When the New York Rangers make the 10th overall selection in the 2010 NHL Draft it will mark the highest draft pick they have since 2004 when they selected goaltender Al Montoya with the first of two first round draft picks. The Blueshirts would later draft Lauri Korpikoski with the 19th pick. The Montoya pick compounded their horrific mistake a year earlier when they drafted Hugh Jessiman 12th overall.

In an April 18, 2010 USA Today article, Kyle Woodlief of Red Line report described the state of flux in the 2010 NHL Draft after Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin.

“There’s a big dropoff after the top two, and that leads to some widely divergent opinions on the next tier of talent,” Woodlief wrote. “Really, we can’t remember a year like this where no clear pecking order has been established this late in the season. If you told us that the player ranked No. 15 on our board would go third in June, and our No. 3 ranked player would go at 15, it would be no shock at all.”

Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark spoke with reporters in a June 16 conference call and gave an indication of just how bunched this year’s Draft class at the top.

In response to a question about “A-rated” players in the Draft, Clark responded “For us I would think you’re right, sometimes there are four, five, maybe seven guys and then it falls off. I would say that there are two guys [Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin] clearly better than everyone else and then depending on who you’re talking to … there is another 10 guys that you could probably throw a blanket over that each team would probably think a little bit differently but have the same 10 guys in a little bit different order.”

With all of this flux, the Rangers brain trust will have to bring their “A” game so that they can be prepared with the twists and turns that might come this year. Depending on how the Rangers draw up their draft chart, it is very possible that the team might be willing to move down in the first round in attempt to, at the very least, replace the third round draft pick that President/GM Glen Sather sent to the Los Angeles Kings last year in the Brian Boyle trade.

“Those decisions really are (made on the floor). We have talked to Glen (Sather), and that is who takes care of that once we get going,” Clark said during the conference call. “We have always been up for trading up or trading back. It will really depend on how the first five or six picks go.”

The one position the Rangers do not need to address in the first round is defense. The team has an abundance of young blueliners who are waiting for space to clear up at Madison Square Garden. While I love the idea of drafting rugged physical defensive d-man Dylan McIlrath, I believe the Rangers need to seek out offensive firepower and address the need to find help to take some of the offensive load off of Marian Gaborik.

With that said, I have targeted six forwards the Rangers should have on their radar. Odds are that a couple of them should be available for the Rangers at the 10th spot.

Each player has ratings for the following scouting services: The Hockey News (THN), McKeen’s (McK), TSN.ca (TSN), NHL’s Central Scouting (CS), and International Scouting Service (ISS). CS breaks down their ratings by North American skaters, European skaters, North American goaltenders and European goaltenders. TSN ranked the Top 75 players and listed fine Honorable Mentions. In an exclusive to NHL.com, CS provided a prospects’ comparable NHL player for their Top 30 North American skaters – and is listed here when applicable. ISS also provided a prospects’ comparable NHL player.

Alexander Burmistrov – C –THN: # 6—– McK: # 13 —– TSN: # 12
CS: # 11NA (Maxim Afinogenov) —– ISS: # 14 (Denis Savard)
The Russian teen alleviated a lot of fear about his future when he decided to come to North America and play for Barrie (OHL) where he averaged better than a point a game (22 goals and 43 assists in 63 games). In describing Burmistrov, ISS wrote “His speed and agility in open ice make him an immediate danger whenever he touches the puck…. He makes plays that some just don’t make at this level.

McKeen’s was just as effusive in their praise of Burmistrov’s skill level. “Burmistrov has all the tools to become a quality NHLer. He is fast – possibly the quickest in the draft – instinctive and a clever playmaker. Burmistrov has levels of speed that were unrivalled by his peers and the opposition.”

ISS: “Burmistrov is very skilled with the puck and able to make plays while at top speed, and does not panic when under pressure…. A calm and calculated player during zone play, Burmistrov has outstanding edge control and balance and can change his pace before defenders can even think to adjust.”

There is no question that Alex has NHL talent. The one thing Burmistrov does not have is NHL size (6-0/159). One scout expressed concern about his size when talking to THN. “I don’t care how dynamic you are, he’s 146 pounds (listed at 159) and he’s built like Gilligan. But I love his compete level.”

Another scout told THN, “Every time you watch this kid playing you say, ‘Wow, does he ever work hard. He works his butt off. He has lots of speed and talent, he has great hockey sense and he’s competitive. He needs to put some weight on, but he’ll do that.”

Mikael Granlund – C –THN: # 10 —– McK: # 9 —– TSN: # 13
CS: # 1E —– ISS: # 15 (Saku Koivu)
When you are a sleek playmaking center from Finland, the comparisons to Saku Koivu are inevitable. “There’s no doubt he has the same intangibles as Koivu,” a scout told THN. “He defies the odds every time. You go to watch him play and you want to not like him, but then he’s one of the best players in the game.”

