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), 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.

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.”

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 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.”

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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