solace to know that there are a lot of other teams facing a similar cap hell.

There is a way the Rangers could be able to add a top six/nine forward without having to jump through salary hoops.

The Rangers would need to get a third team involved in order to pull off a three-way deal along the lines of the one that Arizona, Edmonton and the “Rangers South” (I mean Tampa Bay) pulled off.

The Lightning started the three-way deal by trading Teddy Purcell to the Oilers in exchange for Sam Gagner. Steve Yzerman was set to buy out Gagner when Coyotes GM Don Maloney contacted him about the center.

Maloney sent a sixth round draft pick to Tampa Bay for Gagner and B.J. Crombeen (cap hit of $1.15 million) as long as the Lightning agreed to retain one-third of Gagner’s salary and cap hit – the amount Tampa Bay would have been tagged with had the Lightning simply bought out Gagner.

If Sather identifies a forward that piques his interest, he will need to find a team that has cap space available to park a “retained salary transaction”. In return, that team would receive a future draft pick or prospect while retaining some salary on the books in terms of reaching the NHL minimum salary.

The key is finding the right player and the right third team. This might be the one case of having an old codger like Sather as GM might pay off. Since he has been around since the very first NHL faceoff, you know that Slats has built up a career of cache and favors. This is the case when those innocuous “future considerations” in trades can come into play.

Failing such creativity, and even if they are able to get that creative, the Rangers are going to have to rely on some of their youngsters taking the next step in their NHL careers. The likes of J.T. Miller, Oscar Lindberg and Danny Kristo will get the chance to make the permanent jump from the AHL to the NHL.

For Miller, it might be his last best chance to impress Alain Vigneault and his coaching staff because Miller sure didn’t last year. Rather than come to New York prior to training camp and skate with the team at their informal practices, Miller showed up the day before camp started – not a good way to ingratiate yourself with a new regime.

The 2014/2015 season might offer the opportunity for someone like Anthony Duclair to take the leap from Major Junior to the NHL. It is a long shot, but a big training camp could open some opportunities.

There will also be an opportunity for young turks like Brassard, Kreider, Zuccarello and Derek Stepan to elevate their games.

There might even be the chance for a dark horse to emerge and grab an opening night spot on the roster. It could be someone like Chris Mueller who was signed to a one-way contract or it could be some small free agent signing – much like Benoit Pouliot – who steps to the forefront.

Heck, the doors are not completely closed in terms of bringing in an UFA – depending on how much of the salary cap the Rangers RFAs eat up. It is possible that a couple of veteran forwards could be looking for deals as we get closer to the opening of Training Camp. The Rangers might be able to business on a very team-friendly/cap-friendly deal.

The Rangers decided not to wait until they addressed their RFAs before taking a flyer on an UFA. They have signed 32-year-old Matthew Lombardi to a two-year deal worth $800,000 per season. The 5-11/195 center led the Swiss League in scoring last year (46-20-30-50) and is a veteran of 536 NHL games (101-161-262). He last played in the NHL in 2012/2013, splitting 28 games with Phoenix and Anaheim (four goals and four assists).

Lombardi is a player that has been on the Rangers radar according to Gorton.

“We’ve been looking for depth at the center position and Matthew (Lombardi) is always a guy we’ve kept an eye on,” the Assistant GM explained.

He is also a player that is familiar to Coach Alain Vigneault from their years in the Western Conference and Ulf Samuelsson was an assistant coach with the Coyotes during Lombardi’s first tenure in Phoenix.

Lombardi plays a finesse game that is built on his speed, agility and overall skating ability. He has a history of injury problems, the most troublesome being concussions and post-concussion syndrome. His concussion history started during the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs when he took a Derian Hatcher elbow to his head.

Another player the Rangers might have considered is former Phoenix 1st round draft pick Peter Mueller. The 6-2/210 C/RW has struggled after posting a solid rookie season in 2007/2008 (81-22-32-54). Like Lombardi, most of Mueller’s problems stemmed from a concussion late in the 2009/2010 and then another concussion near the end of training camp in 2010/2011 on a hit from Rob Blake. That concussion and post-concussion syndrome forced Mueller to miss that entire season.

The 26-year-old spent last season with Kloten in Switzerland (49-24-22-46) and was last in the NHL during the lockout shortened season of 2012/2013 when he scored 17 points playing with Florida.

In the end, all of that will not amount to a hill of beans if Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis do not live up to the numbers on the backs of their hockey cards. As I said all throughout the playoffs, the Rangers best players have to be their best players.

So after the smoke has cleared on the opening days of Free Agent Frenzy 2014, are the New York Rangers a better team now than they were in the wee hours of June 14? No, they are not.

Will the Rangers be a better team at the start of the 2014/2015 season than they were at the end of the 2013/2014 season? No, they probably won’t be.

Will the Rangers be a better team on January 1, 2015 that they were on July 1, 2014? No, they probably won’t be.

Will the Rangers be a better team after the 2015 Trade Deadline than they are now? That is the time they have to be a better team and the start of being that better team will depend on how successfully Glen Sather runs the salary cap gauntlet during the summer. He has to make sure he has enough cap space to be able to correct any of the holes that might still be around as a result summer trades and free agency machinations.

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The 2014 NHL Entry Draft might very well turn out to be a draft that would bring a smile to Monty Hall’s face. The conventional wisdom among hockey writers is that the 2014 NHL draft will be “Let’s Make a Deal” than “Wheel of Fortune”.

As a quick aside for those who don’t know, Hall spent the 1959-60 season as the radio analyst of the New York Rangers.

Unlike previous drafts where there was a bona fide unanimous first overall pick, the 2014 Draft has what The Hockey News called “The Big Four”: Sam Bennett, Leon Draisaitl, Aaron Ekblad, and Sam Reinhart. The Hockey News featured all four of these players on the cover of their 2014 Draft Preview under the headline “Fantastic Four”.

In his “Editor’s Notebook” column, Brian Costello drew a comparison between this year’s draft and a couple of other drafts that featured four players who were grouped at the top and how the best laid plans of mice, men and GMs can go astray.

Three years ago the talk was all about Sean Couturier, Gabriel Landeskog, Adam Larsson, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being the top four players of the draft. As it turned out, Couturier fell to number eight and Jonathan Huberdeau jumped into the top four in 2011.

In 1990, Costello points out, the big four consisted Petr Nedved, Owen Nolan, Keith Primeau, and Mike Ricci. While those players were taken as the top four picks, it was pick number five who turned out to be the star/steal of the draft, Jaromir Jagr – unless you consider Martin Brodeur at number 20 to be the star/steal of 1990.

Costello even admitted that THN’s fifth (Michael Dal Colle) and sixth (William Nylander, son of former NHLer Michael Nylander) rated player could find their way into the big four.

It is the lack of a Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin at the top of the draft that has the trade lines buzzing. It doesn’t hurt that GMs have been freely admitting that they expect a lot of movement in this year’s draft, with Florida’s Dale Tallon being at the head of the list.

With the Panthers owning the first overall pick, Tallon has the power to set the trade winds in motion and conceded as far back as May 21 that he was being contacted by other teams.

“I’ve already had a few guys kicking tires,” Tallon relayed to Kevin Allen of USA Today. “We’re going to get more calls.”

Allen speculated that Tallon could simply keep the first overall pick, trade down in the first round for a combination of players/prospects/picks, or deal the #1 pick as part of blockbuster deal to acquire a star player.

On June 19, TSN’s Darren Dreger tweeted that Tallon had heard from eight teams interested in making a deal – with Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, and Vancouver among the teams showing interest.

New Flames GM Brad Treliving thinks the balance of the draft could be the driving factor in deal making.

“This draft does set up where I could make the statement that we may see more movement in the top end of the draft than maybe we have seen in the last few years,” Treliving offered to Allen.

“I think there is probably a consensus on the top five, but I think there might be 30 different lists of what order.”

Nashville’s David Poile, owner of the 11th overall pick, admitted that he is getting heavy interest from teams wanting to make a deal.

“I’ve already been approached and … it’s a possibility,” Poile told Josh Cooper of USA Today on June 17. “There’s always that possibility I would trade that first-round pick — I’ve made that open to some people I’ve talked to. It would be for a top forward if we could do that.
“I’m not predicting that will happen, but if someone had that top-six forward, I would certainly consider trading that first-round pick.”

Draft day deals in Philadelphia on the weekend of June 27 may not necessarily come strictly out of on-ice necessity. Dallas GM Jim Nill believes economics and the salary cap may drive some deals.

“Some teams are going to be looking to move some salaries, and I just have a feeling there could be a lot of moves,” the Stars boss told Allen.

The most logical trade would between Florida and Edmonton. The Oilers would get the stud defenseman they need in Aaron Ekblad while the Panthers would end up with the second best forward in the draft. The question is what else would the Panthers want in order to switch places – NHL-proven player, draft picks or a combination of both?

The other team to watch is Philadelphia. With the Flyers hosting the draft, they might want to make a splash in front of the hometown fans by moving up into the top five or so of the draft.

In this Mock Draft, each player has ratings for the following scouting services: NHL’s Central Scouting (CS), The Hockey News (THN), and International Scouting Service (ISS). CS breaks down their ratings by North American skaters (NAS), European skaters (ES), North American goaltenders (NAG) and European goaltenders (EG). THN lists each prospect’s NHL Translation while ranking skaters and goaltenders together. ISS provides a prospects’ comparable NHL player and has separate rankings for skaters and goaltenders.

The Draft positions utilized are those as of June 26, 2014.

1. FLORIDA PANTHERS – Aaron Ekblad – D
CS: # 2NAS —– THN: # 2 (Cornerstone d-man)
ISS: # 2 (Rob Blake)
If the Panthers have their sights set on one of the top forwards, then they should try and trade out of the 1st overall pick and look to add other assets. Lacking a trade, look for GM Dale Tallon to adhere to the idea of when in doubt, build from the back out and add Ekblad to Erik Gudbranson as looks to replicate his success with the Blackhawks.
2. BUFFALO SABRES – Sam Bennett – C
CS: # 1NAS —– THN: # 1 (Heart-and-soul forward)
ISS: # 4 (Logan Couture)
Much was made about Bennett’s inability to do a pull-up, but that is something that can be taken care off. What can’t be ignored is his superb hockey sense and skills. He is good enough, talent-wise, to succeed in a finesse game and he is still strong enough physically to succeed in a chippy game.

3. EDMONTON OILERS – Leon Draisaitl – C
CS: # 4NAS —– THN: # 4 (Top-line center)
ISS: # 6 (Anze Kopitar)
The Oilers should be prime contenders to move up for Ekblad or down to position themselves for a run at Haydn Fleury. They could still take Fleury, but if they stay at #3, the pick should be Draisaitl. His size and playmaking abilities draw comparisons to Kopitar and Joe Thornton – and he has a mean streak as seen by his 52 PIMs and suspensions at the WJC.

4. CALGARY FLAMES – Sam Reinhart – C
CS: # 3 NAS —– THN: # 3 (Two-way center)
ISS: # 1 (Patrice Bergeron)
Sam’s father, Paul, was the 12th overall pick by the Atlanta Flames in 1979. Sam has two brothers who are NHL bound: Max (Calgary 3rd round 2010) and Griffin (Islanders 1st round 2012). If Reinhart is gone, the Flames could very well draft Bennett. He is a solid player in all three zones and his family pedigree should help him make that next step to the NHL.

5. NEW YORK ISLANDERS – Michael Dal Colle – RW
CS: # 5NAS —– THN: # 5 (Dynamic point producer)
ISS: # 3 (Patrick Marleau)
The Isles chose to keep this pick and send their 2015 1st rounder to Buffalo as part of the Thomas Vanek trade. Dal Colle’s shot; size and offensive ability could prove to be the perfect running mate for John Tavares. Dal Colle should the type of progress from his first year (48 points) to his second year (95 points) that you want to see in a top prospect. The Islanders have shown a penchant for bringing in Oshawa Generals (first round draft picks John Tavares and Calvin de Haan and trading for Cal Clutterbuck).

6. VANCOUVER CANUCKS – Nikolaj Ehlers – LW
CS: # 13NAS —– THN: # 7 (Dynamic point producer)
ISS: # 11 (Matt Duchene)
Ehlers’ dad, Heinz, was the a 9th round draft pick by the Rangers in 1984. While he has a slight build (5-11/162), Ehlers is ahead of the typical European player because he spent last season with Halifax of the QMJHL, scoring 49 goals and 55 assists in 63 games. Ehlers is equally comfortable in traffic or taking on, and beating, defenders wide.

7. CAROLINA HURRICANES – Nick Ritchie – LW
CS: # 7 NAS —– THN: # 9 (Power forward)
ISS: # 10 (Milan Lucic)
At 6-2/226, Ritchie brings size and scoring touch to an offensive forwards corps that is more finesse than physical. Ritchie is the prototypical power forward that all teams crave. THN says that his best he can project out as a Jamie Benn type of player, but he also could project out as an Anthony Stewart type of player. Ritchie just needs to find a consistency to his game to take the next step.

8. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS – Brendan Perlini – LW
CS: # 8 NAS —– THN: # 12 (Pure goal scorer)
ISS: # 9 (Jeff Carter)
Brendan’s father Fred was an 8th round pick of Toronto in 1980. Brendan is sure to surpass his dad’s total of eight NHL games based on his size (6-2/205) and natural goal scoring talents. Last season was his breakout year in the OHL scoring 71 points (34-37) after registering just 12 in his first year.

9. WINNIPEG JETS – Jake Virtanen – RW
CS: # 6 NAS —– THN: # 11 (Pure goal scorer)
ISS: # 7 (James Neal)
Virtanen might be the best pure sniper in the draft this year thanks to his big-time shot and a willingness to use his size (6-0/208) – as seen by his 100 PIMs. Virtanen nearly tripled his goal scoring output from his first year in the WHL to last year (16 to 45).

10. ANAHEIM DUCKS – William Nylander – C/RW
CS: # 2 ES —– THN: # 6 (Dynamic point producer)
ISS: # 5 (Henrik Zetterberg)
Nylander, son of former NHLer Michael, has all of the offensive tools to be a star: puck handling, speed and hockey sense. The one concern is his size (5-11/169) and lack of strength. Nylander dominated the World U-18 Tournament with six goals and 10 assists in seven games.

