June 2011


With the New York Rangers parting ways with their captain Chris Drury, it appears that President/GM Glen Sather is setting the stages for an active opening to the NHL Free Agent Frenzy that starts on noon on July 1. As everyone expects, UFA Brad Richards sits at the top of Slats’ wish list. In a perfect world, signing Richards would be a no-brainer. Sadly, the Blueshirts and their fans reside in the real world.

While bringing in Richards might solve the Rangers need for a first-line center and a player to quarterback the power play, it also brings a whole new set of problems.

If the various rumors are true, then Richards is looking for a deal in the seven to eight year range that is worth $50 million plus. In that case, you have traded off one expensive contract for another one. Granted Richards is better player than Drury, but how long will that last?

The last time we saw Richards, he was sitting out the final 10 games of the Dallas Stars season because of a concussion. While no one can ever tell how a player is going to respond from the aftereffects of a concussion, the likelihood of it happening again increases.

The question then changes from will Richards be a better free agent signing than Drury and Scott Gomez to does Richards become the next name in this list: Jeff Beukeboom, Pat LaFontaine, Eric Lindros and Mike Richter.

Even putting aside the concussion question, and factoring in the cap space the Rangers have, signing Richards to a Drury-like contract still leaves salary cap implications. The organization has to make decisions on their own UFAs like Steve Eminger, Ruslan Fedotenko, Matt Gilroy, Bryan McCabe and Vinny Prospal.

Even if the Blueshirts decided to pass on all of those players, they have even more imperative decision to make regarding the futures of RFAs like Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Michael Sauer and Pavel Valentenko.

All it takes is for one team below the salary cap floor to offer a Callahan or Dubinsky an over-the-top deal like Edmonton did with Tomas Vanek to push aside all the best laid plans of mice, men and Sather.

Craig Custance of the Sporting News listed Callahan as one of five RFAs who might be at the receiving end of a “poaching effort” from another team. Oh by the way, Callahan’s agent, Steve Bartlett, was the agent who got Vanek his $50 million offer sheet from the Oilers.

Even if we set aside the salary cap implications for the 2011/2012 season, there is potential trouble looming with a new CBA on the horizon. No one knows how the salary cap will work under a new labor agreement.

The NHL instituted a $39 million salary cap for the start of the 2005/2006 season. Entering this season, the salary cap floor is at $48 million. You can bet there are small market teams that are going to want to roll back a salary cap whose floor is $9 million more than the maximum was at the start of the salary cap era seven seasons ago.

No one can envision what kind of amnesty provision will be provided in the new CBA. Will teams be able to buy out any number of players? Will there be a penalty for buying out players – such as a “luxury tax”? Will player salaries be rolled back in order to fit the new cap scale?

Even if we set aside the uncertainty over future salary cap implications, there are current roster implications that have to be considered. The Rangers still need to address their defense corps. They have to find a way to add a veteran or two to help bolster and solidify the blue line. It is hard to fathom a Tim Erixon-Michael Del Zotto third pairing because that would leave the Rangers pretty much with a four defenseman rotation.

If Richards does sign with the Rangers, big lineup decisions will have to be made among the team’s forward corps.

Obviously, Richards becomes the first-line center and Anisimov would most likely return as the second-line center. Now the question becomes what do you do with Boyle and Derek Stepan? Does Stepan move to the wing – most likely on the third line – or does Boyle or Stepan drop to the fourth line? The problem with moving one of them to fourth-line center is John Tortorella is a coach who prefers to run three lines as opposed to playing four lines. Also, do you really want to waste Stepan on a checking line (third line) or on the fourth line?

Quite honestly, out of all of the problems, this last one is the least of the Rangers worries. If it were up to me, the Blueshirts would roll four lines in an effort to ratchet up their forechecking which, in turn, might lessen the time spent in the Rangers defensive zone – thus eliminating the constant need/urge to block shots and risk season-altering injuries.

The one thing that I would not worry about in reference to signing Richards was the negative results the Rangers received in bringing in Drury, Gomez and Wade Redden and in re-signing Michal Rozsival. Signing those players was not the problem. The contracts they received caused the big problem.

Sather’s ultimate mistake was paying all four of those players as if they were top-line players – which they weren’t. Both Drury and Gomez are second-line type centers and would have been fine additions if they were paid as such. In addition, giving Drury a no-movement clause wasn’t one of Sather’s best moves either. There should not have been a need to overpay Drury to return home to the Tri-State area and there should have been no reason to overpay Gomez to stay in the Tri-State area.

As for Redden and Rozsival, the same thing applies to them as well. Both were being paid top defenseman salaries while they were second-pairing defensemen. Rozsival’s career resurgence with the Rangers should have been enough so they did not have to overpay to keep him and Redden was not an elite d-man and should not have been overpaid like one.

In the end, I just don’t know what is best for the Rangers in this case. Just because they have the money to sign Brad Richards doesn’t mean they should sign him. All of the implications I mentioned doesn’t mean they shouldn’t sign him either.

In that perfect world, the Rangers would sign Richards to a very team-friendly contract. If Richards was adamant about getting a deal in the $7-8 million range, then it would be for a short-term deal (four years or so). If he his goal was to get a seven or eight year deal, then it would be for less money ($5-6 million).

The problem is with the likes of Brian Burke trying to restore the Toronto Maple Leafs; the Rangers might not have the luxury of Richards giving the team a hometown discount because of his relationship with Tortorella.

For one of the first times in the 14 years that I have been writing Ranger Ramblings, I honestly do not have an answer as to what the Rangers should do. This might be one of those cases where I won’t be able to decide and will have to wait until Training Camp starts to see how the dust settles.

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I don’t know whose idea it was to have Derek Boogaard’s brother Aaron make the Rangers first selection at the 2011 NHL Draft, but that person deserves to have their name known. The New York Rangers may not always make the right on-ice moves, but this decision was an absolute Hall-of-Famer decision by the Blueshirts – and they deserve all the credit in the world for it.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about their first round draft pick J.T. Miller – especially when players like Mark McNeill (my selection in my Draft Preview) and Joel Armia were still available.

Outside of Red Line Report (RLR) who had him ranked as their ninth best player, Miller was seen as a mid-first rounder by the likes of International Scouting Service (ISS) who had Miller as their 17th best player and NHL’s Central Scouting (CS) who ranked him as the 23rd best skater in North America, and TSN.ca ranked the center as their 18th best prospect. The Hockey News (THN) ranked him 59th.

Interestingly enough, RLR compared Miller’s style of play to that of Erik Cole. While Cole is a nice player, I don’t know any GMs who would select him with the 15th overall pick.

On the other hand, RLR compared Armia’s style of play to that of Tomas Vanek/James Neal.

Anyone who needs to review McNeill’s pedigree can simply check out Part 1 of my Rangers Draft Preview to see how he was ranked. As for Armia, well that is a different story. Frankly, he probably would have been my choice over McNeill with the 15th pick.

I didn’t bother to include the Finnish RW because I did not see him lasting until the Rangers pick at #15 – I had him going to Colorado with the 11th overall pick – with good reason. All of the scouting services I used had him ranked higher than Miller on the whole. Only RLR had Miller ranked higher (20th as opposed to 9th). Miller was ranked 13th by ISS and 15th by THN while CS ranked him as the 4th best European skater.

While Armia has parts of his game that still need work (including defense and finding a consistent high work level), the one thing Armia does bring to the table are world-class offensive skills in a 6-3/191 package.

I know people are putting their trust in Gordie Clark’s track record when waiting to see how Miller’s development progresses – and that is a valid point. However, to me, it seems that the Rangers have J.T. Miller type players already in their system – good solid two-way forwards – as opposed to the game-breaking potential that Armia has.

Since the Rangers did not have a safety net of the two 2nd round draft picks, it appears that the organization decided to go the safe route with Miller rather than take a risk on someone like Joel Armia.

In speaking with NHL.com, David Gregory of CS offered up his assessment of Miller.

“I like how he uses his size and strength. He is a power forward that can dominate on the boards and possesses a great shot. He moves very well, has the ability to impose his will on the game. He just needs to improve his consistency, especially using his strength, game in and game out. He’ll be a better overall player when his puck-handling and confidence with the puck improves.”

As expected, the Rangers pulled off a couple of trades to replace draft picks lost in previous deals. In order to move back into the 3rd round, Glen Sather sent Evgeny Grachev to St. Louis in exchange for the 72nd overall pick – which the Rangers used to select Edina High School’s Steven Fogarty.

While you hate to see a team give up on a player like Grachev, it must just be time for both sides to move on – a point that Sather stressed while addressing the media following the Draft.

“He just felt that he wasn’t fitting in with our system. He’s been with us for three years now, two years in Hartford. We liked him. We just feel that the person that we got in the trade is going to be able to respond a little bit quicker,” wrote Jesse Spector of the Daily News. “Sometimes guys get trapped up in that situation where they don’t think they can go anywhere, and you’re better off going. They really like (Steven) Fogarty, so we made a deal to get him.”

Ranger fans shouldn’t expect to see the 6-2/194 center anytime soon. Fogarty is expected to play next season with the Chicago Steel of the USHL before heading to the University of Notre Dame.

Fogarty was ranked 78th by RLR and as the 90th NA skater by CS. RLR projected Fogarty out as a “physical 3rd/4th line checking centre” and compared his style to Tomas Kopecky.

Here is what RLR wrote about Fogarty:

“Athletic Playmaking Centre with a lean, muscular frame and great natural strength. Has good vision and hockey sense. Skilled passer who looks to dish first and shoot second, but he can score and does have an accurate shot. Has the ability to make big plays at crucial moments. Will give you everything he’s got every shift. Keeps his big body in motion at all times and is persistent on the forecheck, but we’d like to see him drive the net more and finish off his checks with more gusto. His skating is rough at this stage, but stride isn’t bad – it’s more just a lack of leg strength for now. Supports his defencemen and is sharp to mark his defensive assignments. Tough to knock off the puck but his feet, especially his first two strides, need some work.”

His future coach at Notre Dame, Jeff Jackson, offered the following opinion on the Fighting Irish’s official web site, “Steven is a smart, offensive player who has excellent instincts with and without the puck. He has shown strong scoring skills at the high school level. He has excellent character and leadership ability and I think he can be an impact player at Notre Dame after spending a year in junior hockey (Chicago Steel – USHL).”

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The Rangers followed up the selections of two power forwards (Miller and Fogarty) be selecting two small, but very talented and fast-skating offensive forwards in 4th round draft pick (106th) Michael St. Croix and 5th round pick (134th – first of two) Shane McColgan.

Prior to making the deal with Calgary for Tim Erixon, St. Croix was one of the players I was looking at with the Blueshirts two 2nd round picks. The 5-11/176 center is the son of former NHL goaltender Rick St. Croix and slipped a bit in the draft given his final draft rankings: THN (46th), ISS, (63rd), RLR (64th), and CS (59th NA). RLR’s projection lists him as a “2nd line scorer on a poor team or minor leaguer” with a style comparison to Radim Vrbata.

Interestingly, in their 2010 Draft Preview ISS ranked McColgan as the 15th best prospect and St. Croix as the 20th best prospect – ahead of 2011 1st round selections J.T. Miller (46th), Jonathan Huberdeau (50th) and Ryan Strome (63rd).

The Winnipeg, Manitoba native showed good improvement from his rookie season (66-18-28-46) with Edmonton (WHL) and his second season (27-48-75).

THN: One scout said, “He plays more of an east-west game that a north-south game, so defensemen need to honor that, especially because of his stickhandling. Speed is his biggest asset. He sees the ice well and he distributes the puck well.