McKeen’s: “Granlund has excellent play making ability and outstanding vision. His patience with the puck and vast array of stick-handling moves mesmerizes defenders as he can flat out embarrass them…. Despite his size issues, Granlund embraces the physical play and plays with jam.”

The 5-10/180 18-year-old stepped up and played in the top Finnish League scoring 13 goals and 27 assists in 43 games and added a goal and seven assists in the World Junior Championships (WJC). While he is small in stature, he does not shy away from the physical game. His dazzling ability with the puck and innate hockey sense helps to avoid hits lesser players would absorb.

ISS: “[He] has overcome doubts about his size to become one of the most electrifying prospects available this year. His ability to run an offence is beyond impressive. Granlund is a highlight reel of pure offensive skill who continues to develop into an even better all around player.”

Ryan Johansen – C –THN: # 12 —– McK: # 8 —– TSN: # 6
CS: # 10NA (Jason Spezza) —– ISS: # 8 (Eric Staal)
Johansen is a late bloomer when it comes to being a top prospect – he was a 7th round pick in the WHL Bantam Draft. He grew three inches in the past year and the 6-3/190 center still has some physical maturing before he is ready for the NHL. In his rookie WHL season Portland, Ryan scored 25 goals and 44 assists in 71 games while playing on a line with Nino Niederreiter.

“His ‘A’ game reminds me a lot of Eric Staal, but he doesn’t compete consistently anywhere near the way Eric did at the same time,” one scout reported to THN. “This is a very underdeveloped kid who has put up big numbers. I think he has the potential to be a real solid No. 2 center in the NHL.”

Johansen is a strong two –way player who plays in all situations (PK and PP) as well as protecting leads late in games.

McKeen’s: “What sets him apart is his vision and puck skills down low. He finds opening in seams and is very strong on the puck. He uses his reach well not only in offensive situations, but also to strip players off it thus creating a healthy transition game.”

ISS: “He has strong offensive skills and can prove to be an un-hittable target at times when he controls the puck. Johansen has a very good frame and still has lots of room to build on it, add to this the fact that Johansen can be very crafty with the puck and really challenge opposing defenders to contain him and you begin to see his NHL appeal.”

Nino Niederreiter – RW –THN: # 8 —– McK: # 10 —– TSN: # 7
CS: # 12NA (Erik Cole) —– ISS: # 6 (Brendan Shanahan)
Niederreiter’s coming out party occurred during the WJC when he scored the tying and overtime winning goal to help Switzerland defeat Russia in their quarterfinal matchup. In the process, El Nino scored six goals and four assists in 7 WJC games and added 36 goals and 24 assists in 65 games with Portland.

THN: “He has become Superman,” one scout told THN. “You keep going back over your list and you say, ‘Holy cow, look where Nino is.’” Another scout offered this comment, “Everyone has questioned whether he can do it. But guess what? He’s done it.”

Of the 6-2/205 right winger ISS writes, “Niederreiter works hard and competes in every situation to give his team a chance to win. He forechecks extremely well and can capitalize out of contested areas or using his very good shot off the rush. [He] has good hands and can react quickly and effectively to open space and teammates.

“Niederreiter is a big time player and performs at his best when games matter the most. He wants the puck in all situations and is a difference-maker. [He] is one of the most physically developed players available for the draft,” McKeen’s reports. “He is equipped with good speed as there is quickness in his stride and he eagerly tries to beat the defenseman wide.”

Jeffrey Skinner – C –THN: # 25 —– McK: # 12 —– TSN: # 10
CS: # 34NA —– ISS: # 9 (Steve Shutt)
THN wrote about the conundrum Skinner is. The 5-10/187 center was a figure skater who was once nationally rated in Canada, yet there are concerns about his skating. “His ability to get open and finish puts him with Taylor Hall, but he doesn’t skate like Hall,” a scout told THN. “He’s definitely a game-breaker, if he gets another step, he could be a (Mike) Cammalleri.”

While there might be concerns about his skating, there is no debating his ability to put the biscuit in the basket. He led all of Junior Hockey in goals as he netted 70 during the year (50 in 64 regular season games with Kitchener (OHL) and 20 more in the 20 post-season contests).

“He has great hands and can be considered a pure scorer with a fantastic quick release. He is smart away from the puck and is always finding lanes to get open and receive passes,” offered ISS in their scouting report. “Not the fastest skater on the sheet, but [he is] a smart player who works hard ….”

In a report to the THN, another scout offered up a caution to NHL teams who overlook Skinner.