11. NASHVILLE PREDATORS – Kasperi Kapanen – RW
CS: # 1 ES —– THN: # 10 (Two-way forward)
ISS: # 13 (Tomas Plekanec)
Kapanen (Sami) makes it back-to-back sons of NHL players. Kasperi missed out on Finland’s WJC gold due to a shoulder injury. While his numbers in Finland might not be gaudy, the blame lies in a poor KalPa team that looked to the teenager to be its leader. His strong skating is the key to his ability to produce offensively and in controlling the puck.

12. ARIZONA COYOTES – Dylan Larkin – C
CS: # 17 NAS —– THN: # 14 (Heart-and-soul forward)
ISS: # 15 (Ryan O’Reilly)
Larkin is a product of the US National Team Development Program and will continue his development at the University of Michigan. Larkin is an on-ice leader who combines size (6-1/190) and solid skating skills. Unlike a lot of prospects, Larkin has excellent hockey sense and is always ready to compete.

13. WASHINGTON CAPITALS – Haydn Fleury – D
CS: # 9 NAS —– THN: # 8 (Cornerstone d-man)
ISS: # 12 (Ryan McDonagh)
One scout told THN that Fleury has the “S’s – size (6-2/203), skating and sense.” Fleury partnered with Roland McKeown on Canada’s bronze medal U-18 team, where Fleury was named the tourney’s best defenseman. He uses his hockey sense well as is solid in all three zones and can play in all situations equally well.

14. DALLAS STARS – Julius Honka – D
CS: # 11 NAS —– THN: # 16 (Offensive defenseman)
ISS: # 40 (Torrey Krug)
While Honka is going to have to work to overcome his lack of size (5-10/180), he took the first step by playing this season with Swift Current in the WHL. While Honka is still a work in progress defensively, there is no questioning his offensive ability. Honka features a good shot and the ability to use his skating and vision to create plays.

15. DETROIT RED WINGS – Alex Tuch – RW
CS: # 12 NAS —– THN: # 17 (Power forward)
ISS: # 14 (Keith Primeau)
The Red Wings are an organization that knows the value of not rushing prospects and that is good given that Tuch is enrolled at Boston College. Tuch (as in truck) already has an NHL body (6-3/213). Tuch came up through the USNTDP and played on a line with Sonny Milano and Jack Eichel in the U-18 Tournament. Tuch always comes to compete every night and can be an extra special player if he develops an offensive game to go with his heavy shot.

16. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS – Roland McKeown – D
CS: # 27 NAS —– THN: # 26 (Top-four defenseman)
ISS: # 23 (Brent Seabrook)
The Blue Jackets drafted three forwards in the 1st in 2013, so they need to look at upgrading the blue line this time around. McKeown does not stand out as an offensive or defensive d-man. He is a good two-way defender with excellent hockey sense and leadership ability as he served as Canada’s captain in the U-18.

17. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS – Sonny Milano – LW
CS: # 16 NAS —– THN: # 24 (dynamic point producer)
ISS: # 16 (T.J. Oshie)
The Flyers might look defense with this pick, but will decide their value is better with Milano. Usually you think of big, physical players when you think of Philly. Milano has average size (6-0/183) but well above average skating ability with an uncanny elusiveness when handling the puck. While he needs time to develop his game and to harness his ability, he will get that chance at Boston College.

18. MINNESOTA WILD – Kevin Fiala – LW
CS: # 3 ES —– THN: # 13 (Dynamic point producer)
ISS: # 20 (Henrik Zetterberg)
Fiala plays with an edge that belies his size (5-10/180). The Swiss native played in Sweden this year – playing in both the Junior and Senior leagues and did not look out of place playing against Sweden’s best. In between, the elusive and crafty Fiala represented the Swiss at the WJC and the U-18.

19. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING – Robby Fabbri – C
CS: # 21 NAS —– THN: # 20 (Dynamic point producer)
ISS: # 8 (Doug Gilmour)
Fabbri (5-10/170) doesn’t have ideal NHL size, but neither did Martin St. Louis. Fabbri makes up for stature with an excellent combination of skating, stick skills, hockey sense, and compete level. He also showed the ability to mix it up and get dirty with a 10-game suspension for a check to the head in November. However, karma did bite Fabbri as he missed four playoff games after suffering a headshot. Fabbri bounced back well with 28 points in 16 games.

20. SAN JOSE SHARKS – Ivan Barbashev – C/LW
CS: # 18 NAS —– THN: # 22 (Two-way forward)
ISS: # 19 (Brayden Schenn)
Russian by birth, Barbashev plays a North American style of play – which was enhanced by spending the last two years with Moncton of the QMJHL. While an offensive players in Juniors, Barbashev played a checking role at the WJC. One plus is his ability to play the point on the power play.

21. ST. LOUIS BLUES (4) – Jared McCann – C
CS: # 10NAS —– THN: # 15 (Two-way center)
ISS: # 17 (Steve Yzerman)
This pick could still wind up with the Sabres if the Blues trade the rights to goalie Ryan Miller before the draft. For our purposes, we are working on the theory that the Blues will keep the pick. McCann is a solid two-way center who is strong defensively and can contribute offensively – as well as see time on both special teams thanks to his high compete level.

22. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS – Jakub Vrana – LW/RW
CS: # 4 ES —– THN: # 19 (Dynamic point producer)
ISS: # 21 (Alex Steen)
The Penguins continue their search to find viable linemates for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Like Fiala, Vrana left his home (Czech Republic) to play In Sweden’s Junior and Senior leagues while representing his country at the WJC and U-18 (where he had eight goals in seven games). He has a big-time shot that gives him the potential to be a game-changer on offense.

23. COLORADO AVALANCHE – Travis Sanheim – D
CS: # 53 NAS —– THN: # 21 (Offensive defenseman)
ISS: # 30 (Tyler Myers)
The Avalanche are loaded with young star forwards so help on the blue line would not be a bad thing. Sanheim got better as the season progressed and topped it off with a strong showing at the U-18 where his six points (all assists) led all d-men in scoring. He has the size (6-3/181) and strength to develop into a two-way blueliner.

24. ANAHEIM DUCKS – David Pastrnak – RW
CS: # 5 ES —– THN: # 23 (Dynamic point producer)
ISS: # 33 (Zach Parise)
Pastrnak left the Czech Republic and spent his non-WJC and non-U-18 time in the Swedish Elite League – the second consecutive year he spent in the SEL. He utilizes speed and elusiveness to keep defenders at bay. He needs to bulk up a bit (6-0/168), but his overall offensive ability by his hockey sense and ice vision.

25. BOSTON BRUINS – Connor Bleackley – C
CS: # 35 NAS —– THN: # 30 (Heart-and-soul forward)
ISS: # 26 (Jonathan Toews)
You just get the feeling that Bleackley is a Bruins type of player. As a 17-year-old, he captained his Junior team (Red Deer-WHL) and is a hard-nosed, hard-worker who plays in all situations. He will easily be a third-line player in the NHL, but if he works on his skating he could become an impact second-line center who is solid on faceoffs.

26. MONTREAL CANADIENS – Joshua Ho-Sang – C/RW
CS: # 22 NAS —– THN: # 27 (Enigmatic scorer)
ISS: # 18 (Nazem Kadri)
When THN asks for a one word evaluation from a scout, and that word is “Yikes”, bells and whistles go off. It has nothing to do with his offensive ability which is powered by outstanding skating and puck skills. It has to do with him not being that physical (5-11/175) and mostly for being immature. Ho-Sang was hit with a 15-game suspension for a hit in his last playoff game. The OHL later reduced the suspension to six games. If he can harness his game and become more of a team player, his speed makes him an ideal member of the Flying Frenchmen.

27. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS – Adrian Kempe – LW
CS: # 6 ES —– THN: # 29 (Top-nine forward)
ISS: # 22 (Gabriel Landeskog)
Kempe has good size (6-1/187) and uses it to play a good, solid physical game. He is not afraid to go into the high-contact areas of the ice and he comes to play every night. His offensive game might develop as he matures and develops. He did not look out of place playing in the SEL with Modo for 45 games.

28. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING – Anthony DeAngelo – D
CS: # 14 NAS —– THN: # 50 (Offensive defenseman)
ISS: # 32 (Phil Housely)
When you have extra 1st round picks, you can take a gamble on high-risk, high-reward players like DeAngelo. In his 3rd year at Sarnia, the 5-10/170 d-man tallied 15 goals and 56 assist in 51 games. His offensive game is predicated on his skating and puck skills, but he needs work in the defensive zone and in getting stronger. Perhaps the biggest red flag could be the two suspensions he served for breaking the OHL’s policy on harassment, abuse and diversity. Incredibly, his second suspension was for comments he made towards a teammate. As I said, when you have extra 1st round picks you are more likely to gamble.

29. LOS ANGELES KINGS – Marcus Pettersson – D
CS: # 7 ES —– THN: # 39 (Two-way defenseman)
ISS: # 43 (John Carlson)
Speaking of gambling, using a 1st round pick on Pettersson might be a bit of a reach, but the 6-4/165 blueliner might be well worth it – especially when you are a multiple Stanley Cup winner. While he still has to mature and grow into his body physically, skills wise Pettersson has all of the tools to be a top four defenseman. He has a heavy shot and his surprisingly mobile for someone of his stature.

30. NEW JERSEY DEVILS – Nikita Scherbak – RW
CS: # 15 NAS —– THN: # 18 (Dynamic point producer)
ISS: # 27 (Martin Havlat)
The Devils are just happy to have a seat at the dance in the first round after having to give up their original 1st round pick as punishment for the Ilya Kovalchuk contract kerfuffle. However, thanks to Lou Lamoriello’s pull with the NHL and Gary Bettman, the Devils sneak back into the first round. More playmaker than pure goal scorer, Scherbak did not look out of place in his first year in the WHL. In 54 games, he scored 69 points (26-43). His offensive game is built on his skating and puck skills. Because of his skating skills, Scherbak is an effective forechecker.

First Round Draft Pick Transactions
1. The Ottawa Senators’ first-round pick will go to the Anaheim Ducks as the result of trade on July 5, 2013, that sent Bobby Ryan to Ottawa in exchange for Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen and this pick.
2. The New York Rangers’ first-round pick will go to the Tampa Bay Lightning as the result of a trade on March 5, 2014 that sent Martin St. Louis to New York in exchange for Ryan Callahan, a first-round pick in 2015 and this pick (being conditional at the time of the trade). The condition — Tampa Bay will receive a first-round pick in 2014 if the Rangers advance to the 2014 Eastern Conference Final — was converted on May 13, 2014.
3. The New Jersey Devils will pick 30th overall in the first round. The Devils were expected to forfeit their first-round pick in 2014 (they elected to keep their first-round picks in 2011, 2012 and 2013) as the result of a penalty sanction due to cap circumvention when signing Ilya Kovalchuk. The penalty also included a fine of $3 million and the forfeit of the Devils’ third round pick in 2011. The NHL partially rescinded the penalty keeping all of the penalties, except for modifying the first-round pick and reducing the fine to $1.5 million.
4. Buffalo receives St. Louis’ 2014 1st round pick if the Blues re-sign Ryan Miller or if they trade his rights before the draft. If Miller signs or is traded after the draft, it becomes a 2016 2nd round pick. St. Louis receives Ryan Miller and Steve Ott for a conditional 2014 first round pick, a 2015 1st round pick, Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart and William Carrier.

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On the day prior to the NHL draft, the NHL’s Board of Governors voted to change the way the league conducts its annual Draft Lottery.

According to an article appearing online at TSN, “The league has proposed smoothing or compressing the odds among the 14 non-playoff teams for the 2015 draft and then increasing the number of selections determined by the lottery in 2016.”

During meetings held during the Stanley Cup Final, the article says that Buffalo GM Tim Murray told TSN’s Pierre LeBrun that the changes would not be in effect for the 2015 Draft which features Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.

The NHL Players’s Association would have to vote to ratify any changes before they could be implemented.

In this Second Round Mock Draft, each player has ratings for the following scouting services: NHL’s Central Scouting (CS), The Hockey News (THN), and International Scouting Service (ISS). CS breaks down their ratings by North American skaters (NAS), European skaters (ES), North American goaltenders (NAG) and European goaltenders (EG). THN lists each prospect’s NHL Translation while ranking skaters and goaltenders together. ISS provides a prospects’ comparable NHL player and has separate rankings for skaters and goaltenders.

The Draft positions utilized are those as of June 26, 2014.

31. BUFFALO SABRES – Jack Glover – D
CS: # 38 NAS —– THN: # 38 (Big, mobile defenseman)
ISS: # 44 (Ben Lovejoy)
The right-handed shot will continue his development at the University of Minnesota. Glover combines good size (6-3/190) with solid skating ability. While he still has some room to grow his game, he has the right work ethic needed to take his game to the next level.

32. FLORIDA PANTHERS – Thatcher Demko – G
CS: # 1 NAG —– THN: # 28 (Franchise goaltender)
ISS: # 1 G (Not Available)
The Roberto Luongo deal took care of Florida’s current goaltending needs, but left a hole in the future with trading of Jakub Markstrom. Demko gives the Panthers hope for the future. The 6-4/195 Demko took over Boston College’s goalie duties as freshman and never looked back. He uses that size well as he switches from a stand-up style to the butterfly as the need warrants. He is expected to backstop Team USA in the WJC.

33. ST. LOUIS BLUES – Ryan MacInnis – C
CS: # 20 NAS —– THN: # 44 (Two-way center)
ISS: # 25 (Jordan Staal)
Ryan is the son of Blues VP of Operations Al MacInnis. While he doesn’t have his dad’s shot (then again, who does), MacInnis is a versatile center who plays a solid game at both ends of the ice. While he has nice size (6-3/183), he still has some room to grow as he matures and gets stronger.

34. CALGARY FLAMES – Jack Dougherty – D
CS: # 30 NAS —– THN: # 25 (Offensive defenseman)
ISS: # 42 (Jason Woolley)
Dougherty originally committed to Ohio State, but he left for the University of Wisconsin when Buckeyes coach Mark Osiecki was fired. Dougherty’s attributes are those that all NHL teams look for: right-handed shot, speed and mobility – with a good dose of hockey sense.

35. NEW YORK ISLANDERS – Alex Nedeljkovic – G
CS: # 4 NAG —– THN: # 45 (Starting goaltender)
ISS: # 3 G (Not available)
If Demko doesn’t lead the USA at the WJC, then Nedeljkovic will – following up his gold medal performance at the U-18. That was a big accomplishment for a player who wasn’t developed within the USNTDP. Alex’s reflexes, anticipation and positioning are at a high level and help compensate for his average size (6-0/184).