RLR: “His hockey intelligence and ability to see plays developing make him a constant threat. His puck skills and pinpoint accurate shot are also high end and he has an uncanny ability to find open space in scoring areas. Major downside is he tends to take his natural abilities for granted and becomes invisible for long stretches….When his compete level is up, his elite offensive instincts and finishing ability will make him a valuable scorer. But any team thinking about drafting him will have to understand he’s a major boom or bust type.”

ISS: “Highly skilled offensive playmaker who, when on, can really amplify the skill sets of his teammates. He is [a] quick and explosive player with the puck and works better in zone play off the rush. Although he has not set the WHL scoring charts on fire, he has been able to showcase good offensive potential for the next level. He is creative and skilled enough to execute in difficult circumstances. He is not strong and that does force him to rely on his skating and stick skills too heavily.”

Much like St. Croix, McColgan was a player of interest back when the Rangers still owned their 2nd round draft picks – even though I would have felt a lot better selecting him in the 3rd round. Getting McColgan in the 5th round is a real draft bonus as far as I am concerned.

Looking back to this time last year, McColgan’s fine rookie season with Kelowna (71-25-44-69) positioned him as a potential first round draft pick entering the 2010/2011 season.

In Ryan Kennedy’s “2011 Sneak peak” article in THN’s 2010 Draft Preview McColgan was ranked as the 9th best prospect. Kennedy writes, “Highly skilled and fearless, reminiscent of Theo Fleury, but with a bit more size.” A scout said, “It’s the second gear – when he gets the puck, he turns it up. Lots of skill, hard to play against; just a hard-nosed kid.”

The 5-9/160 RW suffered from a sophomore slump with the Rockets this season. In 67 games, he scored 21 goals and added 45 assists.

“I feel it was a pretty good year. I had surgery at the start of the year because I had to take out my tonsils. I think the surgery slowed me down a little bit and hindered my play for a couple games, but once I was fully recovered I think I really started to get going,” McColgan explained to Yahoo’s Kelly Freisen in a June 1, 2011 article. It seemed I got better with every game and I had a real strong playoff.”

The Manhattan Beach, California native’s assessment was spot-on because he scored 8 goals and 11 assists in 10 playoff games.

Despite his stellar playoff run, McColgan’s final 2011 rankings did not reflect his 2010 promise: THN (97th), CS (125th NA), ISS (96th – and their 5th best skater), and RLR (57th). RLR wrote that he projects out as a “2nd liner for a poor team, 3rd [liner] for a good club.” They compared his style to that of Nathan Gerbe.

Outside of his size, the main knock on McColgan is that he is a fan of Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins – as stated in the Friesen interview. Obviously, the Rangers will have to see that he undergoes an extensive debriefing and reprogramming in that respect .

RLR: “Barely 5-8 but his offensive skills are so dynamic it seems unfair to bill him as just another speedy, undersized forward. One of the best pure skaters in this draft class with an explosive first step, great acceleration, agility, and a top-end separation gear. Can handle the puck and make moves at top end speed. At times the puck looks glued to his stick. Great hands, stick skills, and vision allow him to take control of the PP from the halfboards, where he makes creative cross-ice passes. Improvement in his defensive game this year made him a more reliable player and allowed him to become an on-ice leader for Kelowna down the stretch. Was able to step his game up another notch in the playoffs, too. Uses gamebreaking speed to keep the play hemmed in the opposition’s zone at even strength, even if that means mixing it up down low.”

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After drafting forwards with their first four selections, the New York Rangers put forth a case for the defense by drafting two blueliners with their final two picks of the 2011 NHL Draft – even going go so far to deal a 2012 6th round draft pick to Nashville for their 2011 6th round draft pick (#172).

The Rangers second 5th round pick (#136) was their own pick and they used it to select Samuel Noreau from the Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL). At 6-5/205, Noreau cuts an imposing figure on defense – especially to his opponents. In 67 games, he scored 5 goals and 5 assists with 141 PIM. The rugged defenseman was ranked 136th by ISS and 183rd NA by THN.

It seems that Kyle Woodlief and his staff at RLR report have been keeping tabs on Noreau even though his team finished 17th in the 18-team league.

In February 2011, Woodlief talked about Noreau in one of his USA Today columns.

“One Quebec League player who is quietly generating some interest is Samuel Noreau. He’s a huge defenseman at 6-5, 215 pounds, and one of the top fighters in the league. He has OK mobility and decent skill, but doesn’t get many viewings on a bad Baie-Comeau club without any skilled players to watch,” Woodlief wrote. “But Noreau could develop into a tough-as-nails #5-6 blue-liner. He hasn’t broken into our top 100 yet, but we’d venture a guess that some team might grab him as high as the third round based on need and team philosophy.”

In their 2011 Draft Preview, RLR listed Noreau as the 13th “Mid-round Sleepers Worth a Look” and wrote, “Huge, mean, raw enforcer type also plays solid defence and makes safe plays with the puck. Nobody in the Q will even make eye contact with him – and wisely so.”

On their official web site, the Rangers had the following write-up, “A hulking defenseman who showed ability to protect teammates in finishing second on his team in penalty minutes. He also managed to contribute offense with five goals and nearly a shot on goal per game.

Noreau may or may not make the NHL, but it could be a fun time, down the road, during exhibition games watching Noreau and Dylan McIlrath run roughshod over some opponents much like the Bash Brothers from The Mighty Ducks movies.

In the past, I would have called Peter Ceresnak a “Christer Rockstrom special” because under Neil Smith the Rangers always managed to a way to draft a European or two in the later rounds. However with Rockstrom working for Montreal, we might have to refer to him as a “Jan Gajdosik special.”

Like St. Croix and McColgan, Ceresnak was on the 2011 draft radar back in 2010 as ISS ranked him the 71st best prospect. Entering his draft year, CS ranked him as the 35th best European skater, ISS ranked him 114th, and RLR ranked him at #188.

Ceresnak is no stranger to international play having represented Slovakia at the WJC this year as a 17-year-old and captained Slovakia at the U-18 tournament. In 23 games with Dukla Trencin’s Junior team, he scored 1 goal and 3 assists with 16 PIM. Ceresnak was drafted by Peterborough with the 4th overall pick in the 2011 CHL Import Draft,

Here is what the Rangers official web site said about Ceresnak, “Great NHL upside as two-say defenseman who has great size and understands positional play in his own zone very well. Very good at shutting down opponents and not afraid to pinch into the offensive zone.”

ISS: “Ceresnak has been a very interesting prospect over the past couple of seasons. He has teased good two-way ability, but hasn’t necessarily been able to back it up consistently. Ceresnak first caught the eyes of ISS scouts with his size and lane control, using a strong gap and an active stick to deny space and angle opposing players into more difficult situations. He has a good technical skill package and can get bold at times and aggressively pinch into the offensive zone. His instincts are good and there is potential for offense but he needs proper guidance.”

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The 49th annual NHL Draft returns to the Land of 10,000 Lakes with the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul with the Minnesota Wild serving as hosts. The last time the NHL gathered in Minnesota the year was 1989 and the site was the Met Center in Bloomington with the Minnesota North Stars presiding as hosts of a 12-round draft that featured 21 NHL teams.

The Edmonton Oilers will be making the first selection for the second consecutive Draft – the first time that has happened since the Ottawa Senators did it in 1995 (Bryan Berard) and 1996 (Chris Phillips) – although a couple of teams did come close. In 2006, the Chicago Blackhawks owned the third overall pick (Jonathan Toews) and the first overall pick in 2007 (Patrick Kane).

The Pittsburgh Penguins nearly went the Oilers one better when they made the first overall selections in 2003 (Marc-Andre Fleury) and 2005 (Sidney Crosby) and the second overall selection in 2006 (Evgeni Malkin).

The impact of making the first selection in consecutive drafts is not lost on Oilers GM Steve Tambellini.
“Winning this first overall pick is an important moment for the organization and it’s an integral part of the process moving forward,” Tambellini told the Canadian Press.

“This is a very exciting time for our organization and our fans as this just adds to the already bright future of our team.”

It is obvious that Edmonton will dictate how the first round will shake out given they have the first overall pick. However, considering they also own the 19th and 31st overall picks, the Oilers are in a position to do some wheeling-and-dealing.

“I think it’s my responsibility to stay open to anything. If I feel it really helps our organization, I’ll consider it,” Tambellini explained to TSN.ca. “I’m not afraid of moving up with the 19th pick or the 31st pick, if that’s something [chief amateur scout] Stu McGregor and his staff really feel is important. If they really believe in it, then I’ll consider it.”

Tambellini upped the stakes in a conversation he had with Craig Custance of the Sporting News on June 9.
“I’ve had a few calls of people kicking the tires of how they can help me make the Oilers a better team,” Edmonton’s GM admitted. “For me to move the No. 1 pick would have to be something exceptional.”

While Tambellini admitted to TSN.ca that this year “… there’s possibly four or five [players] that all could legitimately be the top pick,” the consensus is that it will come down to center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and defenseman Adam Larsson.

While the Oilers have a few first round draft picks among their forwards corps, the general consensus from the experts is that Edmonton will draft the center over the blueliner.

In a TSN.ca April Mock Draft among the 14 non-playoff teams, former Calgary GM and current analyst Craig Button placed Nugent-Hopkins at the top of his draft board.

“He’ll make Taylor Hall better,” Button said. “Players like Nugent-Hopkins do not come around very often. I think this sets up the Oilers for a great future.”

In this Mock Draft, each player has ratings for the following scouting services: The Hockey News (THN), TSN.ca (TSN), Red Line Report (RLR), 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. THN lists each prospect’s NHL Translation. Both ISS and RLR provide a prospects’ comparable NHL player. TSN ranked the Top 60 players and listed 25 Honorable Mentions.

The draft positions are as of June 23 and presume that no trades will have been made since then.

1. Edmonton Oilers – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – C –
THN: # 1 (Offensive forward) —– TSN: # 1 —– CS: # 1 NA
RLR: # 1 (Pavel Datsyuk) —– ISS: # 1 (Niklas Backstrom)
The temptation will be great to go after Larsson, but in the end the Oilers will opt for the consensus number one prospect in the Draft. With three picks among the top 31 picks, Edmonton will have plenty of chances to address their blue line – with the possibility of moving up with their second pick in the first round.

2. Colorado Avalanche – Adam Larsson – D –
THN: # 2 (Two-way defenseman) —– TSN: # 2 —– CS: # 1 E
RLR: # 2 (Brent Seabrook) —– ISS: # 2 (Niklas Lidstrom)
It is inevitable that Larsson would draw comparisons to fellow Swede Nicklas Lidstrom – especially when you consider his potential as a “franchise defender” – which is what ISS described as his NHL potential.

3. Florida Panthers – Gabriel Landeskog – LW –
THN: # 3 (Two-way forward) —– TSN: # 4 —– CS: # 2 NA
RLR: # 2 (Brendan Shanahan) —– ISS: # 5 (Mike Richards)
This is where the Draft starts to get a bit tricky. Jonathan Huberdeau would be a good fit in South Florida. However, Landeskog’s leadership ability should push him to the top of Florida’s list. THN noted that he hit an unusual exacta with Kitchener (OHL) – he was named team captain at 17 despite being an import player.

