When Don Maloney left to become the Phoenix Coyotes GM, it created a vacuum in the Rangers’ front office that probably won’t be filled until after the Draft. With Maloney gone, President/GM Glen Sather will have to lean on his two top remaining lieutenants: Head Amateur Scout Gordie Clark and Director, Player Personnel – Europe Christer Rockstrom.

It has long been commonplace for the Rangers to turn to Rockstrom in the middle and especially late in the draft for what I term a “Christer Rockstrom Special” – a European player who is usually off the radar. However, things might be different in 2007.

With Maloney gone, Sather might turn to Rockstrom at the start of the draft. The last time the Rangers drafted a European-born player in the first round was in Neil Smith’s last draft in 1999 when they selected Pavel Brendl. While, the Blueshirts did draft Filip Novak with their first selection in 2000, he was a second round selection (#64).

With NHL teams having only two years to sign European draft picks and with no transfer agreement in place with Russia, some teams are understandably shy when it comes to drafting European players – and this might play into the Rangers’ hands.

One player who is most intriguing is Maxim Mayorov. Playing abilities aside, teams might be reluctant to draft the Russian LW because of the lack of a transfer agreement. With that said, Mayorov is too valuable to pass up – especially with the 17th pick.

THN wrote that scouts compare the 6-foot-2 and 187 pound Mayorov to Nashville’s Alexander Radulov while ISS compares him to Chicago’s Nikita Aleexev. THN rates him as the 14 best player, ISS has him as the 8th best player and CSS rates him as the 4th best European skater. In 33 games with Leningorsk in Russia, he scored 6 goals and 4 assists with 6 PIM.

THN offered a variety of reviews on Mayorov.

Scout 1: “He’s one of those guys who if he doesn’t score for you, I’m not sure what else he can do for your team. From what I’ve seen his best games are against inferior competition where he can really show his flash and dash.”

Scout 2: “He has actually turned out a lot better than I thought. He’s definitely a mid-first-rounder.”

THN: “Mayorov does; however, intrigue scouts with his combination of size, skating ability and offensive acumen. His speed allows him to create chances and he has the hands to make the most of his opportunities.”

Interestingly enough, ISS didn’t take such a harsh stance on his all-around abilities. They wrote, “Also he is far more advanced in his defensive responsibilities than most in this draft.”

ISS raved about his overall game when they said, “…Mayorov will be a player that teams can be assured of playing in the league for a long time. [He] has the combination of size, speed and talent that many scouts argue is a “model” for a National Hockey League Player.”

Another top player who might fall to the Rangers is Mikael Backlund. The 6-foot-0 and 191 pound Swedish center had quite a trying draft year. After a slow start, Backlund’s troubles were further compounded by a knee injury. As a result, in 27 games with Vasteras he scored 8 goals and added 7 assists with 22 PIM. However, Backlund again caught the eyes of scouts when he led Sweden to a third place finish in the Under-18 championships with a tournament best 6 goals in 6 games.

THN rates Backlund the 37th best player, CSS rates him as the 2nd best European skater and ISS rates him 10th overall and compares him to Mike Sillinger.

In their 2007 Draft Preview THN wrote, “Backlund was being touted as one of the top draft-eligible players in Sweden when the season started, but a long-term knee injury moved him down in the rankings. ‘He kind of fell off the map for about four months,’ one scout said. But the smooth skating center had an excellent Under-18 tourney which moved him back up.”

ISS writes, “He possesses innate ability to find seams in the defensive zone and capitalize on the opportunities that he garners from that trait. He can score important goals to lift his team. His competitiveness and his strong leadership are other traits that we love.”

Another European-born player that intrigues me is LW Lars Eller. The 6-foot-0 and 189 pound native of Denmark played with Vastra Frolunda Jr. in Sweden. In 23 games, he scored 13 goals and 23 assists with 28 PIM. In 5 games with Denmark’s World Junior team, he scored 2 goals and 5 assists – albeit against lesser-talented teams.

It was that showing in the WJC that made scouts notice him.

“Eller impressed scouts with his speed and skill,” ISS writes. “[He] doesn’t need much room to operate. Has the kind of speed and moves that force defenders to back off the blueline. Was impressive in the playoffs and helped lead Frolunda to the league championship. He seems to be a step ahead with his vision/decision making which gives him a good passing game.”

THN rates him as the 35th best player and CSS rates him the 3rd best European skater. ISS rates him as the 18th best player and compares him to Michael Nylander.

THN points out he has the skill and size to play in the NHL, but scouts are unsure how he will translate his game to North America. One scout told them, “He seems sleepy at times. You’d like to see him take charge more.”

One final European-born player of interest is Michal Repik. The 5-foor-10 and 193 pound RW has one big advantage over the other players I have profiled – he spent the last two years playing with Vancouver in the WHL and has adjusted his style of play to North America. He came on strong in the second half of the season and during the Junior playoffs and Memorial Cup. In 56 regular season games, he scored 24 goals and 31 assists with 56 PIM. In 22 post-season games, he scored 10 goals and 16 assists.

CSS rates him as the 58th best North American skater. THN rates him as the 33rd best player and “… has drawn comparisons to Milan Hejduk.” ISS rates him the 26th best player and compares him to Henrik Zetterberg.

Repik might be a reach at 17, but he might be worth looking it at if the Rangers can trade down and players and/or draft picks. At the very least, he would be a lock as a second round draft pick.

One scout told THN, “He might be a guy, a few years down the road, where we’re saying, ‘I wish we had taken him sooner.’”

While ISS expressed concerns over his size, strength and penchant for playing on the perimeter, they praised his hockey sense and his ability to elevate his game as the season progressed.

“He had an impressive second half of this season, and added some grit to his game that we felt was lacking earlier in the year. He seems to be a step ahead with his vision/decision making which gives him a good passing game. He has excellent scoring instincts and tremendous puck-handling skills.”

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