36. VANCOUVER CANUCKS – Alex Peters – D
CS: # 56 NAS —– THN: # 68 (Not available)
ISS: # 47 (Marc Staal)
Peters has the one thing that you can’t teach – size (6-3/207). As big as he is, Peters still has room to grow his physical game. Peters, the younger brother of Carolina goalie Justin Peters, is a defensive d-man who is very good at reading the play – especially in the defensive end. He has above average skating skills for someone his size and has a good shot from the point.

37. CAROLINA HURRICANES – Mason McDonald – G
CS: # 2 NAG —– THN: # 52 (Project goaltender)
ISS: # 2 G (Not available)
Whether or not the ‘canes move Cam Ward, the team needs to move to start finding an eventual replacement. His size (6-4/185) and his right-handed catching glove will present problems for opponents. His development was slow until he was traded in the QMJHL. That paved the way for McDonald to lead Team Canada to a bronze medal at the U-18.

38. ANAHEIM DUCKS – Domenik Masin – D
CS: # 10 ES —– THN: # 35 (Two-way defenseman)
ISS: # 55 (Josh Gorges)
Masin (as in machine) captained the Czech Republic to a silver medal in the U-18. At 6-2/189, Masin is not afraid to use his size and led all Czech Republic Junior league players in PIMs (102). Masin is a solid two-way defenseman who has the skating and offensive ability to join the rush. He is a solid leader and is a strong character player.

39. BUFFALO SABRES – Nick Schmaltz – C/RW
CS: # 19 NAS —– THN: # 31 (Dynamic point producer)
ISS: # 24 (Alex Semin)
Nick’s brother Jordan was St. Louis’ 1st round pick in 2012. Nick is expected to move from the USHL and join his brother at the University of North Dakota. He has natural offensive skills where he is more playmaker than goal scorer at this point in his career. He will need to work on his defensive zone coverage and he will need to get stronger and bulk up his frame (5-11/172).

40. OTTAWA SENATORS – Vladislav Kamenev – C/LW
CS: # 13 ES —– THN: # 56 (Enigmatic scorer)
ISS: # 29 (Eric Staal)
The specter of the KHL very well may cost Kamenev a shot at a 1st round selection. Kamenev was Russia’s captain at the U-18 where he was their leading scorer (seven points in five games). While he has good size (6-2/185), Kamenev needs to learn to play more in traffic. Outside of that, Kamenev is a solid skater who features a big shot.

41. NEW JERSEY DEVILS – Brendan Lemieux – LW
CS: # 28 NAS —– THN: # 37 (Agitating forward)
ISS: # 34 (Claude Lemieux)
The younger Lemieux does play a physical game, but he does not play on the uber-pest level that his father did. Brendan is a smart two-way forward who is tough to play against. He is a player who can add offense to a defensive third line or defense to an offensive second line.

42. NASHVILLE PREDATORS – John Quenneville – C
CS: # 23 NAS —– THN: # 36 (Solid point producer)
ISS: # 41 (Scott Hartnell)
Quenneville’s hockey bloodlines run deep. His second cousin is Chicago’s coach, his brother-in-law is Johnny Boychuk and his older brother Peter was a 7th round pick of Columbus and John’s teammate in Brandon. Quenneville is a tenacious player who uses his talents well when forechecking, while having good offensive skills.

43. ARIZONA COYOTES – Brett Pollock – C
CS: # 34 NAS —– THN: # 33 (Solid point producer)
ISS: # 36 (Kris Beech)
At 6-2/182, Pollock combines NHL size with a soft touch around the net. He will do whatever it takes to score and has variety of means to do so. His NHL ceiling could be even higher if he is able to strengthen his skating and work on improving his play in the defensive zone.

44. WASHINTON CAPITALS – Eric Cornel – C
CS: # 25 NAS —– THN: # 41 (Two-way center)
ISS: # 37 (Jared Aulin)
Cornel saw his numbers jump big-time from his first to second years with Peterborough (16 points to 62). He is a solid two-way player who is more of playmaker than scorer. While his size isn’t a problem (6-1/186), Cornel still needs to get stronger and work on using his size more effectively.

45. DALLAS STARS – Adam Ollas Mattsson – D
CS: # 15 ES —– THN: # 98 (Not available)
ISS: # 50 (Niklas Hjalmarsson)
Mattsson is a solid defensive blueliner who has the ability to make a smart first pass out of his zone. The 6-4/216 Mattsson has NHL size already and he isn’t afraid to use it. He will need to work on his skating which is average at best. He has the ability and natural talent to become a shutdown defenseman.

46. NASHVILLE PREDATORS – Brycen Martin – D
CS: # 26 NAS —– THN: # 51 (Offensive defenseman)
ISS: # 63 (Not available)
Martin is a good skater with strong puckhandling skills. The best part of his game is his ability to make that first pass out of the zone. It also causes him some problems because he lets mistakes carry over from one shift to another. In addition to starting the breakouts, Martin has the offensive ability to join the rush and utilize good offensive abilities.

47. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS – Andreas Englund – D
CS: # 30 ES —– THN: # 46 (Defensive defenseman)
ISS: # 67 (Not available)
Englund (6-3/189) is a defensive defenseman who knows his limitations on the ice. He is a good skater for his size and has good puckhandling skills, but he does not that have much of an offensive game. With that said, he will do whatever it takes defensively to win.

48. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS – Justin Kirkland – LW
CS: # 67 NAS —– THN: # 54 (Two-way forward)
ISS: # 35 (Blake Wheeler)
As a 17-year-old, Kirkland had a strong rookie season for Kelowna (WHL) with 48 points (17-31) in 68 games. At 6-2/175, Kirkland is still growing into his body and will continue to develop as a high-energy power forward type of player. Kirkland improved as the season progressed and tallied 10 points in 14 playoff games.

49. BUFFALO SABRES – Ryan Collins – D
CS: # 57 NAS —– THN: # 55 (Defensive defenseman)
ISS: # 52 (Bryan Allen)
The 6-5/202 Collins has the ability to impact a game based on his size and defensive play. Enrolled at the University of Minnesota, Collins has the abilities to add an offensive component to his game based on his first pass and good shot. As an imposing right-handed shooting d-man, Collins is a tempting prospect who might need an extra year or so to develop his game.

50. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING – Brayden Point – C
CS: # 31 NAS —– THN: # 42 (Dynamic point producer)
ISS: # 38 (Derek Roy)
At 5-9/160, the only thing holding Point back is his size. However, the organization that gave Martin St. Louis his big chance is not going to shy away from a talent like Point. His skating game is built more on being elusive than speedy, but it is his hockey sense and overall offensive skills that allows Point to thrive.

51. SAN JOSE SHARKS – Nikolai Goldobin – RW
CS: # 24 NAS —– THN: # 34 (Pure goal scorer)
ISS: # 28 (Gustav Nyquist)
The Russian-born Goldobin left home two years ago to play in Sarnia (OHL) and saw his point total rise from 68 (30-38) to 94 (38-56) – a total that was 2nd to Michael Dal Colle among all draft-eligible OHL prospects. Goldobin’s superb puckhandling is the key to his offensive game. He needs to work on improving his defensive and physical play.

52. ST. LOUIS BLUES – Dylan Sadowy – C/LW
CS: # 33 NAS —– THN: # 76 (Not available)
ISS: # 46 (Brendan Gallagher)
Sadowy is a solid two-way player who can play in all situations. Sadowy showed a development in his offensive game at Saginaw (OHL) as he went from two goals in 2012/2013 to 27 last season. While his offensive game is still a work in progress, his defensive game and compete level are high.

53. SAN JOSE SHARKS – Anton Karlsson – RW
CS: # 11 ES —– THN: # 86 (Not available)
ISS: # 31 (David Backes)
As the Sharks continue to find a way to get to the Stanley Cup Final, having a player like Karlsson will help. The 6-1/187 RW is a versatile winger who uses his size to score in the high-contact areas thanks to his tenacity and strong hockey sense. His physical game makes him a valuable asset along the boards and on the forecheck.

54. CALGARY FLAMES – Nicolas Aube-Kubel –RW
CS: # 40 NAS —– THN: # 60 (Top-nine forward)
ISS: # 73 (Not available)
Aube-Kubel played in all three situations in his second season with Val-d’Or (QMJHL) as he improved from 27 points (10-17) to 53 (22-31). At this point of his development, Aube-Kubel’s game is a defensive player with a developing offensive skillset. His offensive development will be based on his ability to use his hockey sense to elevate his offense.

55. ANAHEIM DUCKS – Shane Eiserman – LW
CS: # 45 NAS —– THN: # Not Rated in the Top 100 (Not available)
ISS: # 48 (Brandon Dubinsky)
Eiserman in enrolled at the University of New Hampshire. The winger left the USNTDP last year to jump to Dubuque (USHL) where he scored 16 goals and 24 assists in 53 games. At 6-1/200, Eiserman is a potential power forward who succeeds as a two-way forward. He used his size and skating to wreak havoc on the forecheck. He uses those same attributes to drive to the net and work the high-contact areas of the ice.

56. BOSTON BRUINS – Johnathan MacLeod – D
CS: # 44NAS —– THN: # 32 (Defensive defenseman)
ISS: # 72 (Not available)
Although committed to Boston University, THN wondered if his development would be better playing Junior hockey with Moncton (QMJHL). MacLeod was the 7th d-man for Team USA at the U-18. He uses his size (6-2/200) and hockey sense to play a defensive style. With the defensive size locked down, he needs to work on improving his offensive skills by improving his average skating and puckhandling skills.

57. NEW YORK ISLANDERS – Juho Lammikko – LW
CS: # 14 ES —– THN: # 83 (Not available)
ISS: # 49 (Kyle Okposo)
Lammikko uses his size (6-1/180) to gain time and position so that he can utilize his heavy shot. He is a solid player at both ends of the ice and is willing to do what is necessary to win. He split time in Finland in the men’s league and the junior league.

58. ARIZONA COYOTES – Oskar Lindblom – LW
CS: # 23 ES —– THN: # Not Rated in Top 100 (Not available)
ISS: # 51 (Johan Franzen)
Lindblom is another solid two-way forward who has the body and willingness to work his way to the slot thanks to his nose for the net. While he uses his strength to be strong on the puck, Lindblom needs to work on his skating. The best part of his game is that he is already a North American style of player.

59. NEW YORK RANGERS – Hunter Smith – RW
CS: # 39 NAS —– THN: # 49 (Power forward)
ISS: # 39 (Shawn Thornton)
The knock on the Rangers during their Stanley Cup Final against the Kings was their lack of size. The 6-6/210 Smith should go a long way to help bring more of a physical presence to NY. Smith went undrafted last year after tallying a goal and an assist in 45 games during 2011-12 and 2012-13. This season he scored 16 goals and 24 assists in 64 games. Smith will need to improve his skating and defensive play if he wants to go beyond being a third/fourth line player.

60. LOS ANGELES KINGS – Ryan Donato – C
CS: # 58 NAS —– THN: # 40 (Dynamic point producer)
ISS: # 100 (Not available)
Donato is set to join his father Ted, who is the coach at Harvard, starting with the 2015-16 season. In the meantime, Donato has to decide if he will return to Dexter H.S. next year or will he look to go to the USHL (Omaha) or the British Columbia Hockey League. One would expect Ryan will consult with his father and his eventual draft team. Donato is a strong two-way player who sees the ice and uses his puckhandling abilities to be a skilled playmaker. He will have to raise his level of play as he steps up in leagues and competition.

Second Round Draft Pick Transactions
1. The Edmonton Oilers’’ second-round pick will go to the St. Louis Blues as the result of a trade on July 10, 2013 that sent David Perron to Edmonton in exchange for Magnus Paajarvi and this pick.
2. The Toronto Maple Leafs’ second-round pick will go to the Anaheim Ducks as the result of a trade on November 16, 2013 that sent Peter Holland and Brad Staubitz to Toronto in exchange for Jesse Blacker, Anaheim’s seventh-round pick in 2014 and this pick (being conditional at the time of the trade). The condition – Anaheim will receive a second-round pick in 2014 if Holland plays in 25 or more games for the Maple Leafs during the 2013-14 NHL season – was converted on January 18, 2014.
3. The Winnipeg Jets’ second-round pick will go to the Buffalo Sabres as the result of a trade on March 5, 2014 that sent Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick to Minnesota for Torrey Mitchell, a second-round pick in 2016 and this pick.
Minnesota previously acquired this pick as the result of a trade on July 5, 2013 that sent Devin Setoguchi to Winnipeg in exchange for this pick.
4. The Detroit Red Wings’ second-round pick will go to the Nashville Predators as the result of a trade on March 5, 2014 that sent David Legwand to Detroit in exchange for Patrick Eaves, Calle Jarnkrok, and this pick (being conditional at the time of the trade). The condition – Nashville will receive a second-round pick in 2014 if Detroit qualifies for the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs – was converted on April 9, 2014.
5. The Minnesota Wild’s second-round pick will go to the Buffalo Sabres as the result of trade on April 3, 2013 that sent Jason Pominville and a fourth-round pick in 2014 to Minnesota in exchange for Matt Hackett, Johan Larsson, a first-round pick in 2013 and this pick.
6. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ second-round pick will go to the San Jose Sharks as the result of a trade on March 25, 2013 that sent Douglas Murray to Pittsburgh in exchange for a second-round pick in 2013 and this pick (being conditional at the time of the trade). The condition – If Pittsburgh wins two rounds in the 2013 playoffs or if Murray re-signs with Pittsburgh, then San Jose will receive Pittsburgh’s second-round pick in 2014 – was converted on May 24, 2013 when Pittsburgh advanced to the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals.
7. The Colorado Avalanche’s second-round pick will go to the Calgary Flames as the result of a trade on March 5, 2014 that sent Reto Berra to Colorado in exchange for this pick.[
8. The Montreal Canadiens’ second-round pick will go to the New York Islanders as the result of a trade on March 5, 2014 that sent Thomas Vanek and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2014 to Montreal in exchange for Sebastian Collberg and this pick (being conditional at the time of the trade). The condition – New York will receive a second-round pick in 2014 if Montreal qualifies for the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs – was converted on April 1, 2014.
9. The Chicago Blackhawks’ second-round pick will go to the Arizona Coyotes as the result of a trade on March 4, 2014 that sent David Rundblad and Mathieu Brisebois to Chicago in exchange for this pick.[
10. Los Angeles re-acquired their second-round pick as the result of a trade on March 5, 2014 that sent Hudson Fasching and Nicolas Deslauriers to Buffalo in exchange for Brayden McNabb, Jonathan Parker, Los Angeles’ second-round pick in 2015 and this pick.
Buffalo previously acquired this pick as the result of a trade on April 1, 2013 that sent Robyn Regehr to Los Angeles in exchange for a second-round pick in 2015 and this pick.