4. New Jersey Devils – Jonathan Huberdeau – C –
THN: # 5 (Offensive forward) —– TSN: # 3 —– CS: # 3 NA
RLR: # 4 (Vincent Damphousse) —– ISS: # 3 (Peter Forsberg)
Lou Lamoriello could go for a blueliner, but has been able to patch together his defense corps well enough to land a big-time offensive player. If Huberdeau ends up in Colorado, then Larsson should be a Devil. If Larsson is gone, then Lamoriello will go for Huberdeau.

5. New York Islanders – Dougie Hamilton – D –
THN: # 10 (Two-way defenseman) —– TSN: # 6 —– CS: # 4 NA
RLR: # 5 (Alex Pietrangelo) —– ISS: # 5 (Brett Burns)
The Islanders struggles over the past few years has allowed them to start refilling their cupboards. Lots of offensive weapons available, but Hamilton (6-4/193) gives the team a future partner for former first rounder Calvin de Haan.

6. Ottawa Senators – Sean Couturier – C –
THN: # 4 (Offensive forward) —– TSN: # 5 —– CS: # 6 NA
RLR: # 4 (Joe Thornton) —– ISS: # 8 (Jordan Staal)
With rumors swirling that Jason Spezza could be headed out of Ottawa, Couturier fits in perfectly as the future number one center as his size (6-4/195 should be too much to pass up. If the Devils take Couturier, Ottawa will happily gobble up Huberdeau. The Senators will have a chance to get better in hurry as they own five picks in the first two rounds.

7. Winnipeg – Ryan Strome – C –
THN: # 6 (Playmaking forward) —– TSN: # 7 —– CS: # 8 NA
RLR: # 9 (Logan Couture) —– ISS: # 7 (Martin Havlat)
New GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will have chance to put his stamp on the former Thrashers. Strome combines playmakers ability, excellent hockey sense and potential goal scoring ability to help pave a new hockey era in Winnipeg

8. Philadelphia Flyers – Ryan Murphy – D –
THN: # 7 (Offensive defenseman) —– TSN: # 8 —– CS: # 9 NA
RLR: # 6 (Brian Leetch) —– ISS: # 8 (P.K. Subban)
What Murphy lacks in size (5-11/176) and defensive play, he more than makes up for it, as ISS said, as he is one of “the most elite offensive defenders to come along in recent years and he can simply dominate play with the puck.” Although the Flyers dealt away Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, they should still look to inject some youth on defense because they covered their forward corps by bringing in Brayden Schenn, wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek.

9. Boston Bruins – Nathan Beaulieu – D –
THN: # 18 (Two-way defenseman) —– TSN: # 11 —– CS: # 5 NA
RLR: # 18 (Alex Goligoski) —– ISS: # 14 (Mike Green)
The Stanley Cup champions get richer. There has to be concern over the health of their centers due to post-concussion problems, but the Bruins need to address their power play problems as well. While his calling card is his offense, he is not lost in the defensive zone.

10. Minnesota Wild – Mika Zibanejad – C –
THN: # 11 (Two-way forward) —– TSN: # 9 —– CS: # 2 E
RLR: # 14 (Brendan Morrow) —– ISS: # 7 (Jarome Iginla)
The Wild have always placed importance on taking care of the defensive zone – sometimes to the detriment of their offense. Zibanejad offers the opportunity to add offense and size (6-2/191) in the form of a player who is good defensively and has the ability to play wing (as he has in international play) and center (league games).

11. Colorado Avalanche – Joel Armia – RW –
THN: # 15 (Goal-scoring forward) —– TSN: # 14 —– CS: # 4 E
RLR: # 20 (Tomas Vanek/James Neal) —– ISS: # 13 (Johan Franzen)
Colorado could take a long look at one of the Gibson goaltenders, but it might be a little early to take a netminder. They could gamble and move down, or they could just cash in on Armia. The Finnish native is a big-time goal scorer that uses skill and a power forward’s size (6-3/191).

12. Carolina Hurricanes – Sven Bartschi – LW –
THN: # 8 (Offensive forward) —– TSN: # 16 —– CS: # 7 NA
RLR: # 27 (Patric Hornqvist) —– ISS: # 11 (Loui Eriksson)
Bartschi saw the success of fellow Swiss native Nino Niederreiter and copied it when he left home to play Juniors. Bartschi scored 34 goals and 51 assists with Portland (WHL) during the regular season and added 10 goals and 16 assists in 20 playoff games.

13. Calgary Flames – – Duncan Siemens – D –
THN: # 12 (Two-way defenseman) —– TSN: # 13—– CS: # 10 NA
RLR: # 24 (Chris Phillips) —– ISS: # 12 (Kevin Bieksa)
The Flames need to restock an organization that has finished in the bottom third of the THN’s Future Watch issues the last four seasons. With Tim Erixon being traded to the Rangers, Siemens is a solid replacement that offers size (6-3/197) and the ability to be a solid matchup d-man.

14. Dallas Stars – Alexander Khokhlachev – C –
THN: # 13 (Two-way forwards) —– TSN: # 44 —– CS: # 29 NA
RLR: # 13 (Tomas Plekanec) —– ISS: # 23 (Martin Havlat)
With Brad Richards set to test the waters of UFA, the Stars are going to need to bring in a top playmaking forward to replace him. Another European player who left home to play Junior hockey. He had a good rookie season with Windsor (67-34-452-76), but he really picked up his game in the playoffs scoring 20 points in 18 games.

15. New York Rangers – Mark McNeill – C/RW –
THN: # 16 (Power forward) —– TSN: # 19 —– CS: # 14 NA
RLR: # 16 (Brandon Dubinsky) —– ISS: # 16 (Jamie Benn)
The Rangers have done a good job in the last couple of years of injecting youth into the organization. The acquisition of Erixon from Calgary points to the rangers looking for an impact forward. McNeill’s ability to play center or wing makes him a solid fit in NYC – as does his size (6-2/204).

16. Buffalo Sabres – Mark Scheifele – C –
THN: # 41 (Power forward) —– TSN: # 12 —– CS: # 16 NA
RLR: # 12 (Jeff Carter) —– ISS: # 18 (Dustin Brown)
Scheifele continues the Sabres recent plan of adding size (6-2/177) to their talented finesse forwards. His offensive numbers will improve (66-22-53-75) as he continues to mature physically and as his Barrie (OHL) team improves on its 49-loss season.

17. Montreal Canadiens – Oscar Klefbom – D –
THN: # 37 (Defensive defenseman) —– TSN: # 21 —– CS: # 6 E
RLR: # 11 (Brent Burns) —– ISS: # 10 (Ryan Whitney)
The Habs will be undergoing some changes on the blueline this year as nine d-men are set to test free agency. Klefbom’s skating is reminiscent of the old Flying Frenchman and should play major minutes as a two-way defenseman in the NHL.

18. Chicago Blackhawks – John Gibson – G –
THN: # 27 (Franchise goaltender) —– TSN: # 37 —– CS: # 1 NA-G
RLR: # 29 (Steve Mason) —– ISS: # 1 G (N/A)
For all of their success recently, Chicago has had concerns with their goaltending. With two Gibsons to choose from, the Blackhawks will go with the American version. John has been a mainstay with the USA U-17 and U-18 teams, using his size (6-3/205) to his advantage. While he is set to attend Michigan, Kitchener (OHL) owns his Junior rights.

19. Edmonton Oilers – Christopher Gibson – G –
THN: # 29 (Starting goaltender) —– TSN: # 42 —– CS: # 2 NA-G
RLR: # 77 (Josh Harding) —– ISS: # 2 G (N/A)
The Oilers passed on a defenseman with the 1st overall pick and should do so with the 19th pick because the drop off in goaltenders is that big between the Gibsons and the rest of the field. Christopher Gibson was born in Finland, but his game is all Canadian since leaving home at the age of 15 – the last two years with Chicoutimi (QMJHL).

20. Phoenix Coyotes – Brandon Saad – LW –
THN: # 14 (Two-way forward) —– TSN: # 22 —– CS: # 19 NA
RLR: # 21 (R.J. Umberger) —– ISS: # 24 (Patrick Marleau)
While the Coyotes managed to avert a move back to Winnipeg, ownership questions still surround the team. GM Don Maloney could look to go for a player who will enter college next year (e.g. Tyler Biggs or J.T. Miller). However, Maloney, who was a moving force between the Rangers drafting Hugh Jessiman in 2003, will draft the 6-1/208 LW. Saad has all of the components to be a big-time player, it is just a matter of him harnessing and developing his tools.

21. Ottawa Senators – Nicklas Jensen – RW –
THN: # 19 (Power forward) —– TSN: # 24 —– CS: # 21 NA
RLR: # 22 (Patrick Marleau) —– ISS: # 22 (Ryan Kessler)
Ottawa continues its stockpiling of offensive talents with the left shooting RW who is another player who has Top-10 skills, but needs to find a consistency to his intensity. Jensen is yet another European player who crossed the Atlantic to further his career, playing for Oshawa (OHL) and scored 29 goals and 29 assists in 61 games.

22. Anaheim Ducks – Jamie Oleksiak – D –
THN: # 17 (Defensive defenseman) —– TSN: # 17 —– CS: # 13 NA
RLR: # 28 (Mobile version of Hal Gill) —– ISS: # 16 (Tyler Myers)
While the Ducks need to address some aging issues among the forwards, the success of the likes of Chara and Myers make Oleksiak (6-7/244) too good to pass up – even if the Ducks have not always placed a premium on size.

23. Pittsburgh Penguins – J.T. Miller – LW –
THN: # 59 (Checking-line forward) —– TSN: # 18 —– CS: # 23 NA
RLR: # 9 (Erik Cole) —– ISS: # 17 (Drew Stafford)
Solid two-way player who has been a member of the USA U-17 and U-18 teams. Miller has committed to North Dakota, but THN thinks his drafting team will push him to play with Plymouth (OHL). Miller is a fine complementary player for a Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

24. Detroit Red Wings – Tyler Biggs – RW –
THN: # 20 (power forward) —– TSN: # 15 —– CS: # 22 NA
RLR: # 23 (Chris Neill) —– ISS: # 31 (Keith Tkachuk)
With Nicklas Lidstrom coming back for a 20th season, the pressure/need to look for a replacement lessens enough for Detroit to bring in Biggs – whose father Don Biggs played 12 NHL games while making a name for himself as a minor league scoring machine. Unlike dear old dad (5-8), Tyler (6-2/210) is your prototypical power forward who has made his way up through the USNTDP. He has the potential to be a top six forward, but will definitely stick as a third line forward at the least.

25. Toronto Maple Leafs – Jonas Brodin – D –
THN: # 22 (Two-way defenseman) —– TSN: # 10 —– CS: # 3 E
RLR: # 26 (Brad Stuart) —– ISS: # 20 (Kris Letang)
GM Brian Burke will not be happy to see Biggs off the board at #25. If he gets a whiff of Detroit taking him, Burke might think of trading ahead of the Red Wings. If the Leafs don’t move up, Brodin is a nice consolation prize as he is a good two-way d-man who will help run both special teams.

26. Washington Capitals – Matt Puempel – LW –
THN: # 21 (Goal-scoring forward) —– TSN: # 27 —– CS: # 28 NA
RLR: # 15 (Patrick Sharp) —– ISS: # 29 (Patrick Sharp)
The Capitals should look for some secondary scoring to help support Alexander Ovechkin. Scored 33 goals in 55 games in a season cut short by a hip injury that should not limit his progress. Not only does Puempel bring scoring, he will also bring leadership.