“I love him. I think people are going to wonder like they did with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter how this guy fell the way he did. He’s completely underrated and he should be a top 15 pick at worst. He might end up being the steal of the draft.”

McKeen’s: “Skinner is small in stature, but is thick and plays with sandpaper as he will battle for loose pucks. Skinner plays with cockiness to him and at times likes to show off just how good he is by beating the same guy twice on a shift.”

Vladimir Tarasenko – RW –THN: # 14 —– McK: # 20 —–TSN: # 16
CS: # 2E —– ISS: # 4 (Ziggy Palffy)
The biggest question is will the 5-11/202 Russian stay home and play in the KHL or does he won’t come to play in the NHL? The Blueshirts have shown a willingness to draft a Russian in the first round despite the lack of a transfer agreement as they did in 2007 when they drafted Alexei Cherepanov as the late forward dropped in the Draft.

According to Steve Zipay in a June 16 Newsday Blog entry, the Rangers are conducting their due diligence in respect to Tarasenko’s intentions. The team sent their Russian scout Vladimir Lutchenko to talk to Tarasenko and his father (Andrei) – who is coach in Novosibirsk. Zipay wrote that his father wants him to play in the NHL, but would like to see him stay in the KHL for at least another season.

[Lutchenko] has been right on [Artem] Anisimov and [Evgeny] Grachev and unfortunately, [Alexei] Cherepanov, on whether they would come over,” Clark told Zipay.

A couple of pluses on the Rangers side are that Tarasenko will have fellow Russian in the organization and that Tarasenko and Anisimov were both born in Yaroslavl.

Kyle Woodlief of Red Line Report also said that indications are that Tarasenko will play in the NHL.

“But he was telling teams at the just-concluded NHL Scouting Combine that his father (who’s his coach in the KHL) always dreamed of him playing in the NHL one day, so he might be headed across the pond sooner than we think,” Woodlief wrote in the USA Today.

Of Vladimir, ISS wrote, “Tarasenko is an explosive offensive talent who really can be compared to a poor-man’s Ovechkin. Tarasenko loves to hit and love to score and can do it extremely well both off the rush and with his lightning quick release. Tarasenko has proven during ISS viewings to be an incredibly effective transitional player, scoring several goals after directly causing a turnover.”

“Tarasenko produced modestly this season and did not look at of sorts due to his highly competitive nature and work ethic. He works well in traffic, as his strength on his skates helps him in the trenches,” McKeen’s writes in their scouting report.

Tarasenko, who turns 19 in December, scored 13 goals and 11 assists in 42 KHL games as an 18-year-old. In six WJC games, he added four goals and an assist.

If it were my call, Nino Niederreiter would be my first choice based on his ability to be a power forward/goal scorer who has the speed to beat d-men. THN wrote, “There is every indication Niederreiter is willing to do what it takes to become an NHL player and [he] has the tools to become a power forward. I was also impressed at how he stepped up his game during the WJC. That gives some insight into how he could step up once he gets to the NHL.

However, it is likely that El Nino will go in the Draft before Vladimir Tarasenko. All indications point to him eventually playing in the NHL – even if it takes a couple of years. Given his offensive ability, he would definitely be worth the wait.

As for the remaining players, my preference would be Mikael Granlund, Ryan Johansen, Jeffrey Skinner and Burmistrov. I like the idea of Granlund being the playmaking center that Marian Gaborik needs. Johansen would give the Rangers the big physical center they could use in the Atlantic Division. Skinner adds the goal scoring firepower that would go hand-in-hand with Gaborik’s scoring. Burmistrov is also a solid player who might be the furthest away of all of my selections because of the need for him to mature physically.

During my research for this Draft Preview, I came across some information Woodlief had in reference to one of the newest Rangers, Mats Zuccarello-Aasen. Here is what Woodlief wrote in the USA Today about MZA.

“Two seasons ago it was Fabian Brunnström. Last year it was Jonas “the Monster” Gustavsson. And this year’s most chased European free agent is Norwegian puck wizard Mats Zuccarello-Aasen.

He checks in at a tiny 5-7, 161 pounds, which is obviously far from the ideal prototype for an NHL player. But he has continued to develop and impress during his second season with MoDo in the Swedish league. The slick 22-year-old left wing won the league scoring title with 23-41—64 totals in 55 games, and was one of the few bright spots for a team that underachieved a great deal.

Zuccarello-Aasen also played very well for Norway at the Olympics as the hype really started to grow, and has continued on a torrid pace ever since.
Already there are rumored to be as many as six to seven NHL teams involved in negotiations for Mighty-Mite, who reminds some of a poor man’s Mats Naslund.”

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