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For the seventh time since the implementation of the “modern” draft in 1969, and for the second time in back-to-back years, the New York Rangers will be without a first round pick. It marks the fourth time that President/GM Glen Sather will be without a first round pick; however, the first time (2000) was a result of Neil Smith’s draft day deals in 1999 so the Blueshirts could move up to fourth to select Pavel Brendl.

Prior to last year when the Rangers waited until the third round (pick #65) to join the draft – selecting Adam Tambellini, the latest the Blueshirts had to wait before selecting their first player was 2000 when Sather drafted defenseman Filip Novak (64th overall).

To Sather’s credit, the Rangers brought in some potential offensive talent in the third round in the form of Tambellini, Pavel Buchnevich and Anthony Duclair.

Novak and the Blueshirts 2002 first round pick headed south to the Panthers as the Rangers acquired Pavel Bure. Lee Falardeau (33rd overall) was the Rangers first selection that year.

Only the Rangers would be forced to give up two first round draft picks as a result of “trading” for coaches. In 1978, the Rangers gave up their first round selection as compensation for bringing in Fred Shero as the GM/Coach. The Flyers used that pick to draft Ken Linesman. The Rangers first pick in 1978 – Don Maloney with the 26th overall pick.

Phil Esposito saw how well that move went and decided to give up his 1988 1st round draft pick in exchange for naming Michel Bergeron as coach. While Quebec wasted the fifth overall pick on Daniel Dore, Blueshirts faithful can only dream of might have happened had Espo kept the pick as the likes of Jeremy Roenick, Rod Brind’Amour and Teemu Selanne were drafted eighth through tenth overall.

Instead, the Rangers first pick in 1988 was Troy Mallette. The rugged winger’s place in Rangers history is solidified as the compensation for the Rangers signing Adam Graves as a free agent. To Espo’s credit, he did select fellow paesan Tony Amonte in the fourth round (68th overall)

About the only time trading away a first round draft pick paid off for the Rangers was in 1995 when Smith sent the team’s first round pick (later to be #15) to Hartford for Pat Verbeek. The “little Ball of Hate” played just 88 regular season games before leaving to sign with Dallas, but did register 97 points – including 41 goals and 41 assists (in 69 games) in 1995-96. In 21 playoff games, Verbeek added seven goals and 12 assists.

While the Rangers first round draft pick (28th overall thanks to their Stanley Cup run) resides in Tampa Bay, the Rangers do own their own second (#59), third (#89), fourth (#119), and have Florida’s pick in the fifth round (#122) as a result of the Casey Wellman trade.

All of this can change given the news out of Florida that Ryan Callahan has re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning. One condition of the deal was that if Cally stayed with Tampa Bay, the Rangers would receive the Lightning’s 2015 2nd round draft pick. It is possible that Sather dangles that future pick as he attempts to navigate his way up (and down) the 2014 draft. The Blueshirts will be sending their 2015 7th round pick to Tampa Bay to finalize the deal.

Each player has ratings for the following scouting services: NHL’s Central Scouting (CS), The Hockey News (THN), and International Scouting Service (ISS). CS breaks down their ratings by North American skaters (NAS), European skaters (ES), North American goaltenders (NAG) and European goaltenders (EG). THN lists each prospect’s NHL Translation while ranking skaters and goaltenders together. ISS provides a prospects’ comparable NHL player and has separate rankings for skaters and goaltenders.

The Draft positions utilized are those as of June 26, 2014.

In looking at the Rangers second and third round draft picks, I have identified four players as potential second round draft selections and three players as third round draft picks.

SECOND ROUND (#59)

I had to do some heavy editing when I was putting together my second round projections for the Rangers. Two of the players who made my original list ended up being selected in the second round prior to the Blueshirts pick at #59.

Ryan Collins is a 6-5/202 defenseman who draws extra interest because he is a right-handed shot. He would have been the physical, take-no-prisoners kind of blueliner the Rangers have longed for since Jeff Beukeboom retired. However, I have the University of Minnesota commitment being drafted 49th overall by Buffalo.

Nikita Goldobin is a Russian-born RW who has spent the last two years playing in the OHL. Last year, with a really poor Sarnia team, Goldobin scored 38 goals and 56 assists in 67 games. Alas, I have him being scooped up by the San Jose Sharks with the 51st overall pick.

VACLAV KARABACEK – RW
CS: # 41 NAS —– THN: # 95 (Not available)
ISS: # 57 (Lauri Korpikoski)
ISS NHL Potential: “Potential top-six forward, but needs significant development.”

The 5-11/196 RW is yet another in a long line of Russian players who have left home to play Junior hockey in an attempt to adapt to the North American style of hockey. While it was a slow adjustment, Karabacek got better as the season progressed with Gatineau (QMJHL). In 65 regular season games, he scored 21 goals and 26 assists. Come playoff time, Karabacek elevated his game to the tune of six goals and six assists in nine games.

That development came as a result of what ISS calls “[his] willingness to compete for loose pucks and his battle level which was non-existent in the first part of the year.”

ISS continued, “… there is still work he needs to do to improve his 200-foot game and physical play. Consistency needs attention, a little more urgency to his game.”

Chris Mooring, the head Maritimes scout for ISS, wrote: “Has the offensive skill set to play at the next level and has shown improvement with every viewing.”

Dennis MacInnis, ISS Director of Scouting, wrote: “Finesse style game, he is a good skater with an above average offensive skill set and hockey sense. However, his competitiveness level scares me long term.”

HUNTER SMITH – RW
CS: # 39NAS —– THN: # 49 (Power forward)
ISS: # 39 (Shawn Thornton)
ISS NHL Potential: “6-9 forward who can play [on the] Power Play.”

Much was made of the Los Angeles Kings’ size advantage during the 2014 Stanley Cup. The 6-6/210 Smith would go a long way in helping to narrow any size disadvantage the Rangers might have. After posting a goal and an assist in first 45 games in the OHL (spread over two years), Smith scored 16 goals and 24 assists in 64 games and chipped in 100 PIMs. His development really came to fruition in the playoffs when he scored three goals and eight assists in 12 games.

Smith went undrafted last year and according to one scout it was not a case of teams missing the boat. “I don’t think teams missed on this guy,” a scout told THN. “He’s a guy who was just a really late developer. It’s still projection-based, but he had a real breakout year.”

ISS says that Smith is a “big developing power forward with good size and jam to his game.” Well, you know that John Tortorella would love him .

ISS continued: “Drives to the net hard and is a threat to score points in the danger areas due to his combination of size and strength.” Well, now you know why I love him .

ISS did caution that Smith needs to work on his skating and improving his coverage in the defensive zone.

M. Cuddahee, an ISS Scout, wrote: “Can be the steal of this draft if he continues developing his skating and hands at his current pace. A monster among men standing 6-6 with actual offensive talent. Plays with a mean streak and utilizes his size defensively.

MacInnis wrote: “An unpolished product whose offensive skills are still developing. Can create room for himself and his linemates on the ice with his size and physical play or beat the crap out of you in a fight.”

LUC SNUGGERUD – D
CS: # 42 NAS —– THN: # 63 (Not available)
ISS: # 56 (Matt Niskanen)
ISS NHL Potential: “4-6 pairing defender with PP potential with further development”

If the Snuggerud name sounds familiar it should. Luc’s uncle, Dave, played 265 NHL games (Buffalo, San Jose and Philadelphia) after being the Sabres 1987 NHL Supplemental Draft pick.

Snuggerud played for Eden Prairie High School in Minnesota last season and was named the winner of the 2014 reed Larson Award as the best senior high school defenseman in Minnesota. In addition, he played seven USHL games with Muskegon and Omaha. He is committed to the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

The 6-0/180 Snuggerud is a defenseman whose game is built on his superb skating ability. Not only is he a fast skater, but his puckhandling abilities are able to keep up with his skating.

ISS calls him, “An emerging offensive talent that plays an aggressive attacking style. He can be effective defensively, controlling his gaps quickly and reasonably.”

He is still a work-in-progress in terms of elevating his defensive abilities and he will need to add some bulk and get stronger. With that said, he could be the PP leader the Rangers need/want.

Paul Dionne, ISS Regional Scout, wrote: “Loves to lead the attack and does so with success. Snuggerud is an intelligent two-way defender and is a well-known respected leader on and off the ice.”

Interestingly enough, the Rangers drafted a Paul Dionne in the 13th round of the 1975 NHL Draft, but they are not the same person.

MacInnis wrote: “Explosive skater, with a smooth, fluid stride and strong acceleration. Notable poise with the puck and impressive passing skill. Makes a good first-pass to jump start his offense.”

NIKITA TRYAMKIN – D
CS: # 65 ES —– THN: Not Rated in the Top 100 (Not available)
ISS: # 66 (Not available)
ISS NHL Potential: “Top four shutdown defenceman and PK unit.”

The hulking 6-7/228 defenseman is hoping that the third time is a charm after being passed over the last two years. Although he will not be until August, he has spent the last year and a half playing in the KHL and represented Russia at last year’s WJC.

As you might imagine, his skating and footwork need work and he really doesn’t have much of an offensive game, but, as you also might have imagined, his game is built on defense – using his wingspan to frustrate opponents.

ISS calls him “an intense blueliner that plays with an edge and relishes the physical game…. A big-bodied presence that is a tremendous asset on the penalty kill. Uses his long legs to block point shots effectively and protects the front of the net.”

Steve Cocker, ISS Regional European Scout, wrote: “Wouldn’t be surprised to see a team jump early on this kid … some impressive attributes along with a 6-7 frame.”

MacInnis wrote: “Extremely raw prospect – needs to grow into his frame. Natural mean spirited and no fun to play against. Requires plenty of additional seasoning – can be prone to lapses in the defensive zone due to his lack of polish at times.

My order of preference is Smith, Snuggerud, Karabacek and then Tryamkin.

Smith is the exact kind of forward the Rangers desperately could have used against the Kings. Not only would he have helped combat the size difference, he could made a huge offensive difference – especially in the three overtime games in Los Angeles where a power play goal here or a dirty goal there meant the difference between a win and a loss.

Snuggerud is the second choice for a similar reason as to why I had Smith first. A player like him on the power play would have been so valuable on the man advantage.

Karabacek is a good player, but is a finesse type of forward and my preference would be for a more physical player. With that said, I could be very happy with him in a Blueshirt uniform.

Tryamkin is interesting because every team is looking to uncover the next Zdeno Chara – which is why I had rated as high as I do. The main downside to him is that the wait for his game to develop might be longer than I am willing to wait. This would be a case where I would have to rely on the opinions of my scouts in terms of how long it would take for him to develop.

THIRD ROUND (#89)

CONNOR CHATHAM – RW
CS: # 46 NAS —- THN: # Not Rated in the Top 100 (Not available)
ISS: # 54 (Taylor Pyatt)
ISS NHL Potential: “3rd line two-way power forward – [penalty killer]”

The 6-2/222 winger played for Plymouth (OHL) last season and scored 13 goals and 18 assists in 54 games. He added three goals in five playoff games.

ISS says that “Chatham’s pro future will be to provide a solid up and down game on the wing. He does not possess top level offensive skills, but has the potential to score dirty goals at the next level as well as help out on the penalty kill.”

Mike MacPherson, ISS Regional Ontario Scout, wrote: “Having watched all five games of the Plymouth-Guelph series, he was probably the one guy who I thought really improved and stood out for me. He is big, strong, moves well, he competes very hard, see him with huge upside, especially when he fills out his size”

Phil Myre, ISS Head U.S. Scout, wrote: “Size, strength, smarts. Hard working player who wins battles. Has good speed and good puck skills. Low risk player. Down side would be a 3rd line player.”

JAYCE HAWRYLUK – C/RW
CS: # 37 NAS —- THN: # 80 (Not available)
ISS: # 94 (Not available)
ISS NHL Potential: “He fits in well in a variety of roles and could play on any line at any time, including special teams”

Hawryluk played 59 games with Brandon (WHL) and scored 64 points (24-40) an improvement from 43 (18-25) in his first season in Junior hockey.

While he is only 5-10/186, Hawryluk plays a much bigger game and is not afraid to play a physical game.

ISS calls him “a fearless and highly motivated player in all situations on the ice. Hawryluk is an intelligent player who can find great areas behind coverage away from the puck and has a very good release on his shot and that makes him a deadly scoring threat….He can kill penalties and provide that x-factor that teams covet.

Ross MacLean, ISS Head Western Scout, wrote: “He’s the type of player that you absolutely hate to play against. He’s fast, he’s aggressive, he doesn’t quit and he can score.”

Brent Parker, ISS Western Regional Scout, wrote: “Finished checks, has incurred three suspensions. Plays bigger than he is, will go into dirty areas to score. Quick release, good offensive instincts.”

NICK MAGYAR – RW
CS: # 32 NAS —- THN: # 70 (Not Available)
ISS: # 70 (Not available)
ISS NHL Potential: “Second-third line goal-scorer”

The 6-1/194 RW played his first season of Junior hockey last year. In 66 games with Kitchener (OHL), he scored 20 goals and 26 assists.

Magyar is a raw player who is still developing, but has a goal scorer’s potential moving forward – as opposed to being a playmaker.

ISS says Magyar is a “developing power forward with a rare combination of size and skill. Likes to drive to the net to create offensive chances. Adept at scoring from the slot or the garbage areas with consistency.”

If you have been paying attention, you notice there is a common theme among most of the forwards that I am looking at. They are all bigger players (or smaller ones who play big) who are able to score from those places where most current Rangers forwards don’t go – in the slot and in the high-traffic areas of the ice.

MacPherson wrote: “First and foremost, his compete level stood out for me. Hard working in all three zones especially on the forecheck and tracking back through the neutral [zone]. Good job of protecting the puck down low and using his line mates to create offensive opportunity.

Ron MacLean ISS Regional Ontario Scout, wrote: “He competes hard as a third line player. There is nothing flashy about him, gets to open areas well with his line unit. He is an average skater and will have to improve to play Pro.”