27. Tampa Bay Lightning – Connor Murphy – D –
THN: # 55 (Two-way defenseman) —– TSN: # 30 —– CS: # 25 NA
RLR: # 41 (Ryan Whitney) —– ISS: # 19 (Alex Edler)
The son of former NHLer Gord Murphy has battled a stress fracture of a lower vertebra for the last two seasons. However, his size (6-3/185) and emerging offensive game make him a fine complement to Victor Hedman.

28. San Jose Sharks – Scott Mayfield – D –
THN: # 24 (Smooth-skating defenseman) —– TSN: # 46 —– CS: # 24 NA
RLR: # 35 (Ryan O’Byrne) —– ISS: # 32 (Victor Hedman)
The Victor Hedman comparisons fit given Mayfield’s size (6-4/197), skating ability and physicality. Mayfield still needs to develop his game and should do that as he heads to the University of Denver.

29. Vancouver Canucks – Zack Phillips – C –
THN: # 9 (Goal-scoring forward) —– TSN: # 28 —– CS: # 15 NA
RLR: # 34 (Antoine Vermette) —– ISS: # 34 (Mike Ribeiro)
It is easy to overlook Phillips because of the exposure of his teammate Jonathan Huberdeau. Zack has all of the tools needed to be a big-time playmaker: great hands, ice vision and hockey sense. The one drawback to his game is his average skating.

30. Toronto Maple Leafs – Rocco Grimaldi – C –
THN: # 32 (Goal scoring forward) —– TSN: # 23 —– CS: # 32 NA
RLR: # 10 (Theo Fleury) —– ISS: # 15 (Martin St. Louis)
Brian Burke needs to make a big splash with his two first round draft picks and Grimaldi gives him that chance. The only thing that prevented Grimaldi from being the first player drafted is his size (5-6/163). The future Fighting Sioux of North Dakota does not let his small stature prevent him from adding a feisty style of play to his big-time scoring ability.

First Round Draft Pick Transactions

1. The Toronto Maple Leafs’ 1st round pick goes to the Boston Bruins as a result of the September 18, 2009 trade that sent Phil Kessel to Toronto in exchange for 1st round picks in 2010 and 2011 and a 2010 2nd round pick.
2. The St. Louis Blues’ 1st round pick goes to the Colorado Avalanche as a result of the February 19, 2011 trade that sent Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart and a conditional 2nd round pick to St. Louis in exchange for Erik Johnson, Jay McClement and a conditional 2011 2st round pick. The condition – the Blues pick was not to be among the top 10 picks – was converted on April 12, 2011 when St. Louis retained the 11th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft.
3. The Los Angeles Kings’ 1st round pick goes to the Edmonton Oilers as a result of the February 28, 2011 trade that sent Dustin Penner to Los Angeles in exchange for Colten Teubert, a 2011 1st round pick and a conditional 3rd round pick in 2012.
4. The Nashville Predators’ 1st round pick goes to the Ottawa Senators as a result of the February 10, 2011 trade that sent Mike Fisher to Nashville in exchange for a 2011 1st round pick and a conditional draft pick in 2012.
5. The Philadelphia Flyers’ 1st round pick goes to the Toronto Maple Leafs as a result of the February 14, 2011 trade that sent Kris Versteeg to Philadelphia in exchange for a 2011 first round pick and a 2011 3rd round pick.
6. The Boston Bruins’ 1st round pick goes to the Toronto Maple Leafs as a result of the February 18, 2011 trade that sent Tomas Kaberle to Boston in exchange for Joe Colbourne, a 2011 1st round pick and a conditional 2nd round pick in 2012.
7. The Columbus Blue Jackets’ 1st round pick goes to the Philadelphia Flyers as a result of the June 23, 2011 trade that sent Jeff Carter to Columbus in exchange for Jakub Voracek, a 2011 1st round pick and a 3rd round draft pick in 2011.

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While there is a lot of hoopla and fanfare over the first round of the NHL Drafts, teams can make or break their future on the second day of the draft.

NHL teams will be attempting to duplicate the success the Detroit Red Wings had in 1989 when they drafted four players who have played over 1000 NHL games: 1st rounder Mike Sillinger (1049), 3rd rounder Nicklas Lidstrom (1494 and counting), 4th rounder Sergei Federov (1248), and 6th rounder Dallas Drake (1009). In addition, the Red Wings also drafted 2nd rounder Bob Boughner (630) and 11th rounder Vladimir Konstantinov (446 in a career cut short by a tragic limousine accident while out celebrating Detroit’s Stanley Cup victory).

In this Mock Draft, each player has ratings for the following scouting services: The Hockey News (THN), TSN.ca (TSN), Red Line Report (RLR), 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. THN lists each prospect’s NHL Translation. Both ISS and RLR provide a prospects’ comparable NHL player. TSN ranked the Top 60 players and listed 25 Honorable Mentions.

The draft positions are as of June 23 and presume that no trades will have been made since then.

31. Edmonton Oilers – Joe Morrow – D –
THN: # 34 (Two-way defenseman) —– TSN: # 20 —– CS: # 12 NA
RLR: # 30 (Dennis Seidenberg) —– ISS: # 33 (Grant Clitsome)
The Oilers finish off their trifecta in the first two rounds by adding the swift skating d-man who has a nice physical edge to his game. Morrow will see ice time as a second pair blueliner and see time on the PP.

32. St. Louis Blues – Ty Rattie – LW –
THN: # 33 (Offensive forward) —– TSN: # 25 —– CS: # 17 NA
RLR: # 19 (Jason Pominville) —– ISS: # 28 (Ray Whitney)
Rattie doubled his point total from his first WHL season (37) to his second season (79). He is a natural scorer who projects out as a first/second liner, but he does have some work to do on strengthening his skating.

33. Florida Panthers – David Musil – D –
THN: # 23 (Defensive defenseman) —– TSN: # 41 —– CS: # 38 NA
RLR: # 17 (Robyn Regehr) —– ISS: # 27 (Kevin Lowe)
Musil has NHL DNA in his genes thanks to father Frank and uncle Bobby Holik. He projects out as a defensive d-man in the NHL who uses his size (6-4/200) well. If Musil’s skating was better and if he had a little more offense, Musil would have been a first round pick.

34. New York Islanders – Mario Lucia – LW –
THN: # 26 (Two-way forward) —– TSN: # 45 —– CS: # 34 NA
RLR: # 42 (Derek Stepan) —– ISS: # 46 (Derek Stepan)
Lucia’s father is Don Lucia, head coach at the University of Minnesota. Lucia (6-2/185) has the ability to range from being a solid two-way forward all the way up to a top-six goal scoring winger.

35. Ottawa Senators – Tomas Jurco – RW –
THN: # 28 (Skilled forward) —– TSN: # 29 —– CS: # 20 NA
RLR: # 38 (Michael Ryder) —– ISS: # 25 (Milan Hejduk)
Jurco is a borderline 1st round pick whose big knock is for playing on the perimeter. Outside of that, he has all of the tools to be a top-six forward – as seen during the CHL’S Top Prospects Skills Competition. One concern is that he followed up his 51-point rookie season with a sophomore season of 56 points. Jurco has been a member of Slovakia’s U-18 team in 2008/2009 and their WJC team in 2010/2011

36. Chicago Blackhawks – Dmitri Jaskin – RW –
THN: # 30 (Power forward) —– TSN: # 35 —– CS: # 5 E
RLR: # 33 (Guillaume Latendresse) —– ISS: # 40 (David Backes)
Jaskin (6-2/196) needs to address skating issues. He has shown an ability to play above his age level with 33 games in the Czech Elite League as an 18-year-old. TSN calls his upside as a less-skilled Bobby Ryan.

37. Columbus Blue Jackets – Vladimir Namestnikov – C –
THN: # 36 (Offensive forward) —– TSN: # 31 —– CS: # 11 E
RLR: # 25 (Bryan Little) —– ISS: # 37 (Nikolai Kulemin)
Vladimir is the son of a former NHL defenseman John Namestnikov. The slightly built center (6-0/170) center made an impact in his first year in the OHL with 68 points. Namestnikov’s game is built on his skating and playmaking abilities. If he can add some muscle, he projects out to a top-six forward. It would not be a surprise to see Namestnikov find his way into the 1st round.

38. Nashville Predators – Boone Jenner – C –
THN: # 40 (Third-line center) —– TSN: # 26 —– CS: # 18 NA
RLR: # 32 (Ryan O’Reilly) —– ISS: # 38 (Mike Peca)
Jenner is the solid two-way forward that Nashville has built their organization on during the years. If his skating skills were stronger, he could easily project out as a second line center. His size (6-1/194), leadership ability and strong hockey sense will make him a perfect fit for the Predators.

39. Toronto Maple Leafs – Adam Clendening – D –
THN: # 49 (offensive defenseman) —– TSN: # 49 —– CS: # 45 NA
RLR: # 39 (Keith Ballard) —– ISS: # 35 (Brian Rafalski)
The two-time USA U-18 gold medalist might be a first round pick he were bigger than his 5-11/170 frame, and if his skating was better. With that said, he might be one the best PP quarterbacks in the Draft thanks to his ice vision and excellent hockey sense.

40. Boston Bruins – Matthew Nieto – LW –
THN: # 42 (Two-way forward) —– TSN: # 53 —– CS: # 43 NA
RLR: # 52 (Chris Kelly) —– ISS: # 56 (Alexander Radulov)
Given his slight stature (5-11/170), it is good thing that Nieto’s best attribute is his skating ability, speed and puck handling capabilities. Nieto has represented the USA as a member of the U-17 and U-18 teams before playing his freshman season at Boston University last season.

41. St. Louis Blues – Shane Prince – LW –
THN: # 52 (Offensive forward) —– TSN: # 43 —– CS: # 26 NA
RLR: # 31 (Ryan Callahan) —– ISS: # 72 (N/A)
Prince plays bigger than his size (5-10/181) indicates – which can be a detriment as seen by a bad shoulder and a concussion at the end of the season. He improved his production from 30 points in his first OHL season to 88 last year with Ottawa.

42. Carolina Hurricanes – Philip Danault – C/LW –
THN: # 31 (Character forward) —– TSN: # 39 —– CS: # 27 NA
RLR: # 51 (Valtteri Filppula) —– ISS: # 39 (Alex Burrows)
Danault is much more adept at center as opposed to playing on the wing. In either case, he rates high in hockey sense, work ethic and competitiveness – allowing him to be an effective special teams player. He is a solid two-way player scoring 67 points in 64 GP with Victoriaville (QMJHL) and then stepped up in the playoffs (15 points in 9 GP).

43. Chicago Blackhawks – Robbie Russo – D –
THN: # 50 (Offensive defenseman) —– TSN: # HM —– CS: # 55 NA
RLR: #87 (Chris Campoli) —– ISS: # 36 (Matt Niskanen)
The Westmont, IL native captained the USA U-18 and led the d-men in scoring with 23 points in 52 GP. He will get drafted on his offensive ability, but should gain on the defensive side during his collegiate career at the University of Notre Dame.

44. Dallas Stars – Joel Edmundson – D –
THN: # N/R (N/A) —– TSN: # 47 —– CS: # 33 NA
RLR: # 86 (Cody Franson) —– ISS: # 47 (John Erskine)
The 6-4/181 Edmundson has a long way to go before he fills out his frame. While he is still a work-in-progress, Edmundson is pretty decent skater for someone his size which, when combined with his wingspan, makes him a tough defender to play against. He will make the NHL as a third pair d-man, but could very easily step up if his physical and hockey maturity continue.

