The New York Rangers entered the 2012 NHL Draft with a chance to add a legacy prospect to their ranks in the first round as Henrik Samuelsson (son of former defenseman Ulf Samuelsson) and Stefan Matteau (son of LW Stephane Matteau) were names rumored to be available with the 28th overall pick.

Don Maloney eliminated any chance of Henrik Samuelsson being drafted by the Blueshirts when he drafted him just one spot before the Rangers selected. With the opportunity for echoes of “Matteau, Matteau, Matteau” to ring through Madison Square Garden, the Rangers brain trust passed in favor of Brady Skjei (pronounced “shay”) as the organization continued to stockpile young mobile defenseman.

Of course, it in the biggest piece of irony that came out of the 2012 NHL Draft, the New Jersey Devils drafted Matteau with the 29th overall pick. I guess Devils President/GM was not going to let another Matteau beat him in the playoffs.

While I trust that Director of Player personnel Gordie Clark knows what he is doing, my preference would have been to trade down into the second round and pick up extra draft picks.

In the second round, the Rangers selected center Cristoval “Boo” Nieves with the 59th overall pick. Nieves, from Baldwinsville, NY, played in prep school hockey at the Kent School in Connecticut.

The Rangers elected to trade their 2012 third round draft pick to the Nashville Predators for their 2013 third round draft pick.

The Blueshirts returned to the draft board with their fourth round selection at #119. This time the Rangers did not pass up on the chance to draft a legacy prospect as they selected defenseman Calle Andersson – son of former Ranger blueliner Peter Andersson who played 39 games for the team in 1992-193 and 1993-94 before being traded to the Florida Panthers. Both Anderssons were fourth round picks, although Peter retains bragging rights because he was drafted with the 73th overall pick.

Just when you thought the Rangers were finished, they turned to their third round trade partners and made a deal with Nashville. This time the Predators were trading their 2012 fifth round pick for the Rangers 2013 fifth round pick. The Blueshirts used that pick to draft RW Thomas Spelling from Denmark.

While I can speak about Spelling’s style of play, it is apparent that the Rangers placed an emphasis on strong skating in their 2012 draft strategy, as well as focusing on prospects who are projected to be solid two-way players.

BRADY SKJEI

Central Scouting (CS): #19 North American skater
International Scouting Service (ISS): #26
McKeen’s (McK): #21
Red Line Report (RLR): #29
The Hockey News (THN): 26

The 6-foot-3 and 200 pound defenseman spent last season as part of the U.S. National Development Team program. In 56 games with the Under-18 team, Skjei scored four goals and 18 assists with 32 PIM. Brady helped lead the USA to Gold in the U-18 tournament. While he only posted a lone assist in six games, he was a Plus-10 for the tournament.

Skjei will attend the University of Minnesota, where his grandfather, Stan, starred as a football player in the early 1960s.

CS: His USNTDP Coach Danton Cole said, “His game has improved greatly, both offensively and defensively. He’s a tremendous skater and a good example of a guy who understands the little nuances of playing defense. He’s thrived in the [USNTDP] program and is a physical specimen; he’s big and strong and has made great strides in learning how to play the game. His angling is good and he has put himself in a really good position moving forward in his career.”

ISS: They compare his style of play to future Ranger teammate Ryan McDonagh. They describe him as a “big, smooth skating defender with great offensive potential and some reliable defensive instincts.” They do say that he “needs to continue working on his defensive zone coverage.”

McK: “Skjei plays a skilled two-way game, as he can do many things well and has good size to complement his all-around game. A more than capable skater, he is fluid in all directions thanks to a crisp stride, long extension and he possesses multiple levels of speed…. Not overly belligerent, his game lacks a physical component to it, yet he compensates with a stead compete level and uses his size in one-on-one situations advantageously.”

THN: They list Skjei’s NHL Translation as “smooth-skating defenseman”. One scout told THN, “It looks like poetry watching this guy skate. He’s effortless and massive, which makes him attractive. He sometimes makes some shaky decisions, but his skating ability for his size is frightening.” Another scout said. “When somebody gets him at the next level and tells him. ‘Just be simple and go with your skating stride,’ he’ll be a real effective NHLer.”

CRISTOVAL “BOO” NIEVES

CS: #27 North American skater
ISS: #63
McK: #48
RLR: #94
THN: #55

The 6-foot-3 and 184 pound Nieves played his prep school hockey with Kent in Connecticut and seven goals and 32 assists in 39 games (12 PIM). After finishing up at Kent, Nieves headed west to play for the Indiana Ice in the USHL. In 13 games with Indiana, he scored two goals and eight assists with 2 PIM. Nieves was a member of the USA team that competed at the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament where he tallied three assists in four games.

Nieves will attend the University of Michigan where he is set to wear future teammate Carl Hagelin’s #12.