My order of preference is tough to determine because Chatham and Magyar are similar type players (power forward types) while Hawryluk is more of a Ryan Callahan type.

Originally, Magyar was among the first players I looked at as I was putting my list together – so much so that I almost included him in my second round preview. It would that he would be my first preference in the third round. As it turns out, Magyar is my second preference.

My first preference is Hawryluk. The more I look at his scouting reports, the more he sounded like a Callahan clone. While the scab is still raw over his contentious contract negotiations, no one could ever say that they would not want a Callahan-type of player on their team – and that is why Jayce gets the nod.

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While the New York Rangers own their own fourth round draft pick (#119), they do not own their fifth round pick (#149) because it was traded to San Jose as part of the ill-fated Ryane Clowe deal. On the plus side, the Rangers will be moving up in the fifth round to #122 as they acquired Florida’s pick in exchange for Casey Wellman.

The Blueshirts have no sixth round picks in 2014. Their own sixth rounder (#179) went to the Sharks in the deal that sent Tommy Grant and this conditional pick for Brandon Mashinter. The condition was met because Mashinter was a signed player on the Rangers’ Reserve List.

The Rangers did acquire a sixth rounder from Columbus (#167), but that selection was sent to Minnesota as part of the Justin Falk deal. The Rangers acquired the pick from the Blue Jackets in the Marian Gaborik deal.

The Rangers seventh round pick (#209) was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Daniel Carcillo.

With the Rangers only having a fourth and fifth pick, the team’s best strategy will be to draft the best player available – regardless of position or current need – because these players are most likely a few years away from the NHL.

Since Glen Sather has been dealing away so many assets (especially draft picks), the Rangers have (and will continue) to make use of undrafted free agency. These players are older and more experienced and are much closer to the NHL than a regular draft prospect.

As a result, the Rangers can use undrafted free agents to fill in open spots in the organization.

Ryan Haggerty (6-0/200) was one of the first collegiate undrafted free agents to sign in mid-March. The RPI RW was named to the 2013-2014 All-ECAC Hockey First Team and was named as a 2013-2014 American Hockey Coaches Association second Team all-American. In three years at RPI, Haggerty’s offensive game and strength grew and he finished his collegiate career with 47 goals and 37 assists in 106 games.

In a bizarre twist, Haggerty’s contract did not permit him to be sent to the AHL. Rather than gain experience playing in Hartford, he spent his time practicing with the Rangers.

Here is his Hockey News Scouting Report:
Assets: Knows where to go in order to score goals, and has very good hands. Also displays pretty good strength in his lower body, which helps him win board battles.
Flaws: Must prove he can be a consistent scoring threat at the highest level, because the rest of his game is only average. Could stand to get stronger in his upper body.
Career Potential: Scoring winger with upside.

About three weeks later, Vermont senior captain Chris McCarthy was the second collegian to sign with the Blueshirts. The fifth-year senior captain helped Vermont to reach the NCAA Tournament. McCarthy received a medical redshirt after playing just five games into his junior year. During his final two years at Vermont, the 6-1/205 center scored 31 goals and 42 assists in 74 games.

McCarthy is a solid two-way center who should be able to contribute on the third or fourth lines. He attended the summer prospect camps of the San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks during the last two years.

In mid-April, the Rangers added depth to their blue line by signing their third non-drafted collegian – Mat Bodie of Union College. Flyers draft pick and USA World Junior team member Shayne Gottisbehere might have garnered more of the recognition, but it is Bodie who captained Union and garnered higher accolades.

Bodie was a 2013-2014 All-ECAC Hockey Team and 2013-2014 AHCA East First Team All-American. Bodie uses a strong skating game and hockey sense to overcome his slight build (6-0/165) – think Torrey Krug. Bodie averaged nearly a point a game as a senior (39 points in 40 games) and finished his career with 28 goals and 96 assists in 154 games.

The Rangers recently ventured across the Atlantic to add another undrafted defenseman in Petr Zamorsky (a right-handed shot). The 6-0/185 blueliner was selected as the Czech Extraliga’s best defenseman. At the beginning of May, Zamorsky signed a two-year deal with Espoo of Finland. However, his strong play in helping lead the Czech Republic to a fourth-place finish in the World Championship drew attention from the NHL and Zamorsky exercised an NHL-out clause in his Espoo deal.

Turning our attention back to the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, I have identified three players as potential fourth round draft selections and three players as fifth round draft picks.

Each player has ratings for the following scouting services: NHL’s Central Scouting (CS), The Hockey News (THN), and International Scouting Service (ISS). CS breaks down their ratings by North American skaters (NAS), European skaters (ES), North American goaltenders (NAG) and European goaltenders (EG). THN lists each prospect’s NHL Translation while ranking skaters and goaltenders together. ISS provides a prospects’ comparable NHL player and has separate rankings for skaters and goaltenders.

The Draft positions utilized are those as of June 26, 2014.

FOURTH ROUND (#89)

MILES GENDRON – D
CS: #: 74 NAS — THN: Not Rated in the Top 100
ISS: 121 (Not Available)
ISS NHL Potential: “Four-five defender who can contribute offensively.”

The 6-2/173 Gendron has committed to attend the University of Connecticut in 2015-16. Interesting side note, his coach at Rivers was former NHLer Shawn McEachern, who played a big part in Gendron’s development during the 2012-13 season. McEachern switched Gendron from center to defense.

Gendron does have the option to play in the USHL for Green Bay who drafted him this year. Last year, Lincoln of the USHL drafted as well as Moncton (QMJHL).
ISS says he is “a gifted offensive player with natural playmaking ability. An excellent skater with good speed who can change gears without hesitation and loves carrying the puck. Possesses a hard, accurate point shot that he can get off in no time…. Tries to do too much on his own. Still needs to get stronger physically as he has a lanky frame.”

Ed Harding, ISS Regional U.S. Scout, wrote: “Very good feet and quickness in his game. Best skater on the ice. Gave opponent hard time by jumping into play and breaking up plays with his back pressure. I would have liked to see him control the puck better.

Dennis MacInnis, ISS Director of Scouting, wrote: “smooth feet and quick. Reads plays very well and good gap control. Moves the puck smartly and very strong on the rush. He needs to work on getting shots through on the offensive blueline.”

CHRISTIAN JAROS – D
CS: # 119 ES —– THN: # Not Rated in the Top 100 (Not available)
ISS: # 90 (Not available)
ISS NHL Potential: “A bottom four defenseman who brings a physical edge and defensive shutdown qualities to the blueline.”

The 6-4/205 right-handed shooter is a physical defensive d-man who leads by example. The Slovak-born Jaros played last season with Lulea in Sweden. If you were as frustrated as I was watching Rangers flail away with pokechecks, you won’t get that with Jaros because he is more likely to lay the body than use his stick.

ISS sees him as a “strong two-way figure on the backend brought it on both sides of the puck, defensively incredibly smart, attention to detail and active while offensively showing good vision and smart decision on the first pass….”

Steve Crocker, ISS Regional European Scout, wrote: “Brings intensity and a physical element to the blueline. Won’t hesitate to engage and get involved in the play. Logs big minutes.”

Ondrej Otcenas, ISS Regional European Scout, wrote: “Pretty good skater with good mobility on his size. Very good shot from point. Needs to improve his defensive play, but is very skilled. Plays body well and can make accurate long passes.”

BLAKE WEYRICK – G
CS: # 11 NAG —– THN: # Not Rated in the Top 100 (Not available)
ISS: # 18 G
ISS NHL Potential: “He’s got some skill and with added maturity could surprise and be a serviceable pro who may even be able to compete for a start here or there.”

The California native spent last season with the USNTDP and was committed to attend Brown University. However when he was unable to get the necessary financial aid package from Brown (Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholarships), Weyrick de-committed from the school. His USHL rights belong to Tri-City and his Junior rights belong to Red Deer (WHL).

Kyle Woodlief from Red Line Report offered his opinion on Weyrick: “When at his best, Weyrick flashes a crisp glove hand and limits second-chance opportunities by absorbing pucks into his body and smothering rebounds. At 6-3, 210, he has the size that NHL clubs crave, and he fills the net with an upright style. However, he has a tendency to be wildly inconsistent and doesn’t always handle adversity well when things break down around him.”

Weyrick is an athletic goaltender who plays smartly in terms of positioning and mechanics. His problems arise when his concentration starts wondering and it is that lack of focus that causes his problems and throws off his game.

Phil Myre, ISS Head U.S. Scout, wrote: “Very good size goalie. Plays angles well. Has good skills. Good technique and lateral movement. Must improve focus and concentration. Must improve rebound control.”

Ron MacLean, ISS Regional Ontario Scout, wrote: “There’s a lot to like in his game and his flaws seem palpable enough to be addressed in the short term.”

In respect to my fourth round preference, I wouldn’t have a problem selecting any of these three players in the third round if my three third round preferences were not available. My order of preference is Weyrick, Jaros and Gendron.

While the Rangers are set with Henrik Lundqvist in goal, the cupboard behind him is pretty barren. Last year the Rangers drafted Mackenzie Skapski in the 6th round and he is progressing, but the Rangers still need to add more depth. Scott Stacjer has continued to battle the injury bug while Jason Missiaen and Jeff Malcolm have not staked out a spot with Hartford.

Things got so back with the Wolf Pack that they had to sign and rely AHL veteran goaltenders Dov Grumet-Morris and David LeNeveu.

While Cam Talbot proved to be a superb backup to The King, his days with the Rangers might be numbered. Talbot is set to be an Unrestricted Free Agent following this season. You have to figure that Talbot will want to test free agency to see if he can, at the very least, compete for a starting job. The Rangers might not be able to afford the salary cap space to overpay him to stay. In fact, the Rangers might want to start looking to move him now because a potential starting goalie who is making less than $600,000 will be enticing to more than a few NHL teams.

As a result, Weyrick gets the nod over Jaros and Gendron. While I like both defensemen, I am more intrigued with Jaros’ size, physicality and the defensive presence he brings. The fact that Jaros is a right-handed shot is a bonus.

FIFTH ROUND (#122)

LOUIE BELPIDIO – D
CS: # 107 NAS —– THN: # 85 (Not available)
ISS: # 126 (Not available)
ISS NHL Potential: “Top 4 puck moving defenseman with incredible smarts and vision when moving the puck.”

The 5-11/193 right-handed shooting blueliner spent last season with the USA U-18 team and is committed to the University of Miami (Ohio). Belpidio was named one of the three best American players at the U-18 Tournament (Jack Eichel and Alex Nedejkovic were the other two selected).

ISS said his “Hockey sense and IQ on the puck are major strengths … his game as a defenseman is based around his poised play on the puck and leadership qualities. Mobility, agility, and overall skating is a strength.”

While his size is a question, his hockey knowledge and ability to read the game help to compensate.

Crocker wrote: “A Highly intelligent offensive defenseman who shows incredible vision and mobility to run the offensive point or QB the breakout up ice.”

Paul Dionne, ISS Regional U.S. Scout, wrote: “One of the most improved players on the NTDP’s U-18 squad and still has really flown under the radar as a very smart two-way defender that has excellent game speed, rarely makes mistakes and just simply gets the job done.”

ALEXANDER SHAROV – LW
CS: # 34 ES —– THN: # Not Rated in the Top 100 (Not available)
ISS: # 111
ISS NHL Potential: “Top 6 producer.”

While the 6-2/189 Sharov had a good regular season playing for CSKA Moscow in Russia’s MHL (17 goals and 17 assists in 41 games), he saved the best for the playoffs as he tallied six goals and 12 assists in 20 games.

ISS calls him a “natural goal-scorer with good finishing ability that has produced at every level. Can line up either down the middle or on the wing …. Brings shiftiness and evasiveness doe to his skating ability and speed. Has plus hockey sense.”

Sharov still needs to get stronger and work on adding a physical aspect to his game and he still needs to work on his play in the defensive zone.

Yuri Yanchenkov, ISS Head European Scout, wrote: “Good third-liner for me. Competes hard. Has goal scoring ability but all-around game needs improvement.”

MacInnis wrote: “Has the ability to handle the puck at high speed and change gears without missing a beat. Can go through the motions at times. Needs to play more committed defensively.”

LINUS SODERSTROM – G
CS: # 3 E-G —– THN: # 43 (Project goaltender)
ISS: # 19 G
ISS NHL Potential: “Possesses a good projectable frame and raw skill-set to be an interesting development case.”

The 6-4/194 Soderstrom played 23 games with Djurgarden in the Swedish Junior League posting a 2.61 GAA and a .915 SV%. Soderstrom uses his size to play within his crease – utilizing a butterfly style.

ISS cautions that he needs to get stronger and work on being more comfortable leaving his crease to handle the puck. However, they do say “his frame and technical skills are intriguing and show good potential for the next level when looking at his entire package that he brings to the table.”

Cocker wrote: “Soderstrom possesses an incredible total package as a goaltender … raw frame, controlled lateral movement between the pipes. Seems to elevate his game when he is needed the most, could be a riser come Draft day.”

Olli Lahdesmaki, ISS Hockey Intern, wrote: “Calm, well postured goaltender, pays attention to eh details. Good coverage on net, while glove/blocker are quick. Some inconsistency during U-18, but was solid when it mattered most.”

My order of preference for the fifth round pick might be the toughest of all four rounds because the three players I selected are so different. In the end, I decided to go with Soderstrom, Belpidio and Sharov.

Since the Rangers organization is deepest in forwards, especially after their solid three picks in last year’s third round, I decided to place Sharov third. While I like Belpidio, and he does fit the Rangers need for a potential PP leader, I went with Soderstrom as my second goaltender of the draft because I want to be certain that I have potential NHL-caliber goaltenders available in the system. My hope is that between Weyrick and Soderstrom I am able to hit on an NHL goalie. If both goaltenders develop into NHL-caliber players, then that is a valuable trade asset because goaltending is a lot like pitching in baseball – you can never have too many of them.

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Given the predictions coming from hockey analysts, the New York Rangers would do the NHL a world of service and just capitulate and concede the Stanley Cup to the Los Angeles Kings – who set an NHL record of winning three consecutive Game 7s in the same playoffs.

Interestingly enough, many of those same pundits were writing the Rangers off because they won two Game 7s.

Every time someone has tried to bury the Rangers, they have refused to go gently into that good night. While the Rangers embrace the underdog role, they are conceding nothing.