45. Calgary Flames – Stuart Percy – D –
THN: # 70 (N/A) —– TSN: # 34 —– CS: # 53 NA
RLR: # 56 (Toni Lydman) —– ISS: # 50 (Andrej Mezsaros)
Percy doesn’t stand out in any one area and is a steady blueliner. He sets himself apart because of his hockey sense, his ability to see the ice and read the play, and his leadership abilities. Percy will see time on both special teams.

46. St. Louis Blues – Daniel Catenacci – C –
THN: # 35 (Smooth-skating forward) —– TSN: # 50 —– CS: # 37 NA
RLR: # 46 (Rico Fata) —– ISS: # 51 (Steve Ott)
At 5-9/176, Catenacci is another one of the draft-eligible players who makes his name based on his skating ability – and he might be the fastest available in 2011. He was the fastest skater during the CHL Top Prospects Skills Competition. Despite playing for a weak Sault Ste. Marie team, Catenacci led his team in points (71) while gaining experience on Canada’s U-18 team.

47. Florida Panthers – Viktor Rask – C –
THN: # 54 (Skilled forward) —– TSN: # 40 —– CS: # 53 NA
RLR: # 47 (Scott Gomez) —– ISS: # 26 (Anze Kopitar)
Rask (6-2/194) started the season as the #5 player ranked by ISS in October 2010, but never progressed. That might have something to do with playing in the Swedish Elite League at the age of 18. It could also have to do with penchant for trying to do too much with the puck and his inconsistency. All of that aside, he still has all of the tools that made him a pre-season top prospect at is worth the second round risk.

48. Ottawa Senators – Ryan Sproul – D –
THN: # N/R (N/A) —– TSN: # 48 —– CS: # 54 NA
RLR: # 67 (Alex Edler) —– ISS: # 60 (Ed Jovanovski)
The 6-3/175 Sproul scored 14 goals for Sault Ste. Marie this season thanks to a booming slapshot from the point. Sproul still needs work on learning the game – especially the defensive side. While he is not as physical as he should be, that should come in time as he matures physically.

49. Los Angeles Kings – Nikita Kucherov – RW –
THN: # 95 (N/A) —– TSN: # 56 —– CS: # 17 E
RLR: # 90 (Sergei Kostitsyn) —– ISS: # 58 (Alexander Semin)
Scored at a Hall-of-Fame pace in the World U-18 racking up an impressive 11 goals and 10 assists in 7 games. Kings are not shy about drafting Russians despite the lack of a transfer agreement. Needs a lot of work on defense and physical aspect, but there is no denying his offensive flair.

50. New York Islanders – Seth Ambroz – RW –
THN: # 48 (Power forward) —– TSN: # HM —– CS: # 31 NA
RLR: # 71 (Andrew Brunette minus the desire) —– ISS: # 57 (Bryan Bickell)
THN pointed out that academic problems might keep Ambroz from moving from the USHL to the University of Minnesota. There is a concern that his development grew stagnant after three years in the USHL: (where he started as a 15-year-old). He does need to improve his skating and puck skills, but there is no denying that at 6-2/211 he already has an NHL body. One scout told the THN, “Let’s call him a good Hugh Jessiman”. He is still worth a shot in the 2nd round with the Isles 2nd pick of the round.

51. Phoenix Coyotes – Nick Shore – C/RW –

THN: # 38 (Checking-line forward) —– TSN: # 54 —– CS: # 56 NA
RLR: # 69 (Jay McClement) —– ISS: # 43 (Patrick Eaves)
The Denver native played for his hometown school, the University of Denver where he teamed up with his brother Drew (2009 Florida 2nd rounder). The two-way center competes hard every night and is well versed when it comes to hockey sense. Nick is more of a playmaker than natural scorer. He was a member of the USA U-18 gold medal team this team – scoring 3 goals and 7 assists in 7 GP.

52. Nashville Predators – Richard Rakell – RW –
THN: # 25 (Two-way forward) —– TSN: # 32 —– CS: # 30 NA
RLR: # 37 (Rich Peverley) —– ISS: # 41(Justin Williams)
Rakell is another prototypical two-way player that will thrive under Barry Trotz’s system. The youngster was the only player born in 1993 that made Sweden’s WJC team. Rakell is also another European player who chose to further his career in Canadian Juniors. He was on pace for a fine rookie season offensively before a high ankle sprain limited him to 49 GP and 19 goals and 24 assists.

53. Anaheim Ducks – Brett Ritchie – RW –
THN: # 58 (Power forward) —– TSN: # 36—– CS: # 36 NA
RLR: # 59 (Dustin Penner – smaller version) —– ISS: # 30 (Ryan Clowe)
Injuries and bout with mono limited Ritchie to just 49 GP with Sarnia where he scored 21 goals and 20 assists in his second year in the OHL. While Ritchie has power forward size
(6-3/210), he needs to be more physical if he wants to take the next step to the NHL. He has good hands and is very solid around the net so the potential is there.

54. Pittsburgh Penguins – Stefan Noesen – C/RW –
THN: # 39 (skilled forward) —– TSN: # 33 —– CS: # 35 NA
RLR: # 36 (Jamie Benn) —– ISS: # 49 (Colin Wilson)
The Plano, TX native opened many eyes with his huge development from his rookie OHL season (33-3-5-8) to last year (68-34-43-77). The 6-0/190 forward still needs to work on his skating and improving in his defensive zone, but projects out as a solid second-line player if he continues his development

55. Detroit Red Wings – Rasmus Bengsston – D –
THN: # 51 (Defensive defenseman) —– TSN: # HM —– CS: # 10 E
RLR: # 94 (Sami Lepisto) —– ISS: # 52 (Fedor Tyutin)
The Red Wings and Swedish d-men almost seem to go hand-in-hand. However, any comparison to Nicklas Lidstrom would not be fair to Rasmus. Bengsston is a defensive d-man who uses his size (6-3/189) well. While not an offensive player, Rasmus carries a very hard shot from the point – one of the best among the Draft prospects. Bengsston has represented Sweden as a member of their U-17 and U-18 teams.

56. Phoenix Coyotes – Michael St. Croix – C/RW –
THN: # 46 (Offensive forward) — TSN: # N/R —– CS: # 59 NA
RLR: # 63 (Radim Vrbata) —– ISS: # 64 (N/A)
St. Croix’s dad, Rick, was a goaltender in the NHL. His son is a bane to goalies who uses his skating ability, puck handling and hockey sense to key his offensive game. At 5-11/176, St. Croix needs to add some muscle and work on his play on the defensive side of the puck. He has the major offensive skills to be a boom, but he also has the inconsistency to be a bust.

57. Calgary Flames – Marcel Noebels – C –
THN: # 53 (Goal scoring forward) —– TSN: # N/R —– CS: # 43 NA
RLR: # 83 (Jochen Hecht) —– ISS: # 78 (N/A)
There are 30 GMs who wished they didn’t pass up the German-born center in last year’s draft. He crossed the Atlantic to play with Seattle (WHL) and saw his stock rise with 28 goals and 26 assists in 66 games. Has NHL sixe (6-3/195), but must work on his skating to take that next step.

58. Tampa Bay Lightning – Michael Paliotta – D –
THN: # 82 (N/A) — TSN: # N/R —–CS: # 86 NA
RLR: # 62 (Roman Polak) —– ISS: 63 (N/A)
Paliotta has been a member of the USNTDP for the last two seasons and is set to continue his career at the University of Vermont. The 6-3/200 blueliner uses his size well and plays an aggressive physical game. He is a pretty good skater for a player his size which helps his defensive play. He plays a simple offensive game now, but might add to it as he grows his game.

59. San Jose Sharks – Miikka Salomaki – LW –
THN: # 79 —– TSN: # HM —– CS: # 7 E
RLR: # 53 (Cal Clutterbuck – but less dirty) —– ISS: # 44 (Maxime Talbot)
I am surprised that the name Esa Tikkanen was not mentioned in reference to fellow Finn Salomaki given his ability to agitate. He is an intense player who does not take any shifts off. While he won’t duplicate Tikkanen’s offense ability, he is a solid defender who can provide some offense. Played in Finland’s top league as an 18-year-old and scored 4 goals and 6 assists in 40GP.

60. Vancouver Canucks – Reece Scarlett – D –
THN: # 57 (Playmaking defenseman) —– TSN: # N/A —– CS: # 57 NA
RLR: # 60 (Josh Gorges) —– ISS: # 91 (N/A)
At 6-1/170, Scarlett has room to add much-needed muscle and bulk. Reece is a good skater whose passing ability and strong hockey sense keys his offensive game. He has the potential to be a PP quarterback in the NHL.

61. Ottawa Senators – Michael Mersch – LW –
THN: # 71 (N/A) —– TSN: # HM —– CS: # 83 NA
RLR: # 50 (Ryan Malone) —– ISS: # 108 (N/A)
After spending three years with the USNTDP, the 6-2/198 Mersch played his freshman season at the University of Wisconsin. He is a strong two-way winger who uses his size to his advantage and has good hockey sense. The one thing that has kept Mersch back is his skating which could be the difference between him being a potential first draft pick as opposed to a second/third line draft pick.

Second Round Draft Pick Transactions

1. The Colorado Avalanche’s 2nd round pick goes to the St. Louis Blues as a result of the February 19, 2011 trade that sent Erik Johnson, Jay McClement and a conditional 2011 1st round draft pick to Colorado in exchange for Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart and a 2011 2nd round pick. The condition – the Blues pick was not to be among the top 10 picks – was converted on April 12, 2011 when St. Louis retained the 11th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft.
2. The WINNIPEG (Atlanta Thrashers’) 2nd round pick goes to the Chicago Blackhawks as a result of the July 1, 2010 trade that sent Andrew Ladd to Atlanta in exchange for Ivan Vishnevskiy and a 2011 2nd round pick. Note: It is possible that this pick may be optioned to the Ottawa Senators (See Note A).
3. The New Jersey Devils’ 2nd round pick goes to the Nashville Predators as a result of the June 19, 2010 trade that sent Jason Arnott to New Jersey in exchange for Matt Halischuk and 2011 2nd round pick.
4. The Minnesota Wild’s 2nd round pick goes to the Boston Bruins as a result of the October 18, 2009 trade that sent Chuck Kobasew to Minnesota in exchange for Craig Weller, Alexander Fallstrom, and a 2011 2nd round pick.
5. The Calgary Flames’ 2nd round pick goes to the Chicago Blackhawks as a result of a September 5, 2009 trade that sent the Toronto Maple Leafs 2010 2nd round pick back to Toronto in exchange for a 2011 2nd round pick and a 2011 3rd round pick. Note: It is possible that this pick may be optioned to the Ottawa Senators (See Note A). The Maple Leafs previously acquired this pick as a result of the July 27, 2009 trade that sent Anton Stralman, Colin Stuart and a 2012 7th round pick to Calgary in exchange for Wayne Primeau and a 2011 2nd round pick.
6. The Buffalo Sabres’ 2nd round pick goes to the St. Louis Blues as a result of the February 27, 2011 trade that sent Brad Boyes to Buffalo in exchange for 2011 2nd round pick.
7. The Montreal Canadiens’ 2nd round pick goes to the Florida Panthers as a result of the February 11, 2010 trade that sent Dominic Moore to Montreal in exchange for a 2011 2nd round pick.
8. The Montreal Canadiens’ Compensatory 2nd round pick (#50) goes to the New York Islanders as a result of the December 28, 2010 trade that sent James Wisniewski to Montreal in exchange for a 2011 2nd round pick and a conditional 2012 5th round pick. The Canadiens received this Compensatory Pick as a result of not signing 2006 1st round pick David Fischer prior to August 15, 2010.
9. The Philadelphia Flyers 2nd round pick goes to the Phoenix Coyotes as a result of the March 4, 2009 trade that sent Daniel Carcillo to Philadelphia in exchange for Scottie Upshall and a 2011 2nd round pick.
10. The New York Rangers second-round picks (#45 and #57) and Roman Horak go to the Calgary Flames as a result of the June 1, 2011 trade that sent the rights to Tim Erixon and a 2011 fifth-round draft pick (#134) to New York. The Washington Capitals second-round pick will go to the new York Rangers as the result of a trade on June 26, 2010 that sent Bobby Sanguinetti to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for a sixth-round pick in 2010 and this pick. Carolina previously acquired the pick as the result of a trade on March 3, 2010 that sent Joe Corvo to Washington in exchange for Brian Pothier, Oskar Osala and this pick.
11. The Washington Capitals’ 2nd round pick goes to the New York Rangers as a result of the June 26, 2010 trade that sent Bobby Sanguinetti to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Carolina’s 2010 6th round pick and Carolina’s 2011 2nd round pick. The Hurricanes previously acquired this pick as a result of the March 3, 2010 trade that sent Joe Corvo to the Capitals in exchange for Brian Pothier, Oskar Osala, and a 2011 2nd round pick.
12. The Boston Bruins’ 2nd round pick goes to the Ottawa Senators as result of the February 15, 2011 trade that sent Chris Kelly to Boston in exchange for a 2011 2nd round pick.

