By Jesse Liebman
The annual NHL Draft is an event of intrigue and sometimes one of underwhelming delivery.
It’s fair to say that the 2015 iteration leaned toward the former through the first day of this weekend event.
Some teams were forced to remain sitting on the sidelines, without a pick in the first round. Others jettisoned their first round selection in the hopes of acquiring an immediate impact player.
The New York Rangers were one such team, having sent their first round pick to Tampa Bay at the 2014 trade deadline in the Martin St. Louis deal. Oddly enough, the Bolts eventually flipped the pick to the New York Islanders in a later transaction.
As Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News points out, historically under general manager Glen Sather, the Rangers have only had 12 first round picks in 16 drafts, and selected in the top eight just once (Al Montoya was taken sixth overall in 2004). New York hasn’t taken a forward in the first round since 2011 when the club grabbed J.T. Miller, who is only just now starting to come into his own.
There is no miracle formula for Stanley Cup success, but a common theme amongst winners in the salary cap era is a combination of a core built on a foundation of solid drafting, a few trades, and a small handful of free agents to complete the puzzle.
In the case of the 1994 Rangers, Neil Smith dealt away a number of promising young players and prospects at the deadline to make a run at the Cup. In the short term, it paid off, but pretty soon New York fell victim to a seven-year (plus one lockout season) of no playoffs on Broadway, and none of the high-priced hired guns could change the Rangers’ fortunes.
In the years following the lockout, the Rangers started to show signs of turning things around. A couple of shrewd maneuvers and some late draft picks eventually panned out, but the team was still looking for a first round gem.
It appeared they found their man with the selection of Alexei Cherepanov in 2007. Scouts and pundits alike raved when the young Russian whiz kid fell to New York with the 17th pick.
We all know how everything tragically panned out with Cherepanov. There’s no way to tell what might have been; he could have developed into a top-flight goal scorer, or could have been another whiff on draft day. The harsh reality is that due to Cherepanov’s medical condition, he shouldn’t have been playing hockey at any level of competition to begin with.
But imagining a line of Cherepanov and Chris Kreider centered by Derek Stepan is tantalizing. And with the Rangers evidently mortgaging a lot of their future over the past few seasons by trading out of the first round, one has to wonder whether New York’s window for success is getting smaller by the moment.