“So throughout these playoffs, and it’s not gonna change now, we’ve been the underdog,” Alain Vigneault told Justin Tasch of the Daily News. “But what we’ve done is we’ve focused on how we play and what we need to do on the ice, and that’s definitely what we’re gonna do here come Wednesday.”

Hockey analysts point to the Western Conference’s dominance as a leading factor in their predictions of a Kings Stanley Cup championship. However, a closer look hardly points to any such dominance.

Of the last 13 Stanley Cup winners, just seven have come from the Western Conference. If you go all the back to 1991 (the year that the Oilers/Flames run ended), the numbers are dead even – 11 titles per Conference.

Unlike the rich playoff history between the Rangers-Canadiens, the Rangers-Kings playoff history is brief. The teams have met twice in the playoffs – both times in the NHL’s Preliminary Round. In 1979, the Rangers began their unexpected run to the Stanley Cup Final with a two-game sweep (in a Best-of-Three showdown).

Two years later the Rangers took the Best-of-Five series in four games. That playoff matchup turned ugly following the first period of Game 2 when both benches emptied for an old-fashioned BRAWL that featured six game misconducts (three per team), and a Rangers team record for penalty minutes in one period (125) and a game (145). Rookie Ed “Boxcar” Hospodar led the way with 39 PIMs.

Even Nick Fotiu, who was serving an eight-game suspension for going into the stands in Detroit, got involved as he raced down to the glass to pull a Kings fan of one of his teammates.

Truly a game that the Hanson Brothers could be proud of.

The season series offers no insights into the Stanley Cup Final. The Rangers defeated Los Angeles on October 7 as the Blueshirts registered the first of three road victories (in nine games) to start the season.

About five weeks later the teams finished their season series as the Kings shut out the Rangers 1-0 with the win going to a goaltender who isn’t even in the organization any more (Ben Scrivens).

Both teams have evolved and changed since that November 17 tilt. Each team’s leading playoff goal scorer (Martin St. Louis and Marian Gaborik) wasn’t even a glimpse in their GM’s eye.

I see the Rangers road to victory following the path of the following keys:

In each of my previous playoff previews, two keys that have followed the Rangers are Special Teams/Discipline and having their best players be their best players. Their checklist for victory begins with these two factors.

Los Angeles begins the SCF as the highest scoring team in all of the playoffs, averaging 3.48 goals – compared to the eighth rated Rangers (2.70). The Kings power play is fifth in the playoffs (28.6%) compared to the tenth rated Rangers (13.6%).

Fortunately for the Rangers, their penalty killers have been the second best in the playoffs (85.9%) and probably would have been the best except the Flyers posted their numbers against the Blueshirts. The Kings penalty killers were rated ninth (81.2%).

Obviously, the easiest way to slow down the Kings power play is to play smart hockey and eliminate bad penalties – especially the careless ones in the offensive zone.

When the Rangers are on the power play they need to be disciplined enough to follow Wayne Gretzky’s advice: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Therefore, the Rangers must stop chasing the elusive “perfect shot for the perfect goal” and look to get more rubber on goal – and more bodies in front of the goaltender.

The Kings are the second-best team on faceoffs in the playoffs. The Rangers are going to lose their fair share of draws, but they can help mitigate the problem by staying disciplined and remembering their defensive assignments.

The deeper you get in the playoffs, the more teams need their stars to lead the way. The Kings have the overall advantage in terms of SCF experience. As a result, St. Louis and Brad Richards have to step up and show their less-experienced teammates the way. Even SCF rookie Rick Nash can channel his Team Canada experiences to help his teammates brave the big stage.

It is important that the Rangers big guns fire in this series because you know that the Kings big guns (Gaborik, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar) will. If the Rangers do end up losing to the Kings, karma will probably end up biting the Blueshirts in the arse as Gaborik would probably walk away with the Conn Smythe Trophy.

No Fly-Bys: This key is a two-parter. The Kings are a very physical team so the Rangers will have to step up their physical play to match the Kings and to slow them down through the neutral zone. The Rangers must follow their pokechecks with body contact and not get caught off balance and out of position. On offense, it means Rangers forwards have to stop their habit of flying by the top of the crease and setting up shop at the side of the net. They would be in much better position to pounce on rebounds if they positioned themselves at the top of the crease as opposed to side of the net.

The Rangers also need to do a better job of finishing around the net. I don’t know if the Rangers inability to score off rebounds is a result of good defensive play or really bad finishing skills. No wonder the Blueshirts don’t always like to go to the front of the net.

Third Period: If the Rangers want to know what their best game plan is they just need to watch the tape of the third period of Game 6 against Montreal. The Blueshirts did not sit on their one goal lead. Instead, they forechecked the Habs into submission. The more the puck is in the Kings zone, the more chances the Rangers will have to score – thus limiting the number of scoring chances the Kings will have. They need to put pressure on the likes of Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell, or even Robyn Regehr if he is healthy enough to get into the lineup.

Quicken The Pressure: Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick has the ability to win a series on his own. However, Quick has struggled this year. The Rangers need to get some traffic in front of Quick and force him to scramble to find the puck. In such situations, he will have a tendency to drop to the ice early – thus leaving the top of the net uncovered. When Quick is off his game he will often fight the puck and be overly aggressive. As a result, the Rangers will want to get Quick moving and let his aggression pull him out of the play. On other thing to watch is to see if Quick taking a shot off his right collarbone during practice on Tuesday factors into his play during the series.

Early and Often: I have talked about the idea that momentum does not carry from game-to-game. If that were the case, we would be watching the San Jose Sharks play the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, there is fatigue-factor that can carry over from game-to-game – and it isn’t necessarily a physical fatigue.

Constantly having to rally to just survive and advance can take as much out of a team as playing a lot of games in a short period of time. The Rangers need to come out extra strong to start the series and fire the opening salvo by winning Game 1. In addition to coming out strong in Game 1, they need to be strong at the start of each game. A lot of their success against Montreal was their ability to play with the lead.

While much has been made about the Kings resiliency and their ability to bounce back, the Blueshirts need to make Los Angeles chase them on the scoreboard. Even the most flexible rubber band can be overextended and break.

Torts/AV: While Vigneault has the team buying into his system, some of the Rangers success in the playoffs goes back to the defensive foundation that John Tortorella developed. Truth be told, the Rangers could have, and probably should have, been playing an AV-like style under Torts, but the former coach just never seemed to have enough confidence in his team.

The Rangers are going to need to harken back to their Tortorella days when it comes to defending against the Kings. Los Angeles is a team that far and away led the NHL in hits so the Rangers had better be prepared to return to their “Black-and-Blueshirts” ways. No one expects the Rangers to play the trap, but they’re going to have to clog the neutral zone.

Five-Foot Rule: The Rangers have to obey the five foot rule in terms of defensive responsibility and in neutral zone play. Any time the Rangers have the opportunity to control the puck within five feet of their blue line; they must clear the puck out and resist the urge for a costly turnover.

Conversely, when the Rangers get within five feet of the Kings blue line they can’t afford to turn the puck over in the neutral zone. If there is no play to be made, then the puck must be sent in deep to avoid turnovers and potential odd-man rushes. Playing some “dump-and-chase” hockey will also help them set up their forechecking – provided the Rangers remember the “chase” part.

Despite those who see the playing of the games as a mere formality, this series is not that easy to figure out. Yes, it does appear that the Kings are a team of destiny who are enjoying the “magic carpet ride”. Winning three consecutive Game 7s, all on the road (including being down 3-0 to San Jose) does speak to that Los Angeles mystique.

However, the Rangers can lay claim to their own mojo working in their direction with a pair of Game 7 victories, including their first ever 3-1 series comeback. Toss in their ability overcome their Bell Centre of horrors and the Rangers can claim a share of that magic carpet.

The season series between the two teams really doesn’t play into figuring out the Stanley Cup because the two teams haven’t seen each other in over six months.

The Rangers have been used to the underdog role since the beginning of the playoffs. They were too small to beat the Flyers. They weren’t offensive enough to beat the Penguins. They weren’t fast enough to beat the Canadiens.

Guess what?

The Rangers still managed to find a way to beat all three teams to reach the Stanley Cup Final.

Alain Vigneault spent seven years as coach of the Vancouver Canucks so he is familiar with the Los Angeles Kings. Av’s Canucks beat the Kings in six games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals in 2010. The Kings got their revenge two years later in a five-game Western Conference Quarterfinals victory as part of the Kings march to the championship.

In the end, AV’s first-hand experience dealing with the Kings and the Rangers edge in goal and on defense will prove to be the difference with the Rangers Game 7 mojo outlasting the Kings Game 7 mojo as Lord Stanley’s Cup returns to Madison Square Garden for the first time in 20 years after a hard fought seven-game series.

Hopefully, it won’t be another 20 years between Rangers Stanley Cup championships.

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The 2014 Eastern Conference Finals is what hockey is all about – an Original Six matchup between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens. It is also a rematch of the 1986 Eastern Conference Finals won by the Canadiens in five games behind rookie goaltender Patrick Roy who turned a so-so regular season into a Conn Smythe Trophy for his playoff heroics.

This series also features two teams who are looking to return to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in over 20 years. Montreal also carries the mantle (and burden) of being the last Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup (1993).

The Blueshirts/Habs playoff meeting is the 15th between the two teams, with each team winning seven. Those 15 matchups push the teams past Toronto and Boston for the fifth most frequent playoff matchup.

The last time the two clubs met in the playoffs was 1996 and the Rangers prevailed in a weird six game series. The Blueshirts dropped the first two games of the series at MSG before roaring back to win the next four – including the first ever playoff game in the Molson Centre (now the Bell Centre).

It is kind of funny how times have changed for the Rangers in terms of their ability to play on the road at Montreal.

During the last few years, it has been the Rangers who have been getting their bell rung at the Bell Centre.

Pat Leonard of the Daily News detailed just how much the Bell Centre has become a house of horrors to the Rangers:

• The Rangers have only two wins in their last 12 games in Montreal dating back to February 2008.
• In their last four games in Montreal, the team has only one goal (Ryan Callahan – 11/16/13) and just two goals (John Mitchell – 1/15/12). The last time a current Ranger scored in Montreal was one exactly one year prior to Mitchell’s goal (Mats Zuccarello provided the honors).
• Things have not been much better for Henrik Lundqvist in Montreal. Rookie netminder Cam Talbot made both starts in Montreal this year because of The King’s less-than-regal 4-5-2 record. Talbot’s 1-0 win on November 16, 2013 marked the team’s first win at the Bell Centre since March 17, 2009 – which was also Lundqvist’s last win in Montreal.

As you might expect, the series will be an emotional one for Martin St. Louis as he returns home to play for the first time since losing his mother. The team pulled together when the tragedy first hit and you can expect them to support their teammate even more now.

On May 12, Pierre McGuire spoke with WFAN’s Mike Francesa about how the team has rallied around St. Louis.

“They have become a family, right before our very eyes, if there were any guys who were maybe not on board or not prepared to do the heavy lifting to get back in the series, they have all bought in now,” McGuire said. “I really think that the galvanizing moment is how the Rangers have handled the passing of Marty St. Louis’ mother and it has brought them together as a group.”

St. Louis might be able to help his teammates through their rough time in Montreal. While he did not score in Montreal, he did help Tampa Bay to Shootout and Overtime wins in the Bell Centre. St. Louis did score in the Lightning’s one home game against the Habs – a 2-1 Shootout loss.

It is also a return for Coach Alain Vigneault as he started his NHL coaching career with Montreal. In 266 games with the Habs (1997/98-2000/01), AV compiled a 109-118-35-4 record. His replacement in Montreal was current coach Michel Therrien (in his first stint as the Canadiens coach).

While you can bet Brandon Prust and Dale Weise will be amped to play against their former teammates, the Rangers win that battle as former Habs’ first round draft pick Ryan McDonagh squares off against the team that drafted him. If the Rangers manage to win the Stanley Cup they really do owe former Montreal GM Bob Gainey a ring for not only taking Scott Gomez but for giving McDonagh to the Blueshirts.

Whether the Rangers faced the Montreal Canadiens or the Boston Bruins, the road to the Stanley Cup Finals was not going to be a cakewalk. It was just going to be a matter of picking your poison.

The Bruins represented a battle-tested playoff team that has experienced what it takes to win a Stanley Cup. Led by the likes of Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic, the Rangers would have been facing an intense physical battle – kind of like what they expected from the Philadelphia Flyers.

While the Canadiens will never be mistaken for Herb Brooks’ smurfs of the 1980s, the Habs rely on their skating and finesse to win games. Montreal is a team that has been able to score goals at even strength (2nd only to the Rangers) and on the power play (4th best) in the playoffs – kind of like what they expected from the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The one thing the Rangers had going for them in the first two rounds might not be such a big advantage for them in this series. For the first time in the playoffs, Lundqvist is not head-and-shoulders the better goaltender. Some might say that Montreal’s Carey Price has that advantage – and based on his play against the Blueshirts – they might be right.

In his last five games against the Rangers, Price has posted a 4-1 record and has allowed only two goals in those five games.

As we look ahead to the keys to this series, we need to remember that there are two building blocks that are essential to the Rangers foundation to building a winning playoff strategy. The fact that they are also the two most inconsistent parts of their game goes to show how reliant the Blueshirts have been on Lundqvist being the best goalie in the series – something that is not written in stone against the Habs.

The Rangers special teams must step up their play from the first two rounds. While the power play and penalty kill improved against the Penguins, the team can’t get by with the ninth best power play and the 13th best penalty kill.

Discipline is a big part of the Rangers special team improvement. The team’s discipline with the man advantage means taking the good shot and not passing the puck in an attempt for the great shot. It means being disciplined enough to remember to get traffic at the front of the net.

As far as penalty killing goes, the best strategy is just to stay out of the penalty box. If you thought you saw some strange calls in the previous two series – you ain’t seen anything yet. Whether it is fan paranoia, excuse-making or partial truth, the perception is that the Canadian teams (especially those in Montreal and Toronto) tend to get the benefit of the doubt in terms of calls. Not only should we not expect that perception to change, we should expect the cynicism to grow as our northern brethren hold their collective breaths in anticipation of Montreal bringing the Stanley Cup back home to Canada.

The second recurring key is that the Rangers best players need to be their best players. At this point, the main target of this point is Rick Nash. While he is doing all the little things you need him to do, he is not doing the main thing you need him to – score goals. With Montreal being more of a finesse team, you would expect/hope that Nash can finally break out offensively.

Looking ahead to this series, I see the Rangers possible path to victory coming down to these keys.

