If one was to give the 2008 New York Ranger Draft Class a theme then it would have to be the "High Rollers". We call it that because overall this group has the possibility of becoming one of the best draft classes or as bad as the 2003 class.
Gordie Clark asks us to trust him on the selection of Michael Del Zotto and having interviewed twice in the last 2 years it is hard not to. Clark is someone who we have a ton of respect for because not only his track record but his development beliefs.
If Gordie Clark asks for trust then he has it even though we have our own misgivings. We know that the Rangers coaching staff will teach Del Zotto the basics on how to improve his defense.
We know that Reg Grant and the training staff will develop a work out plan and diet for Del Zotto so in those areas we do have faith that he will improve. It is the areas that the Rangers have no control that we will really worry about.
The situation in Oshawa is unsettling as the franchise is a soap opera with firings, accusations of big egos, no GM and a rookie coach who has 16 games under his belt. If Del Zotto can find a way to have a good season under those conditions then he will be able to handle anything that NYC will toss at him.
In the second round the Rangers made an interesting choice with Derek Stepan who will be attending annual NCAA power Wisconsin next fall. Anyone who follows the Badgers will tell you that they do not recruit just anyone so that alone says something about Stepan.
One of our sources a scout for another team said to us "Do Not Blink as Stepan's first step is exceptional", another said that Stepan "thinks like a chess grandmaster always 2-3 moves ahead of the defense.
Stepan still has some growing to do into his body and those NCAA rules that keep him from working out with the Rangers will slow his development a tad but his projected curve says goal scoring forward. To us the key has to be allowing him the time to develop and not try to get him to leave school early.
We tried to remember that we had notes on the first Ranger 3rd round pick Evgeny Grachev and then we remembered a DVD that we were sent from the 2007 World Junior "A" Challenge. Grachev was the best player on that DVD even better than Nikita Filatov and Kirill Petrov.
Grachev won the game we watched for Russia with nasty defensive play and even nicer wrist shot that totally handcuffed Bradley Eidsness of Canada West. We were left thinking that Grachev was a player who would be perfect for Anisimov and Cherepanpov.
We expected at the time Grachev to join the Russian Under 20 team but he was left off the roster. Grachev was on the Under 18 roster where he was one of the best players leading Russia to a gold medal. Better built than Anisimov and more deliberate than Cherepanov, Grachev will make people think he is more North American than Russian.
The question marks on Grachev though are serious as conflicting reports about his status make when he might come over a major question mark. One report has Grachev as wanting to come over now like Filatov to play in North America while the other has him locked up by his Yaroslavl team until 2011.
And despite his knack for scoring big goals in big games, Grachev like Anisimov is a solid penalty killer and defender. His critics will say that if the game is not big then sometimes Grachev will take a night off. Of course with many a Russian that is what many say so we take it with the grain of salt.
The biggest fear is that Grachev is in fact under a long term contract as the Russians will be able to pay him much more than an NHL Entry Level contract for the 3rd rounder.
The other Ranger 3rd rounder Tomas Kundratek has very little said about him but his numbers in the Czech Republic are nothing to get excited about.
The current rumor mill says that Kundratek is a good skater and stays in good position but other than that it is hard to believe that Kundratek would make the transition to North America as an NHL player.
We believe that this is a long term pick on the belief that the Rangers are thinking that when a Player Transfer Agreement is finally reached then the rights to Europeans will return to the days when NHL teams had forever to sign a European.
We believe the Rangers are gambling that when Kundratek does finally mature and develop that his game will make him want to come over to North America.
That the Rangers gave up Alex Bourret for this draft spot makes this a good gamble as Bourret was going nowhere as a prospect. What a shame as Bourret has a world of talent that is going to waste as his common sense is totally lacking.
In the 4th round the Rangers went looking for another Justin Soryal and they got one in Dale Weise of the Swift Current Broncos in the WHL.
Here is another prospect who is transitioning from 4th liner to power forward as he heads for his overage season in the WHL.
This is a good gamble because Weise who is a fan favorite in Swift Current needs a 12 step program for his addiction to physical play. Weise will hit you, take a hit to make a play, drop the gloves and protect his teammates.
Ranger fans will love the player who was picked for "Fans Most Popular" and "Chairman of the Boards". Wiese is a project for the NHL level as he is very much the late bloomer.
Those who know the Broncos think that they have lost Wiese to the pros but we think the Rangers will keep him in Swift Current to let him build upon his last season. Wiese needs skate work, better conditioning and to see if he can play an entire 70 game season (only 53) last season.
In the 5th round was a player we got to know because of his teammate Antoine Lafleur in Chris Doyle. Here is a prime example of a prospect who has a ton of talent but the switch has not turned on.
There were times when we watched Doyle and thought here was a prospect who at the least was 2nd round material. He has the shot, the smarts, and the skills but this is a player who's value dropped from 3rd round to here in the 5th.
To us we wonder if maybe Doyle is afraid of being a success as just when you think the kid is going to break though he steps back. Really when you watch him play you see the talent, you see that this is a player but you have to ask if he really wants to be an NHL player.
Maybe from what we have seen is that Doyle is lacking positive support from those around him. We have seen more "it is a distant dream" than "He can do it" from those around Doyle. Maybe when Doyle sees that he can play against the older Ranger prospects then it might give him more confidence in himself.
The biggest roadblock we see for Doyle is Doyle himself, if Doyle realizes that he can have a productive career then maybe he will start believing in himself. For now it is a shame because this is talent that is not properly channeled.
The Ranger's last pick in the draft is Mitch Gaulton of the Erie Otters in the OHL. We had to ask a lot of folks trying to find out anything about Gaulton.
We learned that he is coached by former Ranger player and Devils Coach Robbie Ftorek, that by being drafted 171st fans can purchase 17 game ticket packages based on the spot where Gaulton was selected.
We know that he missed all but 20 games due to a dislocated elbow, that despite little public information about him that Gaulton was well known to many a scout.
Those we talked with said he is a student of the game (read that as his hockey smarts is very high), that had the Rangers not selected him several others were considering taking someone who already has an NHL type body.
Projected as a defensive defender who will chip in an occasional goal, does not panic, actually can play better when the pressure is on. Those who we talked to thought Gaulton would have broken out last season.
If Gaulton can return to good health then Erie has a good chance to have a good season. If he can then Erie will have a very improved season next year.
For next week we are going to try to bring you the words of those who know the Ranger draft picks the best, their coaches, the media who cover them and see what they say about the Ranger draft picks.
In 2013 we hope to eat a lot of words that these picks were a huge gamble.
(Pictures Del Zotto: Aaron Bell (OHL), Stepan: CSB/NHL, Grachev: Hockey Canada, Kundratek: EuroHockeyNet, Weise: Swift Current, Doyle: QMJHL)
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