Note A: The Chicago Blackhawks have until 48 hours prior to the start of the 2011 NHL Draft to decide if they are sending their own 2nd round pick (#48) or one of the 2nd round picks acquired from Winnipeg (#36) and Calgary (#43) to Ottawa. The Senators acquired this pick as a result of the February 28, 2011 trade that sent Chris Campoli and a conditional 2012 7th round pick to Chicago in exchange for Ryan Potulny and a conditional 2011 2nd round pick.

Note B: The New Jersey Devils will receive a 2011 2nd round pick if Dallas re-signs Jamie Langenbrunner prior to the 2011 NHL Draft. If Dallas re-signs Langenbrunner after the 2011 NHL Draft, New Jersey will receive the Stars’ 2012 2nd round pick, with Dallas getting the Devils’ 2012 3rd round pick in return. Finally, if Dallas does not re-sign Langenbrunner for the 2011-12 season, New Jersey will receive Dallas’ 2011 3rd round pick. New Jersey acquired this pick as the result of a trade on January 7, 2011 that sent Jamie Langenbrunner to Dallas in exchange for a conditional draft pick.

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Since the New York Rangers traded away their two second round draft picks in the deal to acquire Tim Erixon, President/GM Glen Sather and his staff will have little margin of error when it comes to their first round selection (#15) in the 2011 NHL Draft. Given the acquisition of Erixon, it is a pretty good bet that the name that Commissioner Gary Bettman will be that of a forward.

Prior to the Erixon deal with Calgary, I expected the Ranges to be very active on the trade front come draft day. If the Rangers still had their two second round picks (their own at #45 and Washington’s at #57 via Carolina from the Bobby Sanguinetti trade), I fully expected the Blueshirts to take a page out of their 1959-1960 radio color analyst Monty Hall’s playbook and play “Let’s Make a Deal”.

The possibilities were numerous. The Rangers could have looked to move up and take a shot at a Gabriel Landeskog, Sean Couturier or Jonathan Huberdeau. If that were out of the realm of possibility, the Rangers could have moved the second round picks and look to move into the bottom of the first round if there were a player who intrigued them.

At the very least, Sather could have moved one of the second round picks in an attempt to fill is the holes in the Rangers draft board because they do not have draft picks in the 3rd round (sent to Florida in the Bryan McCabe deal), 6th round (sent to San Jose as a conditional draft pick in the Jody Shelley deal) and the 7th round (sent to Phoenix along with Miika Wiikman in the Anders Eriksson deal).

As things stand, the Rangers will have three picks in addition to the 15th overall selection: their own pick in the 4th round (#106), Calgary’s 5th round pick (#134) acquired in the Erixon deal and their own 5th round pick (#136).

Without second or third round draft picks do the Rangers go the safe route or do they do they throw caution to the wind and go high-risk/high-reward with the 15th overall pick?

I have six players in mind for the 15th selection. I am going to break up the Rangers 1st Round Draft Preview in three parts. The first part contains the “safe picks” and the second part will preview the high-risk/high-reward players and contain my plan for the first round. The third part will include the Final Verdict on who I would draft with the Blueshirts’ first round selection.

Each player has ratings for the following scouting services: The Hockey News (THN), TSN.ca (TSN), Red Line Report (RLR), 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. THN lists each prospect’s NHL Translation. Both ISS and RLR provide a prospects’ comparable NHL player.
TSN ranked the Top 60 players and listed 25 Honorable Mentions.

NICKLAS JENSEN – RW –
THN: # 19 (Power forward) —– TSN: # 24 —– CS: # 21 NA
RLR: # 22 (Patrick Marleau) —– ISS: # 22 (Ryan Kessler)

The 6-foot-2 and 188 pound Jensen helped his draft stature by deciding to leave Denmark to play Junior hockey in Oshawa (OHL). After a slow start, Jensen found his North American game and posted 29 goals and 29 assists in 61 games. His improved play emerged in the OHL playoffs as scored 7 goals and 4 assists in 10 games. The Herning, Denmark native represented his country in the World Junior Championships (WJC) and scored 2 goals and 3 assists in 5 games.

Both ISS and RLR believe his has the skill level to be a top six forward although RLR cautions that he needs to pick up his intensity level and his play off the puck.

THN: One scout told THN, “He’s a big winger who has talent. He’s a power forward type of player and can shoot the puck.” Another scout expanded on RLR’s caution, “The grit thing is really not there. But he’s a skill guy who can make plays. Look at Michael Grabner. He’s on his third team and now he’s a 30-goal scorer.”

RLR: “Based on pure size/skills combination alone, he’s a top 12 pick. Has a long way to go with regard to work ethic, though. But when he dials up the intensity, watch out! Can be a gamebreaker with a great release on a wicked wrister. Creates time and space for himself with great puckhandling ability.”

CS: Chris Edwards reports that, “Nicklas has adjusted very well to the OHL. His puck-handling and play-making ability are excellent. He has an excellent wrist shot that he gets off quickly”.

ISS: “He is showing a lot more quickness and speed and has always shown a real understanding of the game….He shows no hesitation playing in all of the tough and ugly areas of the ice and is very effective in the high traffic areas while showing a willingness to take a hit to make a play.”

MARK MCNEILL – C –
THN: # 16 (Power forward) —– TSN: # 19 —– CS: # 14 NA
RLR: # 16 (Brandon Dubinsky) —– ISS: # 16 (Jamie Benn)

The key to selecting the Edmonton center has nothing to do with his ability to be solid on faceoffs – it is just a little icing on the cake. What spurred my interest is something that THN mentioned – that he played RW last season. At 6-foot-2 and 201 pounds, McNeill would give the Rangers a power forward with versatility. They could use him at center or perhaps play him on RW with Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan.

An additional attractive feature to McNeill’s game was that his Junior team used the rookie on the point on the power play. In 70 games with Prince Albert (WHL), McNeill scored 32 goals and recorded 49 assists.

Still not sold? Well, there is one more facet to his game that brings intrigue to the Blueshirts.

“Fighting is definitely part of the game,” McNeill told Alan Bass of NHL.com in a January 17, 2011 article. “When it comes down to it and you need a momentum swing or you need to step up for your teammate, “I’m definitely ready to go.”

THN: A scout told THN, “He’s developed a very versatile game as a power forward. He plays well on the perimeter, but also goes to the net well.” THN also wrote, “Scouts see a player similar to Bobby Ryan.”

RLR: “Shows good positioning at both ends of the ice and always makes himself available as an outlet for teammates. Uses his size to establish and hold position around the slot, but we’d like to see him initiate contact more often and play a more aggressive game. Great offensive zone awareness along with very good creativity and soft hands for a big man. Effective on both special teams.”

CS: Blair MacDonald said, “One thing I like about him is that he’s a right-handed center, which is good to have. He’s really composed and has a real pro-style game. He has a nice touch, can dish, and has nice, soft passes. His on-ice awareness is very good and he’s paid attention to detail at both ends of the rink. He has good defensive-zone coverage as well as being offensive at the other end. All around I think he’s got a real solid game I think his offensive game will improve the older he gets and the more confident he gets. I think he’ll be a better offensive player than he’s showing right now. He’s good at both ends of the rink. He comes down low and helps out defensively.”

ISS: “A very smart and hard working kid, McNeill is a great team player who does whatever is asked of him with pride and determination. McNeill can be relied on in every situation and was often used to kill two-man disadvantages with Canada’s U-18 team at the U-18 WJC….Emerging power forward skills and versatile and intelligent two-way ability, McNeill fits a variety of roles.”

MATTHEW PUEMPEL – LW –
THN: # 21 (Goal-scoring forward) —– TSN: # 27 —– CS: # 28 NA
RLR: # 15 (Patrick Sharp) —– ISS: # 29 (Patrick Sharp)

Of the so-called “safe picks”, Puempel represents the biggest “risk”. Part of that is his fault and part of it is just pure bad luck. After being named the OHL and CHL Rookie of the Year, the 6-foot-0 and 196 pound Puempel was primed to live up reputation. In a 2011 “Sneak Peak” column in their 2010 Draft Preview, THN listed him as the 6th best prospect for the 2011 Draft. A scout said, “His hockey I.Q. is off the charts…unbelievable touch around the net, very creative.” ISS had him rated as the 12th best prospect in 2010 when they were previewing the 2011 Draft. For the record, they had Jensen at #22 and did not rank McNeill in their Top 100 – although they did have a brief write-up on him.

The own doing part stems from Essex, Ontario native’s inability to shake in consistent play early in the season. The bad luck part came from playing with a Peterborough team that ended up with the second worst record in the OHL.

The really bad break came in late February when he season ended to remove a bone spur in his hip, a torn labrum and a bone chip.
On the plus side, his surgeon was Dr. Marc Philipon who has worked on the likes of Marian Gaborik, Mario Lemieux and Alex Rodriguez. While Puempel is expected to make a full recovery, one still has to wonder what the long-range ramifications are from such an injury.

Puempel, who did not workout at the NHL Combine but went armed with his medical records, downplays the severity of the injury.

“It’s pretty common,” Puempel told Jim Parker of the Windsor Star in a May 31 article. “I had a bone spur on the hip, I fell on (the) labrum and tore it. The chip bone they found when they went in.”

Despite the inconsistent play and season-ending injury, Puempel set career highs in goals (34) and assists (35) after scoring 33 goals and 31 assists in 59 games in his first OHL season.

THN: One scout said, “Unfortunately, he’s going to have to pay the freight for having been injured and being on a bad team. Going into this year, he would have been a consensus top-10 guy. Maybe somebody is going to on what they remember.”

RLR: “Smart and highly instinctive offensive player. Sees the ice very well and can create opportunities for linemates, but his real calling card is as a top-notch sniper down low. Great shot release and hand/eye coordination on deflections. Not a blazing skater, but always gets there when there’s a chance involved. Must bring a higher effort level on a more consistent basis. Solid defensively and on the PK when he’s working hard.”

CS: Chris Edwards said, “He is dangerous with the puck and has an excellent shot, he has the ability to make highly skilled passes through traffic and can make his linemates better. His goals are skilled goals. He goes to the net and he battles. He’s not shy about getting involved in traffic and going to the net.”