1. The Matchups – It will be interesting to see which line Therrien uses his top defense pairing of P.K. Subban and Josh Gorges against? If he doesn’t use that pairing against Nash-Derek Stepan-Chris Kreider, he might use the Andrei Markov and Alexi Emelin pairing. I would guess that AV would want to keep Nash’s line away from the top pair – which will be difficult at the Bell Centre when the Habs have the last change.

2. Break The Streaks – There are lots of streaks that the Rangers need to break if they want to get to the Stanley Cup Finals. First and foremost, Lundqvist has to be Le Roi in this series – especially in the Bell Centre. In his last four starts in Montreal, Lundqvist is 0-3-1 with a 6.99 GAA and a .862 SV%.

Lundqvist is not the only player who needs to break the Bell Centre jinx. Prior to their 1-0 win in November, the Rangers had lost their last eight games in Montreal by a combined 30-7 score.

The time has come for Nash to break out of his playoff scoring slump and show why the Rangers invested so heavily in him. The Habs are not that physical a team (as compared to the Flyers or Bruins) so he should be able to be effective driving to the net.

The most important streak that needs to come to an end is the 0-13 record when the Rangers have a lead in a playoff series. Until the Blueshirts manage to exorcise that stat they are eternally doomed to play seven game series – and no team has ever won the Stanley Cup after playing 28 playoff games.

3. Strike First – This key has a double connotation to it. As we saw throughout the Second Round, the first goal of the game was golden – and it should be no different in this series. With the Bell Centre packing in nearly 22,000 screaming rabid Canadiens fans, the Rangers would be very wise to score early (and often) and try to keep the crowd out of the game. The more the crowd is in the game, the more the Habs will feed off that, and the more the officials will feed off that as well. If you don’t think that plays a part in a game in Montreal, well, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.

The second part of striking first is getting a victory in Game 1, or at the very least in Game 2. The Rangers want to be able to take away home-ice advantage as soon as possible. Besides, if the Rangers can get Game 1 then they are set up to end the 0-13 streak early in the series, rather than later.

4. Forecheck – With the way Price and the Habs defense has stifled the Rangers offense, the Blueshirts are going to need to find ways to score. Obviously, a semi-potent power play would work wonders. Another way to generate offense is to pin Montreal in their own zone. The Rangers showed flashes of brilliant forechecking against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and they will need to step up the ante in this series.

An aggressive and successful forecheck will not only lead to turnovers, but it will help to neutralize the Canadiens speed by controlling the tempo of the game and forcing Montreal to defend rather than attack.

5. Traffic – This key another one of those two-parters. If the Rangers have learned anything from their matchups against the Flyers and Penguins it is that their offense is much better, and more effective, when they are driving to the net and screening goaltenders. Price is so zoned into his game that his Olympic Gold could be followed up with Lord Stanley’s hardware. The Rangers have to be as aggressive getting in Price’s grill as opponents are in getting bodies in front of Lundqvist.

The second part of the traffic key is that the Rangers need to be able to clamp down on the neutral zone. They can’t afford to let the Canadiens control the neutral zone because the speed they generate there will translate into scoring opportunities. When the Rangers were on their game defensively against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, neither team had any time or space in the neutral zone.

The Canadiens are a team that looks to hit the long breakout passes for breakaways. As a result, the solid forecheck and the ability to choke off the neutral zone are essential.

When all is said and done, there is one thing that I can predict for a fact: the team that wins this series and advances to the Stanley Cup Finals will wear red, white, and blue.

Okay, you all probably think I am a wise-ass because both teams wear those colors. But if you noticed, I wrote red, white and blue, not rouge, blanc, et bleu.

In the end, I see the Rangers doing what they do best – winning a seven-game playoff series. I have seen some writers say that such a series will tire out the Rangers who have played 14 games as compared to just 11 for the Canadiens. However, it is Montreal that is coming off a seven-game war against the Bruins.

The Rangers are the more battle-tested playoff team and they have actually been able to get some rest. While the NHL has not officially released the schedule, it is nowhere near as hectic as the previous series. With Game 2 set for Monday (5/19), Games 3 and 4 would take place at the Garden on Thursday (5/22) and either Saturday (5/24) or Sunday (5/25). The only problem is that you can bet MSG will be overrun with Habs fans who will be able to get tickets on the secondary market. I don’t think the Rangers will be able to block Montreal fans the way the Seattle Seahawks blocked San Francisco 49ers fans from getting tickets to the NFC Championships.

While the Canadiens did sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning and outlasted the Big Bad Bruins, Montreal is still a team that Brian Costello of The Hockey News called a “… pint-sized, icing a roster with a league-high nine forwards and four defensemen who stand 6-foot or smaller. The Habs are at the bottom of the NHL weight scale as well with just one regular (Alexei Emelin) weighing 220 pounds or more.”

In my opinion, it will be Montreal that wears down by the end of this series, not the Rangers.

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The teams may change, and the circumstances leading up to it may change, but if it is May and it is playoff time in the NHL, then the New York Rangers must be facing another Game 7 battle as the Blueshirts look to survive and advance in the race for Stanley Cup.

The Rangers are getting to be grizzled veterans when it comes to playing a seventh and deciding game. The Rangers have won their last three Game 7 matchups during the last two seasons and lost a fourth in 2009 to Washington when the Blueshirts held a three games to one series lead – the same deficit they are looking to overcome tonight.

The Rangers have been down three games to one in 16 previous playoff matchups and have forced a Game 7 once – in 1939 when they spotted Boston a three games to none lead before losing Game 7 on Mel Hill’s triple overtime goal, his third overtime winner of the series.

While that seems like a mighty tall mountain to climb, it is a bit misleading because the corps of this team was only involved in one of the 16 previous occurrences. Remember, there was also a time when the Rangers did not win seventh games.

On the other hand, Larry Brooks of the NY Post pointed out that seven Penguins (Marc-Andre Fleury, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Craig Adams and Matt Niskanen) were part the team’s 2011 playoff collapse as Pittsburgh blew a 3-1 series lead against Tampa Bay. It must be noted that both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin missed that series because of injuries. The Lightning (with Martin St. Louis and Dominic Moore) won Game 7, in Pittsburgh, 1-0.

Let’s be honest, the Rangers have never beaten Pittsburgh in the playoffs so it figures it would the Blueshirts would take a circuitous route in doing so. By the way, one year ago today the Rangers notched their first ever Game 7 road win with their 5-0 blanking of the Washington Capitals.

Rangers fans are going to hunker down in their bunkers on Tuesday night hoping that the momentum from Games 5 and 6 carry over to Game 7. I hate to disappoint, but momentum does not carry over from game-to-game in the playoffs. If momentum carried over from game-to-game, then the Rangers would have been toast after phoning in Games 3 and 4.

By the time the opening puck is dropped for the next game, a new set of momentum is being written.

Rather, momentum changes from shift-to-shift and period-to-period.

There is one caveat that can be applied to the momentum theory and we have our old pal Pierre McGuire to thank for it. Everyone’s “favorite” between-the-benches analyst talks of the three things you want to plant in your opponents’ mind as a series progresses: concern, doubt and fear.

It is safe to say that the Penguins are at the fear stage.

More importantly for the Rangers, Marc-Andre Fleury is definitely at the fear stage. He entered the series with a big target on his back as THE potential goat in any Penguins playoff loss. After shutting out the Rangers in back-to-back games, it appears that the target is back and it is as big as it has been in the 2014 playoffs.

It is the fear of a Fleury Playoff Meltdown that can transcend from game-to-game, especially in the mind of the Penguins netminder.

The Pittsburgh newspapers contain stories promising of shakeups should the Penguins fulfill their playoff wilting. The changes start all at the top with GM Ray Shero, go through Coach Dan Byslma (who is not that big a fan favorite), and down through the players. Even Captain Sidney Crosby is drawing criticism for not stepping up his play and his inability to provide leadership.

This is the hornets’ nest that the CONSOL Energy Center could turn into for the Penguins. All that is missing is the spark to ignite the powder keg – and that is where the Rangers have to provide that spark.

It is no coincidence that the first goal will be huge on Tuesday night. Through Monday nights’ games, only one time has a team scored first and failed to win – Minnesota did it last night in Chicago. In addition, the team that scores first in Game 7 is 112-40 (73.7%).

If the Rangers can channel their play from Games 5 and 6 and use it as the springboard for the first goal of the game, they could provide the spark that lights the Penguins final implosion.

A big key to igniting that spark could very well be Chris Kreider. The youngster’s return to the lineup gives Vigneault his top nine forwards and gives the Rangers offense even more speed and much needed size. It also allows Nash to play right wing where he seems to be more comfortable.

Most fans think the Rangers are without pressure because they are playing with “house money”. I say balderdash and poppycock. That “house money” stuff works when you are talking about kids playing in school, whether it is high school or college. When you are a professional, you are expected to win these games unless you are in a David versus Goliath situation – and that is hardly the case between these two teams.

Granted, the pressure is greater on the Penguins because they were one game away from eliminating the Rangers. While home teams win about 60% of Game 7 matchups, they are facing on the league’s best road teams so even that advantage might not be as great as it could have been.

The same keys that I pointed out in my series preview still apply as the Rangers embark on yet another Game 7 battle. They need to play disciplined and stay out of a battle of the special teams with the Penguins. While the Rangers power play has responded of late, it is not good practice to give Crosby, Malkin and the rest of the Penguins firepower extra chances with the man advantages.

Speaking of power plays, if the Rangers happen to be up by a couple of goals in the third period – and happen to get a power play or two – could Coach Alain Vigneault please use two defensemen on the points instead of one blueliner and four forwards.

With scoring the first goal at such a premium (and extending that lead a couple of goals wouldn’t hurt either), the Rangers have to continue to be relentless on their attack on Fleury – and relentless on their forecheck. The more time they spend in the Pittsburgh zone, the less time they have to worry about defending against tne Penguins offense or a crazy deflection.

This series has shown that when the Rangers get bodies to the net and attack the crease with intent, they have been able to score goals.

In moving forward with their offensive game plan, they might want to consider going back.

Fleury looked pretty bad on Carl Hagelin’s backhander in the first period of Game 6 so the Rangers should not be afraid to fire backhanders – especially if they can get Fleury moving side-to-side.

The other part of going back is looking to start some of their attack from behind the net. It is all part of trying of a strategy to get Fleury moving and not allowing him to get squared up with the shooter. This strategy, of course, is going to require the Rangers to go to the net with a purpose.

When it comes to defending Henrik Lundqvist, the first thing the Blueshirts have to do is be smarter with the pucks. Their bad habit of making pass up the middle of the ice reared its ugly one too many times Sunday night. The Rangers need to make the safe play whenever possible.

The Rangers need to win the battle of the blue lines. Any puck that is within five or so feet of their defensive blue line must be cleared and any time they are within five feet of the Penguins blue line the puck must be plated deep. They can’t afford any cheap turnovers and they certainly can’t afford any more breakaways against – especially when they are on the power play.

Sooner or later the Brian Gibbons’ and Marcel Gocs’ of the world are going to slip a puck past Lundqvist on a breakaway. Even worse, it could be Crosby and Malkin bearing down on those breakaways.

One other thing the Rangers need to do is be aware of wherever Crosby and Malkin are when they are on the ice. The Rangers need to take then out of the game and let someone else try to step up and beat them. If I were Nash, I would follow Malkin from the moment he left the Penguins bench to the moment he returns to it. Nash is the only player who has the size, strength and skating ability to keep up with Geno. If he isn’t going to score then he can help the Rangers advance to the Eastern Conference Finals by being a shutdown forward.

If Lundqvist continues his King-like play in recent Game 7s (4-0, 1 shutout, 0.75 GAA, .973 SV%), then the Rangers are destined for an Original Six matchup against either the Boston Bruins or the Montreal Canadiens.

Don’t forget that a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals is not the only thing that is on the line tonight. If the Rangers win, then the 2014 second round draft pick the Rangers sent to Tampa Bay as part of the St. Louis-Ryan Callahan trade becomes a first round draft pick.

The one thing we know for sure is that the NHL will be safe from those ruffians who practice random water squirtings following the NHL’s $5,000 fine levied against Lundqvist. Of course, that also means slew-footing your opponent or jabbing him in the junk with your stick is legal – as long as the person doing the slewfing and jabbing is named Sidney Crosby.

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While the Pittsburgh Penguins might not admit it publicly, you have to believe secretly they are happy to be facing the New York Rangers as opposed to the Philadelphia Flyers. Let’s face it; the Rangers have the tendency to turn mere rookie goaltenders into Georges Vezina – just the cure the Penguins would seek in returning Marc-Andre Fleury to his Stanley Cup winning form.

Seriously, while the Penguins and Rangers were separated by 12 points in the Metropolitan Division standings, the two teams played about as evenly as two teams could play during the regular season. Both teams scored five goals in home wins and both teams suffered home shootout losses. The only difference is that the Rangers scored one more goal (13-12).

The Penguins fan will look to the brief playoff history between the two teams as an omen. Pittsburgh has won all four series against the Blueshirts – winning an astonishing 16 of 20 games.

Of course, an optimistic Rangers fan looks at the playoff history as just one more hill to climb. After all, there was a time when the Rangers never won Game 7s.

The 1989 series was a total no-contest that saw the Rangers limp into the playoffs after GM Phil Esposito fired Coach Michel Bergeron with two games left in the regular season and went behind the bench himself. With Bob Froese and John Vanbiesbrouck unable to stop the young Pens, Esposito turned to a minor league goaltender in Game 4. That is how the Mike Richter Era began as Pittsburgh swept the Rangers out of the playoffs.

The most heartbreaking of those losses came in 1992 when the Rangers entered the series with the best record in the NHL and bowed out in six games under wild circumstances that saw an injured Mark Messier miss Games 2 and 3, and Adam Graves suspended for four games after slashing Mario Lemieux in Game 3and breaking a bone in his wrist.

Despite missing Messier and Graves, the Rangers found themselves up two games to one and ahead 4-2 in Game 4. A few seconds after squandering a five-minute power play, and a chance to put the game away, Ron Francis beat Richter with a long-range shot to cut the lead in half. Jaromir Jagr knotted the game about 90 seconds later. Francis completed his hat trick in overtime as the Penguins would win the rest of their games on their way to winning their second Stanley Cup.

In 1996, the Rangers shook off losing their first two playoff games at home against Montreal to beat the Canadiens in six games – which was no small feat given the Blueshirts won all three games in Montreal after posting a 1-20-3 record previously.