ISS: Since they only do style comparisons for their Top 60 players, Nieves just missed the cutoff. Here is their Scouting Report on Boo, “Nieves rocketed up the charts after showing off his stuff with USA at the Ivan Hlinka. A very raw prospect that has much upside. Nieves is a smooth skater with explosive quickness. He has good size but is very thin and has a ton of room to build on hi frame. He has great hands and displays a high level of skill. An excellent playmaker, Nieves can create offense off the rush. He tends to be a set up man more than a shooter.”

McK: “Nieves’ game is predicated on speed because of his first-step quickness, effortless stride and ability to change directions, which are among the best in the draft…. Nieves is more of a playmaker-passer since he sees he ice well and gains considerable real estate with his speed…,His lack of scoring will relegate him more in the mold of a defensive forward at the NHL level. His elite speed and passing skills make him a sought after commodity; however, he is labeled a ‘buyer beware’ pick as his game is far from complete.”

THN: They listed Nieves’ NHL Translation as “offensive forward.” One scout told them, “He’s got tremendous tools. When you go see him, he jumps out at you. He gets up to speed really fast and he’s a quick strider. Creates turnovers and reads the play.” THN pointed out that while he creates plays, “finishing those plays was a concern and his numbers at Kent School in Connecticut were not overwhelming based on his elite skill level.”

CALLE ANDERSSON

Central Scouting (CS): #15 European skater
International Scouting Service (ISS): #47
McKeen’s (McK): #68
Red Line Report (RLR): #144
The Hockey News (THN): 87

The 6-foot-2 and 208 pound Andersson is a right-handed shooting defenseman that THN described as a “Mobile d-man [who] can play big minutes and makes a great first pass. He played for Farjestad Junior team in Sweden and scored 12 goals and 24 assists with 36 PIM in 49 games. Andersson also represented Sweden at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and at the World Junior Championship. In 10 games with the Swedish U-18 team, he scored three goals and six assists.

ISS: They compare his style of play to that of Christian Backman. “A mobile defender with good size, Andersson stood out for all the right reasons during the U-18 WJC. He found himself logging major minutes in all critical and crucial situations …. An effective two-way blue-liner who gets his stick in the passing lanes and uses his strong skating ability to position himself in the defensive zone.” ISS says that Andersson need work on “[using] his massive frame more to his advantage. Improve shot.” They do say that his NHL potential is as a “top four all-around defenseman”.

McK: “Andersson had a productive Hlinka tournament while playing a permanent role in the top-four rotation. Andersson shows flashes of his skill, but there appears to be a dimension of his game that is missing. He struggled against better competition at the World U18 Championships because he wasn’t quick enough to make plays with the puck…. His skating is above average as he has a good stride and shows some explosiveness out of the gate…. Andersson will return to U20 juniors next season, which should give him ample ice time to iron out his game.”

THOMAS SPELLING

CS: #90 European skater
RLR: #115
ISS, McK and THN: Not Rated.

The 6-foot-1 and 176 pound Spelling really opened scouts eyes with his performance in the Danish playoffs this year while playing Herning Blue Fox. In 17 playoff games, Spelling registered 10 goals and 10 assists with 14 PIM as he led Herning to the Danish championship.

Spelling was no slouch during the regular season as he averaged better than a point per game in 33 games (21-16-37-6 PIM). He also represented Denmark at the WJC, scoring one goal and three assists in 6 games.

The 21-year-old has shown a steady increase in scoring in his three years in Denmark’s top league – progressing from 14 points in his rookie season to 29 points in his sophomore season to his career-high of 37 last season. Spelling will be playing for Rogle in the Sweden’s Elite League next season.

NHL.com rated Spelling as the top player to watch from Denmark. As it turns out he was the second of two Danish players to be drafted as Anaheim selected goalie Fredrik Andersen in the fourth round (#87).

Here is how the Rangers official web site describes Spelling: “Strong transition player who is highly skilled with a very quick release.”

PROSPECTS DEVELOPMENT CAMP

The Rangers are in the midst of their annual Prospects Development Camp that brings together 16 players whose NHL rights are owned by the Rangers along with 15 invited players. There are four intriguing names among the invitees. Two of them have connections to Madison Square Garden.

Gabe Grunwald is the son of New York Knicks GM Glen Grunwald and played last season in the NAHL. He is committed to attend the University of Wisconsin starting with the 2013-2014 season. I would presume that he is in camp as a favor to his father.

Andy Bathgate is the grandson of Hall of Famer, and Rangers legend, Andy Bathgate. In addition to his grandfather, the younger Bathgate has another connection to the Blueshirts – sort of. He was Pittsburgh’s fifth round draft pick (#151) in the 2009 NHL Draft – a pick that was acquired from the Rangers, even though it was originally Pittsburgh’s pick. Confused? Allow me to explain.