ISS: “Pure goal scorers are a highly sought after commodity come draft day, and Puempel may just be the best sniper in this draft….He is at his best in the offensive zone, especially below the faceoff circles. He has tremendous offensive instincts and is tenacious in offensive situations.”

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Before we can look ahead to our next three potential prospects – the so-called high-risk/high-reward players, we must take a look back to the 2003 NHL Draft. Yes, that is the Hugh Jessiman draft. Why are we bothering to review that draft? We are reviewing it because there are similarities between that draft and the next three candidates on my draft board.

Don Maloney became enamored with drafting Jessiman as the prototypical power forward NHL player who had the added bonus of being a Tri-State native (born in NYC and raised in Connecticut) that would some local spice to his selection. With the NHL coming out of the lockout, a combination the layout of the NHL changing and the Rangers over-evaluation of Jessiman led to a draft mistake that still haunts the Blueshirts to this day.

The Rangers passed over a plethora of forwards (including six future All-Stars) who would have gone a long way to solving the team’s offensive woes. At, or at least near, the top of that list is New Jersey’s Zach Parise. There were some concerns over his size and ability to survive in the NHL. Yeah, how has that turned out so far?

Flash ahead to 2011 and the Rangers very well face that same predicament. You have two big power forwards types whose build is reminiscent of Jessiman – Brandon Saad and Tyler Biggs. The third player had an even bigger concern with a size issue because he might be the one player who literally and physically has to look up to Mats Zuccarello – the 5-foot-6 and 163 pound Rocco Grimaldi.

The one thing in favor of Biggs and Saad over Jessiman is that both players have been rated high on the draft radar for well over a year. In their 2010 NHL Draft Guide, ISS had Saad rated as the 7th best prospect in the 2011 Draft while Biggs was rated as the 28th best prospect. Grimaldi, like McNeill, did not make their Top 100, but did merit a brief write-up.

In addition to ISS, Saad was also on THN’s radar in 2010. In the 2011 Sneak Preview section of their 2010 Draft Preview, THN rated Saad at #5. A scout told them, “Very good skater with extra gear, which is unusual for a guy his size. Moves the puck through traffic, [has] good positioning and creates space.”

Rangers Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark might look at one of these three players because they come close to having the POTENTIAL to be difference makers – something that might not be available at #15.

“Everybody’s going to have those first eight or nine guys, in whatever order [on their list], and you’ll end up with six or seven impact players,” Clark told Steve Zipay of Newsday. “The next group, seven or eight, will be very good. Top-line players or No. 1 or No. 2 defensemen? No.”

Each player has ratings for the following scouting services: The Hockey News (THN), TSN.ca (TSN), Red Line Report (RLR), 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. THN lists each prospect’s NHL Translation. Both ISS and RLR provide a prospects’ comparable NHL player. TSN ranked the Top 60 players and listed 25 Honorable Mentions.

TYLER BIGGS – RW –
THN: # 20 (power forward) —– TSN: # 15 —– CS: # 22 NA
RLR: # 23 (Chris Neill) —– ISS: # 31 (Keith Tkachuk)

Biggs has a connection to the Rangers organization through his father. Don Biggs played two seasons with the Binghamton Rangers and set franchise records in scoring (54-84-138) in the 1992-93 season. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, you can’t say that he was a chip off his father’s block given that Don was only 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds. The Loveland, Ohio native will continue his hockey development close to home at the University of Miami.

Biggs spent last season as the captain of the U.S. National Team Development Program and scored 17 goals and 11 assists with 112 PIM in 48 games that the team played against USHL squads. Biggs is no stranger to international hockey as he is a two-time gold medalist for the USA in the 2010 and 2011 U-18 championships.

THN: One scout said, “His dad was a real pain in the ass and he will be, too. He is legitimate tough. Good size, he’s strong, he’s going to find a way to get to the NHL.” THN continues. “Whether that route [to the NHL] involves a great deal of scoring remains to be seen, but experts are unanimous in praise of Biggs’ physical skills and surliness.”

RLR: “Rugged, ultra tough winger has established himself as one of the most feared fighters in this class. The question is whether he’ll be a true power forward or only a checker/fighter in the NHL. Hits to hurt and intimidate. Strong in puck pursuit and finishes all of his checks really hard. Has power in stride and acceleration is above average.”

CS: Jack Barzee said, “He has that leadership quality … that desire, that passion, that competitiveness. He just never quits. He’s a young player who has taken the role as leader of his team. He does most of their fighting when they have to fight. He’s kind of the guy that when someone starts picking on somebody, he’s standing up for them. I think while wearing the ‘C’ may have taken a little away from his offensive finish, my gut feeling is that I can’t think of anything else but an uphill path for Tyler.”

ISS: “His intimidating and crushing physical forechecks open the door for a lot of offensive pressure and he has proven that he can take advantage of that around the net. He has a great shot with good quick release, but does most of his damage directly in front of the net. When he is on, he is dominant and controls the game, but he can go long periods where even his physical play doesn’t undo his invisibility.”

ROCCO GRIMALDI – C –
THN: # 32 (Goal scoring forward) —– TSN: # 23 —– CS: # 32 NA
RLR: # 10 (Theo Fleury) —– ISS: # 15 (Martin St. Louis)

There is no getting around the fact that the 800-pound gorilla in the room is Grimaldi’s size – or lack thereof. This is how THN started off their write-up on Grimaldi, “There is undersized and then there is Rocco Grimaldi.” The one thing that makes Grimaldi an intriguing player, even at his size, his the second sentence in that write-up. “At just 5-foot-6, he would be one of the shortest players in the NHL, but talent evaluators just can’t shake the fact the kid produces at an excellent clip, no matter what the venue.”

Produce he did. As a teammate of Biggs on the U-18 team, the Rossmoor, California native scored 34 goals and 28 assists in 50 games – and even should some grit with 57 PIM. Grimaldi, who is going to the University of North Dakota, makes up for his lack of size with speed, guile, hockey sense, and the heart of a lion.

THN: A scout said, “He’s a special player. Everywhere he’s been he’s been dynamic. I don’t know what he’s listed at, but he looks stocky.”

RLR: “The straw that stirs the drink of the U.S. National Team’s all-important first line. Tiny little pocket rocket is an agitator extraordinaire and very willing to mix it up physically with much bigger foes. Dynamic skater with instant acceleration and a separation gear. Tremendous finisher is a super sniper, but also unselfish with excellent playmaking ability. Keenly instinctive and a true game-breaker.” RLR projects him out as a “Top line scorer who converts to wing as a pro.”

ISS: “If not for his diminutive stature, we would likely be talking about Grimaldi as a potential 1st overall pick. He is unbelievably quick and has a seemingly endless bag of tricks with the puck. Although a smaller player, Grimaldi plays with passion and isn’t afraid to play tough when called for. He has extremely strong core strength and is considered one of the best workers off the ice as well as on it.”

BRANDON SAAD – LW –
THN: # 14 (Two-way forward) —– TSN: # 22 —– CS: # 19 NA
RLR: # 21 (R.J. Umberger) —– ISS: # 24 (Patrick Marleau)

After coming up through the USNTDP ranks, the Gibsonia, Pennsylvania native decided to pursue a different career path than Biggs and Grimaldi when he chose to play for Saginaw (OHL). In 59 games with Saginaw, he scored 27 goals (12 PPG) and 28 assists with 48 PIM. The 6-foot-1 and 208 pound Saad won gold with the U-18 team in 2010 but was one of the final seven cuts for the 2011 team. One has to wonder if Saad ever really had a chance to make the team due to his decision to play Canadian Junior as opposed to staying in the States.

Saad is a huge Pittsburgh Penguins fan and his favorite player is Sidney Crosby so some intense deprogramming will be needed if he is the Rangers selection . His freshman hockey coach in high school was former NHLer Troy Loney.

THN: “There are some scouts who believe that from a physical standpoint, Saad is ready to jump to the NHL next season. His game is raw and could use seasoning, but scouts like what they see.” One scout said, “I don’t think he’s had the type of year that people expected. A lot of people expected him to walk into the OHL and get 50 goals. That’s how good he looked the past two years. I don’t know what is was, but he didn’t meet expectations.

RLR: “At times a dominating force who controlled the play nearly every shift, but too often was a passenger and ended up being a disappointing underachiever in our eyes. Has every tool in the shed with size/strength, hockey sense, and puck skills. Has a rocket shot with pro-calibre release, and soft hands to feather passes on the tape. Oddly, his skating stride seemed to regress this year, though he’s still very strong on his pegs and difficult to knock off the puck.”

CS: Chris Edwards said, “Brandon has very good speed and agility and that makes him dangerous, he’s solid on his skates and fights through checks very well. He plays a solid two-way game and is very responsible defensively.”

ISS: “Saad is a skilled, offensive minded winger that possesses the size of a power forward, but seems to bring a little more offensive creativity to the table. Saad is a real strong skater, possessing a long powerful stride that generates speed and quickness.” ISS had problems with his inconsistent level of play – both in production and physical play. That could be why they view his NHL Potential as “Boom or bust! He simply doesn’t battle hard enough to be a good 3rd liner.”

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THE VERDICT ON THE RANGERS FIRST ROUND DRAFT PICK

If the New York Rangers 1st round choice were mine to make, it would be C/RW Mark McNeill. At 6-2/201, he brings some size and grit to the Rangers corps of forwards – as well as someone who is not afraid to drop the gloves to defend his teammates. Once THN pointed out that he had played RW, my decision was made. It also didn’t hurt that they mentioned McNeill has played some point on the power play.

“He’s one of those kids that has the ability to do so many different things, he’s got so much upside to him. … He’s a powerful skater and has great hockey sense,” Prince Albert GM/Coach Bruno Campese said of McNeill.”

“He’s got very good basic skills and he’s got the ability to be a real tough person to play against. He’s got the mental capabilities to understand the game as well . . . I really believe he has all the attributes. He’s got certain gifts that other players just don’t have. That really bodes well for playing in the NHL.”

One of the most important factors in selecting McNeill is the progress he showed from his rookie season in Prince Albert to last year. After going scoreless in four games as a 16-year-old, McNeill had some success in his first year in 2009/2010 with 9 goals and 15 assists in 68 games.

Last season’s breakthrough year of 32 goals and 49 assists is the kind of step forward teams want to see out of prospective draft picks.

It is very interesting that NHL’s CS used scout Blair MacDonald’s quote on McNeill because of the connection MacDonald has to Rangers President/GM Glen Sather. Slats coached MacDonald for seven seasons (WHA and NHL combined) when both were in Edmonton.

If McNeill were not available, my second choice would be LW Matthew Puempel. His offensive ability is most intriguing and could eventually be a perfect complement for Marian Gaborik on the first line. However, I do have two concerns from last season dealing with his inconsistency and his hip injury.

The inconsistency part can be chalked up to youthful mistakes, but the hip injury does cause me to pause. While he had one of the most renowned hip specialists perform his surgery, it is still enough to bump him down to the second spot.

Since it is not out of the realm of possibility that both McNeill and Puempel could be gone by the time the Blueshirts pick at # 15, I am going to rank the remaining forwards.

Despite having the body to be an NHL power forward, Nicklas Jensen needs to be more consistent in his physical game and is a player whose consistency ebbs and flows. While he might give Coach John Tortorella fits with his defensive play, Jensen’s ability to play both wings and his willingness to come to North America to further his career are intriguing. When he is on his game he has the potential to be the impact scoring forward the Rangers need.

As a result, Jensen is fourth on my list of potential Ranger draft picks.