If you thought Sidney Crosby was a master at diving then you missed some solid performances during the 1996 series. Kevin Lowe described the splish-splashing this way.

“It looked like a bowling alley out there,” Lowe explained to Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News.

“My old man used to tell me, if you ain’t dead, don’t lay there.”

In 2008 the Rangers hoped that Jagr’s switching of allegiances would end the losing to Pittsburgh.

Optimism was running high as the Blueshirts built up a three-goal lead in Game 1. However, Pittsburgh would twice score two goals in 20 seconds before Evgeni Malkin’s power play goal at 18:19 of the third period proved to be the game winner.

The Rangers prevented the sweep behind two Jagr goals and a 29-save shutout from Henrik Lundqvist.

Trailing 2-0 heading into the third period of Game 5, Lauri Korpikoski (in his NHL debut) and Nigel Dawes scored 82 seconds apart to tie the game early in the third period. Marian Hossa ended the Rangers season 7:10 into overtime.

The Rangers roster has undergone a significant transformation since that 2008 playoff loss. Only Lundqvist, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal remain on the team, while seven Penguins return.

As we enter this series, both teams will make a concerted effort to stay out of the penalty box. Neither team was particularly effective killing penalties (Pittsburgh: 74.1% – Rangers: 71.4%). The big difference is in the teams power play units (Pittsburgh: 20.7% – Rangers: 10.3%).

If (and it is a huge if) this series is determined by five-on-five play, then the Rangers have a slight edge (1.88 goals to 1.50 goals).

Therein lies the question, how will the series be called. Will the series be called straight down the line or will the “Screw-The-Rangers” rulebook be applied where Rangers players are knocked into opposing goaltenders and it is the Blueshirts who end up shorthanded.

The Penguins needed the extra time off to help heal injuries to some of their key support players. Brandon Sutter and Joe Vitale suffered injuries in the Game 6 win against the Blue Jackets, but they did practice on Wednesday. Brian Gibbons has been out since Game 2.

On defense, Brooks Orpik missed the last two games of the Columbus series and Kris Letang is still trying to get his game back after missing time following his stroke in January.

Of course, NBC and the NHL did the Rangers no favors scheduling back-to-back games on Sunday night and Monday night. However, Gary Bettman does not deserve to take the hit all by himself. Cablevision has to share the blame as they have two New York Liberty WNBA games booked as well as Billy Joel’s monthly appearance at the Garden.

With all that said, you think clearer heads would have prevailed so that the Rangers would not have to face the prospect of six games in nine days and seven games in 11 days. I am sure something could have been done with the scheduling if NBS wasn’t so insistent on having the Rangers-Penguins available for two Sunday games.

Of course, the Rangers could have avoided the problem if they had been expeditious rather than taking seven games to dispose of the Flyers.

The biggest question for the black-and-gold comes not from the injury report but from between the pipes. Unlike the last two season when Fleury’s GAA (3.52 and 4.63) and SV% (.883 and .834) were more AHL journeyman like than they were of a Stanley Cup contender, his numbers this year (2.81 and .908) are acceptable.

With that said, Fleury still had a meltdown in the closing second of Game 4 when he FUBARed a puck behind the net that practically turned into an empty net goal for Brandon Dubinsky. Fleury then allowed a soft goal to Nick Foligno for the winner in overtime.

The Columbus-Pittsburgh series was unique in that winning team overcame a two-goal deficit in each of the first three games with the Blue Jackets erasing a three-goal deficit in Game 4 and nearly doing so again in Game 6.

You get the feeling that if the Rangers are to win this series it is going to mirror another New York-Pittsburgh playoff battle – the 1960 World Series. The Pirates won the Series in seven games as they outscored the Yankees by a combined 24-17 in their four wins. Conversely, the Yankees beat down the Pirates in their three wins – outscoring the Bucs 38-3. Let me do the math for you, the Yankees lost the World Series despite doubling the Pirates in runs (55-27).

In putting together the Keys to winning the Battle of the Keystone State Part Deux, we begin with two keys that are going to remain valid for as long as the Rangers stay alive in the playoffs.

The Rangers special teams have to be something special. It is one thing for the Blueshirts to win with a lackluster power play, but there is no way they can continue to win if they are going to continue struggling to kill penalties.

The second thing is that the Rangers best players have to continue to be their best players. They need more Game 7-like efforts out of Rick Nash the deeper the Rangers go in the playoffs and the top four defensemen are going to be tested every shift they match up against Crosby and Malkin. It is too much to ask for the Rangers to keep Crosby and Malkin under wraps like Columbus did for the first five games before Geno broke loose for three goals.

One interesting wrinkle is that Martin St. Louis is making his Rangers debut against the Penguins. MSL has averaged nearly a point a game in his career against Pittsburgh (47 points in 50 games).

Looking ahead to this series, I see the Rangers possible path to victory coming down to these keys.

1. Discipline – Against the Penguins the idea of discipline is really a three step process. It is obvious that the Rangers must stay out of the penalty box – especially with the officials always keeping a caring eye on Crosby.

The Rangers also have to be disciplined enough not to turn this game into a track meet. Unless Fleury is playing like a sieve, the Blueshirts do not have the offensive firepower to match the Penguins goal-for-goal in a high scoring series.

That leads me to my third point of discipline. The Rangers need to focus on their play in the second period of Game 7. That is the blueprint for beating the Penguins. The Rangers pressured the Flyers for the entire period with a relentless forecheck that keyed the Blueshirts offensive pressure.

2. Wilting the Flower – If the Rangers can maintain that focused forecheck, they are going to cause the Penguins to turn the puck over like the Flyers did. The pressure then falls squarely on the shoulders of Fleury. If the Penguins goaltender is unable to duplicate Steve Mason’s heroics, then the Rangers path to the Eastern Conference Finals gets much easier.

Odds are the Penguins will not use Tomas Vokoun as a fallback should Fleury implode. The Czech netminder was limited to just two AHL games as he battled back from blood clotting issues. While they might turn to him, it would be a lot to ask of him to save Pittsburgh’s season.

That leaves rookie goaltender Jeff Zatkoff as the only other alternative. The former Los Angeles Kings draft pick has just 20 NHL games under his belt.

The Rangers are going to have to create a lot traffic and havoc in front of Fleury so that he does not get comfortable in his crease. No, I am not saying they have to be physical with him just get him to the point where he constantly has to be in motion to the see puck and make saves.

They also need to get a lot of vulcanized rubber on net – and it has to be more than the Rangers usual variety of “casual shots from the perimeter that hit the goalie center mass”. In other words, they have to shoot the puck like they mean it and don’t look to over-pass the puck. Sometimes the best pass is a rebound off a shot on goal.

3. Breaking the Streak – In order for the Rangers to break their playoff losing streak to Pittsburgh (all four series) they must break their other playoff losing streak – 12 losses in a row when they have had a lead in a series. Teams that make deep runs in the playoffs do it by stringing together wins, not by alternating wins and losses. The streaks have to end sometime and in the Rangers case it might as well be sooner rather than later.

4. The Matchups – You can expect there to be a lot of cat-and-mouse strategy flying between the two coaches. Will Dan Bylsma try to get Crosby going by teaming him with Malkin? Which defensive pairing does Alain Vigneault use against the Crosby and Malkin lines (assuming they are kept apart)?

You can expect Bylsma to use the last change option at the CONSOL Energy Center in order to get one (if not both) of his star canters matched up against the John Moore-Kevin Klein pairing. Look for major ice time to be shared by Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Anton Stralman.

While not a matchup per se, you have to like the Rangers’ advantage in terms of the third and fourth line matchups – especially if Bylsma has to move Brandon Sutter up when he teams Crosby and Malkin together.

5. Best of Both Worlds – In an interesting twist given John Tortorella’s firing in Vancouver, the Rangers are going to need to meld the styles of play espoused by the last two coaches. They have to channel their inner Torts in terms of play in the defensive end and return to the shot-blocking monsters they were a couple of years ago. At the same time, they have to remember to embrace the offensive freedom that AV has installed.
As for my prediction, well, that is where I have a problem. My mind is saying that the Penguins will win the series, but my heart is saying the Rangers can find a win to prevail.

In the end the prediction is Penguins in seven as Crosby, Malkin and the guys in the striped shirts prove to be too much for the Rangers.

However, I do see a way for the Rangers to find a way to win. It involves the Blueshirts finding a way to end up ahead in the series following Sunday night. Being up three games to none would be golden, but a 2-1 lead will suffice. It sets the Rangers up with a chance to return to Pittsburgh with a 3-1 lead with the opportunity to end the series in five or six games. The longer the series goes, the more the odds shift to the Penguins.

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So here we are as the New York Rangers face yet another Game 7. Should we really have expected anything else from the Rangers? I know the Blueshirts refuse to do things the easy way, hence their 12 game losing streak when they are leading a series, but do they constantly have to do things the hard way? Maybe they should just start every playoff with Game 7 and the series tied 3-3.

Given the way the Rangers failed to show up for the final minutes of Game 6, they better hope that momentum does carry over from game-to-game.

For their part, the Rangers are talking about putting the horrors of Game 6 out of their minds. Martin St. Louis refers to “amnesia” and Brad Richards told the AP, “This team is not going to be thinking about what happened tonight. It’s over once we get on the train. You have to move on quick.”

Not only should the Rangers NOT forget their Game 6 performance, they need to embrace it, take ownership of it, and do whatever is necessary to make sure they do not repeat that performance tonight.

In my series preview, I pointed to four keys the Rangers needed to accomplish in order to defeat the Flyers. In brief, they were:

1. Increased goal scoring
2. Special Teams
3. Don’t retaliate unnecessarily
4. Best players must be the best players

Of the four, the closest the Rangers have come accomplishing with any consistency is the third one – and even that comes with a caveat. While the Rangers are not getting caught for retaliatory penalties, they are getting caught taking bad/lazy penalties.

The penalty that Benoit Pouliot took on Claude Giroux was both bad and lazy – despite the fact that the referees refuse to penalize the Flyers for their splashy-divey embellishments.

As for the other keys, the Rangers have been wildly inconsistent. Their offense has been humming when they win, but near nonexistent in their losses. After starting the series 3-8 on the power play, the Rangers man (dis)advantage has returned as they have been blanked on their 20 power plays. Maybe they need to hire Adam Oates as a power play consultant – stat!

The Rangers star players have been wildly inconsistent and that inconsistency has spread to usually reliable players like Pouliot, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello.

The biggest disappointment has been Rick Nash because of his; you guessed it, wildly inconsistent play. While he has shown glimpses, he has not stepped his play the way the team needs him. Nash needs to be more than just a finesse perimeter player; he needs to play with jam – something that Ray Ferraro pointed out today.

Adam Rotter of SNY offered the following quote from Ferraro who was on Leafs Lunch today and Ferraro pulled no punches when it came to breaking down Nash’s game so far.

“This is my pet peeve when I watch players. I was an undersized guy, I see someone who is 6-4 and 230 and he rushes it over the side wall and takes his shot from there? I f he cuts to the net and he is almost unstoppable,” Ferraro said.

“There is no anger to his game and you don’t need to be slashing guys but you need some passion or anger and he doesn’t display it. They brought him in for the playoffs. Dom Moore has two in this playoffs. They pay him $7 million. I don’t see how you can see that and think that what you are doing is right. He isn’t even close.”

While Nash is far from the only star Ranger not living up to the back of his hockey card, his salary and potential to be a game-changer puts the biggest target on his back.

The key to a Rangers Game 7 victory comes down to DISCIPLINE. It is a concept that has to permeate across all parts of the Blueshirts game tonight. It starts with staying out of the penalty box, especially if the NHL is going to employee the “Screw-the-Rangers” rulebook. You know the one where fast whistles disallow Ranger goals and see the Blueshirts called for three diving penalties while the Flyers cannonball their way into the pool.

The Rangers, along with Montreal, have been the best five-on-five teams in the playoffs – outscoring Philly 13-7 so staying out of the penalty box is imperative in Game 7.

The idea of discipline goes beyond staying out of the penalty box. It extends to their offensive zone play and especially on their power play. It is rather unfathomable how a team can be so disciplined killing penalties and then have no clue how to react when they have the man advantage.

Alain Vigneault is turning out to be one of those coaches who can design a good game plan going into a game, but has troubles making adjustments during the game – especially in terms of the power play.

The Rangers are trying to employ the diamond power play set up as a means to jump start their power play. However, the Flyers have countered it and AV seems unwilling or incapable of trying anything else.

This is where the discipline part comes into play. The Rangers MUST make Steve Mason has uncomfortable as possible in goal. That means pressure and traffic in front of the net. The Rangers were causing all kinds of havoc with their forecheck during the first period of Game 6, but could not take advantage of that or the fact that Masone was a human rebound machine because no Rangers forwards ever camped out at the top of the crease.

If the Rangers had a couple of Adam Graves and Steve Vickers types, this column would be extolling the Rangers on their Game 6 victory and looking ahead to ways to make Marc-Andre Fleury self-destruct.

The bottom line is that the Rangers forwards have to be disciplined enough to grow a set of onions and get to working the front of the net and the defensemen have to start being more disciplined with their shots from the point by working to get their shots through. Too many shots from the point are getting blocked.

The Rangers might want to utilize a strategy that seemed to work against Martin Brodeur and might work against Mason. The Rangers need to start generating some of their offense from behind the net. That doesn’t necessarily mean trying to beat Mason on wrap-arounds. It means getting the Flyers to commit down low so that it either A) opens up shots from the point or B) opens up shots from the slot (assuming the forwards man-up and go to the slot).

When the Rangers do get their shots they need to be disciplined enough to remember he catches with his right hand so they need to adjust if they want to beat him to the stick side. Mason has not looked all that comfortable when the Rangers go upstairs on him.

The Rangers need to heed the advice of Herb Brooks who constantly reminded his USA team to “play your game” as they upset the Soviet Union.

In the end, the Rangers are going to need Henrik Lundqvist at his best – and that is the way he has been in terms of facing Game 7 situations. If his teammates given him an even chance, he has shown an ability to get the job done in seventh and deciding games:

• 3-1 record, 1.00 GAA, .963 SV%, and 1 SO in four career Game 7s
• 6-2 record, 1.48 GAA, .950 SV%, and 2 SO in his last 8 elimination games
• 5-0 record, 0.98 GAA, .966 SV%, and 2 SO in his last 5 elimination games @ MSG

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