The Penguins originally traded their fifth round pick to Toronto in February 2008 as part of the deal that brought Hal Gill to Pittsburgh. The Blueshirts acquired the pick from the Maple Leafs in July 2008 in a deal that Ryan Hollweg to Toronto. Pittsburgh reacquired the pick from the Rangers in the trade that sent the rights to Chad Johnson to New York.

Pittsburgh gave up their rights to Bathgate when they did not sign him by June 1, 2011. As a result, Bathgate was eligible to be re-drafted in 2011, but was not selected.

“Andy Bathgate hasn’t played much hockey for a while,” assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald told Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “You look at his numbers, and say, ‘Well, geez, he should be doing this or that. He’s a first-line center.’
“But he hasn’t played much hockey. He’s a tough kid to project because of the lack of games he’s played over the last 2 1/2 years because of his shoulder injury.”

The 6-foot-1 and 175 pound center played last season with the Plymouth Whalers (OHL) and scored 19 goals and 44 assists in 68 regular season games and then added five goals and three assists in 13 playoff games.
IN 2009, ISS offered the following brief comments on Bathgate in their Draft Preview, “Strong work ethic. Anticipates well. Not overly physical. Good acceleration. PK specialist”.

You have to figure that Bathgate could be in the mix for a spot in the AHL.

The other two players of interest have no connection to the Rangers and present an interesting set of skills.

In January 2011, Myles Bell was the subject of a feature story on NHL.com. The story, by Alan Bass, focused on Bell’s attempts to work on becoming a better two-way defenseman as he approached the 2011 NHL Draft.

“He’s got tremendous offensive instincts,” Regina Coach Curtis Hunt told Bass.
“That’s probably one of his greatest attributes. He’s got real good poise with the puck, a tremendous shot from the blue line and good vision across the top and in special-teams situations — and from behind the goal line. He has a good first pass, as well. He’s probably as tough as they come, and at 17 he can probably take on anyone (physically).”

In addition to Bell’s Junior coach, Bass also spoke to Peter Sullivan who was with the NHL’s Central Scouting.

“He’s got very good hockey sense and sees the ice well,” Sullivan explained to Bass. “He can either slow down the style of the game or speed it up when he wants to. He’s definitely got all the tools. He has a good shot. He’s used in all situations, both on the power play and penalty kill. He can lay out the big hits. He’s got all the aspects that you want in a defenseman.”

Three months later Bell went from NHL prospect to lucky to be alive when he was involved in a fatal car accident in Calgary in April 2011 that claimed the life of Bell’s 18-year-old passenger. This past March Bell was sentenced to two years probation and 240 hours of community service and is prohibited from driving for five years.

The Canadian Press wrote, “Justice Gerry Meagher says the youth, who was 17 at the time, was guilty of driving at excessive speed but has shown remorse.”

Bell was driving 100 kilometers per mile over the speed limit, or about 62 MPH.

After playing his first three Junior season with Regina, Bell was traded to Kelowna last season. The 6-fott and 200 pound blueliner played battled injuries and played 54 regular season games, scoring 15 goals and 26 assists with 55 PIM. In four playoff games with the Rockets, Bell tallied a goal and an assist. One of Bell’s Kelowna teammates last season was Rangers prospect Shane McColgan.

This is not the first time that Glen Sather has extended a second chance to a player who was involved in a fatal car accident. Sather signed Craig MacTavish in 1985 after MacTavish spent a year in jail for vehicular homicide after the Boston Bruins let him out of his contract following his release from prison.

The final player of interest is center Dane Fox – who was draft eligible this year, but was passed over. I have to admit that I considered Fox as I was drafting my Second Round NHL Mock Draft, but I eventually saw him as a third round selection. What is interesting in the bypassing of Fox is that he received high marks from the four scouting services that I studied. CS rated him their 46th best North American skater. ISS had him as their 54th best prospect and compared him to Dave Bolland. McK listed ho mast the 60th best player available, while THN listed him as their 76th best prospect.

According to Mark Malone of the Chatham Daily News (in Canada), the Rangers told Fox they were really interested in him, but only had four selections. You have to wonder that if the Rangers really wanted to, they could have found a way to pick up a stray seventh round draft pick. It will be interesting to see if they regret their inaction as Fox is eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft.

“That made me feel a lot better” Fox admitted to Malone in reference to the Rangers interest. “It was a long, long, long day for me, but I’ve been through a lot worse. This is just more motivation.”

“I was obviously a bit disappointed (to go undrafted) being ranked where I was, but you try to stay positive,” he said.

The 6-foot-1 and 186 pound Fox played last season with the OHL’s London Knights and Erie Otters and scored 23 goals and 54 assists with 87 PIM in 62 games.

McKeen’s offered one possibility as to why Fox slid out of the 2012 NHL Draft.

In their 2012 Draft Guide they wrote, “Despite his improved play and lead-by-example attitude he displayed with the Otters, Fox has some off-ice character issues that could lower his stock and NHL teams would need to do their homework before making him their selection.”

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