Tyler Biggs and Brandon Saad may both turn out to be “steals” of the 2011 Draft, but I just can’t help shake the memories of Hugh Jessiman – especially in the case of Biggs.

After spending three seasons in the USHL, you would have expected that he would have put up impressive numbers but that was not the case. Much like Jessiman‘s situation, was Biggs hurt by not stepping up his level of play – both personally and league-wise?

As a result, Biggs would be sixth on my list of potential Ranger draft picks.

Saad struggled some last year, but that can be explained by his stepping up in class from the USHL to the OHL. However, did how did that much did that step up in class play into his poor play in the second half of last season? ISS wrote, “The big question is his grit and willingness to pay the price at times [and] does seem to shy away from the rough stuff.” He only scored 7 of his 27 goals in the second half of the season. The one thing in his favor is that he might be the closest of all six of my potential draft picks because of his physical attributes.

As a result, Saad is fifth on my list of potential Ranger draft picks.

As you have already figured out, Rocco Grimaldi is third on my list of potential Ranger draft picks – I think. Part of me is comfortable with him being my third choice, but part of me wonders if the Rangers shouldn’t take the gamble and go for the high-risk/even-higher-reward Grimaldi.

I have to admit that Grimaldi has had me changing my mind more than once during the weeks leading up to writing my Rangers Draft Preview. At first I thought it would make a nice angle with Biggs and Saad and looking back to 2003 and how the Rangers passed over the likes of Zach Parise to select Jessiman.

However, the more I read about Grimaldi, the more intrigued I became. While the “new NHL” has opened up the game for smaller players, Grimaldi’s lack of size is startling. People point to Martin St. Louis as a comparison for Grimaldi. However, if Rocco were 5-8 (and not 5-6) he would probably be a top-10 pick at the very least.

Some Ranger fans would shy away from Grimaldi based on Zuccarello’s struggles, but that comparison is not completely valid. While they are the same size, Grimaldi is more Theo Fleury than Mats Zuccarello.

Grimaldi, like Fleury, is a feisty player who does not shy away from physical play and was described as an “agitator” by RLR. Both Fleury and Grimaldi, unlike Zuccarello, are superior skaters who can handle the puck at top speed.

Some fans are against the Grimaldi selection because they are looking for someone step into the lineup as early as next year and they believe that Grimaldi is three-four years away because of his commitment to the University of North Dakota.

While Chris Kreider is spurning the Rangers for a third season at Boston College, Derek Stepan did leave after his sophomore season at the University of Wisconsin.

While speaking to Andrew Gross of The Record, Rangers Director of Player personnel Gordie Clark admitted that the team had “no real plan like that” – referring to the Blueshirts planned selection of Dylan McIlrath with the 10th overall selection.

While he did say that, all things being equal, the team would target a forward – it appears that the Rangers are being flexible with their 1st round pick this year. As a result, it might be worth the organization’s while to try and read the tone of the Draft. It is possible the Rangers might be able to move down a few spots and pick up a 2nd or 3rd round draft pick to replace the selections lost in trades.

That strategy might be the one to use if they target Grimaldi – and is a strategy that I might be willing to contemplate if the decision were mine.

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Barring any trades, the New York Rangers face a very slow Day 2 of the 2011 NHL Draft as trades have left them with just a 4th round pick (#106) and two 5th round draft picks (#134 from Calgary and their own at #136). Trying to navigate potential first and even second round draft picks is hard enough, but trying to look ahead and predict fourth and fifth rounds is a mighty Herculean task.

The Blueshirts best course of action is to try and draft the best players available, regardless of their position. If that means adding three more defenseman to an organization that is deep in blueliners so be it. The deeper the Rangers talent pool, the more options they have when it comes to making trades in the future.

Of course, we are all working on the assumption that Glen Sather does not burn up the telephone lines trying to replace some of his lost draft picks. It is possible that Sather might be willing to move some of his current prospects if a player on the Rangers radar is available. It is not out of the realm of possibility that the Rangers might decide to move the rights to a free agent like Matt Gilroy if they have decided they are not interested in re-signing him.

Here is a list of players that should be on the Rangers radar if they last into the 4th and 5th rounds.

Each player has ratings for the following scouting services: The Hockey News (THN), TSN.ca (TSN), Red Line Report (RLR), 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. THN lists each prospect’s NHL Translation. Both ISS and RLR provide a prospects’ comparable NHL player. TSN ranked the Top 60 players and listed 25 Honorable Mentions.

KALE KESSY – LW –
THN: # 73 —– TSN: #: N/R —– CS: # 101 NA
RLR: # 48 (Milan Lucic) —– ISS: # 99

If the Rangers keep the status quo, one player that I would hope that falls to them in the 4th round is Kale Kessy. RLR is very high on the Medicine Hat (WHL) power forward. They compare his style of play to that of Milan Lucic. The 6-3/185 left winger scored 10 goals and 14 assists and 129 PIM in 65 games. I am not so certain he even gets by the second round, never mind falling to the fourth round, but if he does he is a perfect fit for the Rangers.

RLR wrote, “Another big-bodied WHL sleeper could probably make a career out of fighting, but we think he has much more to offer down the road. Has fought most of the older guys in the [WHL], and nobody wants to with him anymore. Played on one of the most highly skilled teams in the league and wasn’t relied on the produce offence, but you can’t help notice the raw tools.”

ISS wrote, “Kessy has a lot of tools in his shed, but has not been able to consistently display an effective combination of skill and grit on a regular basis. He can shoot, can fight, and he has shown a willingness to play unsung roles during the season.”

MIKE MCKEE – D –
THN: # N/R —– TSN: # N/R —– CS: 144 NA
RLR: # 40 (Kevin Hatcher) —– ISS: #158

The 6-5/230 McKee is another player that RLR is extremely high on. His ratings might be a bit off because he was converted to defense from LW this season at the Kent School and is a bit of a project because he is set to attend Northeastern University in 2012-2013.

RLR: “Has good skating ability and is mobile and very fluid/agile for his size….Due to his lack of experience, his d-zone footwork needs improvement. Beginning to embrace the physical aspect of the game – loves to lay the big hit and comes across ice to keep forwards honest….Not nearly the sum of his parts yet, but could become a special player if he harnesses tools.

ISS: “Big mobile and smooth skating defenseman … good puck skills … sees the ice well …long reach.”

TJ TYNAN – C –
THN: N/R —– TSN: N/R —– CS: N/R
RLR: 102 (Chad LaRose) —– ISS: 182

The 5-8/156 Tynan was draft eligible last year, but was not selected. He played his freshman season at Notre Dame (CCHA) and scored 19 goals and 27 assists in 36 games. Tynan was set to play last season with Des Moines (USHL) until Kyle Palmieri left school to sign with Anaheim. RLR sees him as a “quality 4th line role player”.

This is what his bio on the Fighting Irish web site says about Tynan: “talented player who makes up for his size with a ton of skill … has tremendous on-ice vision … finds the open man and makes plays … intelligent with the puck … makes his teammates better … strong passer who can also finish … has a good, accurate wrist shot.”

RLR: “It’s ridiculous he wasn’t selected last year. Gets overlooked due to his lack of size, but once again persevered and brought his ‘A’ game every night as one the 3-4 best true freshmen in college hockey. Quick, shifty, skilled-centre creatively outwits larger opponents. Pocket-size, but competes like a bastard and has excellent hands and moves….Has the fire and mental make-up to overcome obstacles.”

ISS: “Draft sleeper! … smaller size, offensively-minded center … explosive skating [with] superior edge control … can score in bunches … needs to bulk up.”

MYLES BELL – D –
THN: # 67 —– TSN: N/R —– CS: # 39 NA
RLR: #76 (Bigger version of Ian White) —– ISS: 195

The 6-0/210 defenseman should be a 2nd or 3rd round pick (some even say 1st round) based on his talent and ability. However, there are off-ice issues that make Bell’s future uncertain. In late April, the 17-year-old was hospitalized following a car crash in Calgary that claimed the life of an 18-year-old girl. I did not find any additional information on what charges the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will file against Bell – possibly due to Bell being a minor.

I do not condone or excuse what Bell did. Remember, the rangers traded for Craig MacTavish who missed the 1984/1985 season due to a conviction for vehicular homicide and driving under the influence of alcohol. After spending a year in prison, MacTavish returned to the Boston Bruins and resumed his NHL career. I am merely including Bell based strictly on his hockey talent and the possibility he will be available in the 4th/5th rounds.

Bell is an offensive-minded d-man who would bring the power play specialist the Rangers and their fans are looking for. In 66 games with Regina (WHL), he scored 13 goals and 31 assists with 87 PIM.

RLR: “Smooth skater who can really go with the puck on his stick and loves to push it aggressively up ice, but lacks top speed straight line speed and needs to work on his lateral movement. Runs a productive power play and can trigger it himself with a huge point blast….Tends to get away from his assignments and gives up on plays. Strong and plays with some nastiness, but needs to learn that sometimes less is more.”

ISS: “Good offensive instincts … very good skater/mobility … tough customer … PP quarterback … heavy shot.”

MAXIME LAGACE – G –

THN: #: N/R —– TSN: N/R —– CS: # 21NA-G
RLR: # 99 (Martin Biron) —– ISS: 19 G

The Rangers have three prospect goaltenders under contract in their system (Jason Missiaen, Scott Stajcer and Cam Talbot) with Chad Johnson a free agent. The Rangers would be wise to take a flyer on a goalie at some point in the 2011 Draft – even if they have to trade down in the 4th or fifth round in order to acquire an extra draft pick.

The 6-1/175 netminder backed up Evan Mosher with Prince Edward Island (QMJHL). Lagace, who did not turn 18 until January 2011, appeared in 18 games posting an 8-4-0 re4cord with a 3.59 goals against average, .884 save percentage and 1 shutout.

RLR sees his NHL projection as a “Back-up with physical tools to develop into #1”. Lagace was rated as the $ 9 North American goaltender in the CS mid-term rankings.

RLR: “Here’s the real Red Line sleeper. Much like J.F. Berube two years ago, Lagace was a victim of spending a lot of time on the bench behind a workhorse #1 netminder. He’s got a great goalie’s build … Has shown very quick legs/pads, gets a fine push-off moving laterally, and has a strong glove. Was thought to be a late-’93 until mid-season, so scouts were late to focus on him. He’s as big a projection as any player in the draft having not been heavily tested against top clubs, but we feel with proper development he can be one of the top goaltenders from this draft class.”

ANTON ZLOBIN – RW –

THN: N/R —– TSN: N/R —– CS: N/R
RLR: # 110 (Mats Zuccarello) —– ISS: # 129 (N/A)

Zlobin is another one of those European players who crossed the Atlantic to further their hockey careers. Zlobin left Russia to play with Shawinigan (QMJHL). In 59 games, he scored 23 goals and 22 assists with 28 PIM during the regular season with 5 goals and 1 assist in 12 playoff games. In the U-17 tournament, he scored 2 goals and 8 assists in 6 games.

RLR: “has game-breaking goal scoring ability and is lights-out deadly on breakaways. Has a natural sniper’s touch and rarely makes a mistake around the net – buries his chances….Thrives in open ice, but toughness and ability to play in tight checking games is a question mark…..Stays mostly on the perimeter; doesn’t go into traffic much, but often finds the right moment to jump into the play.”

ISS: “He has a very good stick, displaying a tom of composure and patience when he has possession of the puck. “… Zlobin really struggled with the physical North American game and will need to improve this aspect of his game to have a realistic shot at the NHL.”

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