After previewing the European forward market, this portion of the New York Rangers 2007 NHL Draft Preview focuses in on the North American-born prospects that have caught my eye.

In looking at the European-born forwards, I brought up Mikael Backlund and Maxim Mayorov as two higher rated players who might falls to the Blueshirts at #17. Well, there are two North American forwards who might fall to the Rangers as well – for far different reasons. At one point or another, both players were thought to be contenders for the first overall selection – which just goes to prove how volatile the NHL Draft can be.

To say it has been a trying season for Logan Couture would be an understatement. After being anointed as one of best bets to go first overall in 2007, the 6-foot-0 and 190 pound center has had a black cloud lingering over him. In between a bout of mononucleosis, Couture dealt with a pair of leg injuries. Despite the setbacks, he still scored 26 goals and added 50 assists with 24 PIM in 54 games with Ottawa while adding a pair of goals and assists for Canada in the Under-18 Tournament.

THN rates him as the 7th best player, CSS the 10th best North American skater and ISS rates him as 13th best player and compares him to Rod Brind’Amour. Needless to say, if Couture ever dropped to 17 he becomes an absolute no-brainer selection.

Despite my feelings, THN had a pair of opposing views from two scouts.

Scout 1: “You can’t afford tour first-rounder to be a bust, so he’s going to be an attractive pick for teams. He’s a very safe pick.”

Scout 2: “He’s overrated. He’s not a great skater and his development has really flat-lined.”

ISS was much more positive in their write up on Couture.

“He’s a sound two-way player with excellent offensive instincts. He has the kind of talent and tenacity, mixed with off-the-charts natural hockey sense, that makes each guy on his team better and forces everyone to play up to his level. A very intelligent player, Couture is an obvious on-ice leader for his team.”

While injuries keyed the cause for concern in respect to Couture, Angelo Esposito’s downward turn rests squarely on his shoulders. Part of Esposito’s problems stem with his comparison to Sidney Crosby because both players played prep school hockey at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota and both had big time debuts in the QMJHL – although Crosby ended up with 37 more points as a rookie. After ringing up 39 goals and 59 assists in 57 games while leading Quebec to a Memorial Cup title, Esposito dropped to just 27 goals and 52 assists in 60 games with a poor Quebec team.

The 6-foot-1 and 180 pound center was rated 9th overall by THN, 11th overall by ISS and was the 8th best North American skater by CSS. ISS compares Esposito to Pierre Turgeon. While Esposito is regarded as one of the best offensive players available, he lacks that something extra that allows a Couture to make those around him better. It could just be a case of Esposito needing to move on in order for his game to take that next step.

One scout told THN, “He’s going to cause a lot of teams drafting in the top five a lot of sleepless nights. But he might be the bargain of the draft if he drops to No. 6 or 7.”

Another scout said, “He’s the biggest risk in the draft along with [Alexei] Cherepanov. His attitude is troubling. When he played with [Alexander] Radulov, he was dominant, but since Radulov left, he has mailed it in.”

While praising his skating ability which keys his offensive abilities, ISS took Esposito to task for his indifferent play at times.

“[He] does not show any urgency in his game,” ISS wrote. “He plays hard when it is easy to play hard. No doubt he has very good skills when he ahs the puck on his stick, but he needs to play with players who will put it on his stick as he will very often not work to get it himself.”

Despite all of this negative talk, the fact that he is still highly rated speaks volumes about the talent potential that lies within Esposito. With the right team at that the right time, there might be more than five GMs losing sleep a couple of years down the road.

A more conventional pick is Brett MacLean. It is amazing that someone who scores 47 goals in the OHL would get such little respect come draft time. While his skating is an issue, that “lack of respect” comes from the fact that his center is wunderkind John Tavares who is a man among boys. Tavares, who won’t turn 17 until September, is ready to play in the NHL right now. As a result, MacLean is penalized for playing with such a world class player

The nearly 6-foot-2 and 196 pound MacLean blossomed last season as scored 47 goals and 53 assist in 68 regular season games with Oshawa and added another 6 goals and 9 assists in 7 playoff games. THN rates him as the 32nd best player while CSS has him rated as the 14 best North American skater. ISS lists him #21 and compares him to Jeff O’Neill.

One scout addressed the Tavares situation in his comments to THN. “The other way you can look it at is he was good enough to play with Tavares. He still had to put the puck in the net.”

ISS offered a positive review of MacLean’s game, but with a couple of caveats.

“He has proven that he that he possesses the offensive talent and has the finishing skills, but it should be noted that he is playing on the top line with two very good players. Skating is an issue – first couple of steps are not very good and need improvement. Has the ability to come out of the corner with the puck and elude defenders while maintaining control of the puck.”

While Michael Repik was my reach first round European forward, Logan MacMillan is my North American reach forward. The 6-foot-2 and 172 pound center scored 20 goals and 35 assists with 82 PIM with Halifax of the QMJHL – bettering his rookie season tally of 9 goals and 9 assists in 62 games.

The MacMillan name should be very familiar to Rangers and NHL fans because Logan’s father, Bob MacMillan, scored 228 goals and 349 assists in a 753 NHL career. Bob MacMillan was the Rangers 1st round draft choice (15th overall) in the 1972 Draft. He appeared in 22 games with the 1974-75 Blueshirts and scored a goal and added a pair of assists. The Rangers traded him to the St. Louis Blues for defenseman Larry Sacharuk.

Like Repik, MacMillan would be a great pick if he ever dropped to the second round. If they are on the Rangers horizon, it might be best to trade down or look for a bigger band for their buck at 17.

THN rates him as the 38th best player, CSS as their 42nd best North American skater and ISS as their 24th best player and compare him to Rod Brind’Amour as well. ISS sees his NHL potential as a “2nd line Centre/winger [who] can play PP & PK. Reliable in d-zone.”

THN wrote, “Scouts like his game and view him as a reasonably skilled player with good speed and size. But there is a concern about consistency.”

“He teases you,” one scout told THN. “I’d like to see him to do it more often.”

While ISS believes he needs to improve his quickness and puck protection, they view him as a “solid 1st round selection.”

“His vision and ability to find the open man make him an offensive threat. This solid two-way forward has proven to scouts that he is the real deal,” ISS explained. “[He] does everything asked of him. He has continued to show growth in many parts of his game over the past season.”

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