On the day the Rangers admitted their biggest 2003 draft mistake; another product of that same draft stepped up and earned First star kudos in the Rangers 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers. While Nikolai Zherdev (4th overall) added a goal and an assist, the Rangers subtracted Hugh Jessiman by tradinghim to the Nashville Predators for the ever popular “future considerations”.

The player nicknamed “Huge Specimen” prior to the draft turned out to be “Hugh Flop” as he is the only member of the 2003 Draft to never have played in an NHL game. The closest you get are Brian Boyle (#26) who has played eight games and Shawn Belle (#30) who has played nine games – and Boyle has an excuse because he spent four years at Boston College, but just one year in the AHL.

Conversely Jessiman, the 12th overall pick, split his first two professional years playing with Hartford and Charlotte before reaching his “career best” numbers with the Wolf Pack last year (71 games, 18 goals and 24 assists with 154 PIM). In selecting Jessiman, the Rangers passed on other impact forwards like Dustin Brown (13th), Zach Parise (17th), Ryan Getzlaf (19th), Mike Richards (24th), and Corey Perry (28th).

E.J. Hradek, in a June 25, 2007 ESPN.com column, listed Jessiman as one of the “Five Worst Value Picks” among active players. Jessiman was joined on the list by Alexander Svitov, Patrik Stefan, Rico Fata and Ric jackman. Hradek went even further by writing the Rangers would have been better off drafting his Dartmouth teammate Lee Stempniak who was drafted 138th overall and has played in 224 NHL games with the St. Louis Blues. Interestingly enough, Stempniak outscored Jessiman in their first two years together at Dartmouth.

So what happened to derail Jessiman’s NHL career before it started? Many will question his ability and desire, but those are discussions for when he is no longer playing hockey. Players the size of Jessiman (6-foot-6 and 230 pounds) sometimes do take extra time to develop so there is time for him to revive his career – and leaving the Rangers organization might be the best thing for his career. A new organization might lessen the pressure on Jessiman to justify his lofty draft selection.

If I were to try and pinpoint what went wrong, I would have to point to Jessiman’s junior season at Dartmouth. A nasty ankle injury limited him to just 12 games in 2004-2005.

Tom Renney, who was the team’s Vice President for Player development, was one member of the Blueshirts organization who scouted Jessiman.

“I ask myself what happened with Hugh, because I had scouted him and certainly was part of the process that culminated with the draft selection,” Renney told Larry Brooks of the NY Post (10/31/08). “I do think that the ankle injury set him back quite a bit.”

Rather than return to school for his senior year in an attempt to dominate the ECAC (something he did not do during his time at Dartmouth), Jessiman turned pro. That rush to turn pro, combined with his “lost” junior season, combined to put Jessiman in a hole he has not recovered from.

Unfortunately, Jessiman’s fate of never having played a shift in the NHL is not a unique situation for the Rangers. Since 1969 when the NHL Draft took on its current look and emphasis, the Blueshirts have drafted six other players who never played in an NHL game. They get a mulligan in 1997 with Stefan Cherneski because he suffered an eventual career-ending knee injury just 11 games into his pro career while with Hartford. Cherneski would attempt a comeback, but only played in 29 AHL games over the next two seasons before accepting an injury settlement.

1972 – The Rangers draft right winger Al Blanchard with the 12th pick – and he is the only player selected in that first round to never play in the NHL. George Ferguson (11th), Phil Russell (13th) and John Van Boxmeer (14th) all go on to play more than 500 NHL games.

1980 – The Rangers draft Jim Malone with the 14th pick. Malone is my all-time personal favorite as the Rangers worst first round draft pick. Malone spends three pro seasons playing with three different teams in there different leagues (AHL, IHL and CHL). Brent Sutter is drafted 17th overall and Barry Pederson goes one spot later.

1990 – The Rangers draft defenseman Michael Stewart with the 13th pick. Much like Jessiman and Blanchard, he is the only player drafted in this first round to never have played in the NHL (although the Islanders Scott Scissons played only two regular season games and only playoff contest). Keith Tkachuk is drafted 19th, Bryan Smolinski 21st and some guy named Martin Brodeur is selected with the 20th pick.

1996 – The Rangers draft defenseman Jeff Brown with the 22nd pick. Daniel Briere is drafted 24th and defenseman Cory Sarich is the first pick of the second round (27th overall).

2004 – The Rangers draft goaltender Al Montoya with the 6th pick – a concession to the fact that 2001 first rounder Dan Blackburn’s career is in jeopardy and a concession that the organization doesn’t realize they drafted their goalie of the future with the 205th pick in the 2000 Draft (Henrik Lundqvist). Alexander Radulov (15th), Travis Zajac (20th), Wojtek Wolski (21st), and Andrej Meszaros (23rd) were all selected after Montoya.

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