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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