The Rangers have 3 of their 2008 Entry Draft selections playing in this league and we have to give some credit to the Rangers as all 3 are playing for 3 coaches who we want teaching the Ranger's future how best to develop.
We have to start with Michael Del Zotto the Ranger's first round selection in the 2008 draft. When Larry Brooks of the New York Post questioned if this selection as a mistake we knew Brooks was wrong.
We will not kid anyone as at the 2008 Entry Draft that our own preference was Del Zotto's current teammate John Carlson. We won't apologize for that preference either as we went with a prospect who we had watched play in the USHL and had little experience with Del Zotto.
That being said, we put Del Zotto first because this is a player who will change a lot of people's minds when all is said and done. We understand better the mindset behind why Gordie Clark and Jim Schoenfeld took Del Zotto after getting to know him.
Del Zotto is going to have no problem adjusting to life in New York as in his own way Del Zotto is a New Yorker; he knows he can play, he knows what he has to do in order to play for the Rangers and he is going right out and doing it.
If there was a player who can pass the "Staal Standard" it will be Del Zotto as this is his chance to set out from behind the shadows of teammate John Tavares and carry the London Knights to the Memorial Cup. In a way we think back to 1994 as Messier got all the glory as the Captain but it was Brian Leetch who won the MVP.
Del Zotto is fast, he is smart and despite the nonsense of the critics can hold his own in the defensive end. If we were talking directly to Michael we would say right to his face: go on the attack, look to score not just set up as you will open up the ice for your teammates if you go right to the net.
Del Zotto is also coached by former NHLer Dale Hunter who has already won a Memorial Cup as a coach. Say what you want about Hunter the NHLer but there is no doubt that as a coach and player developer that Hunter is very good at his job.
Del Zotto and his London Knights start off with Mitch Gaulton and the Erie Otters, it is the perferct test for them as the Otters are also coached by a former NHLer in former Ranger and Devil's coach Robbie Ftorek. Ftorek will have his team ready to play and London better take them seriously.
Without a doubt no Ranger prospect has had the kind of impact on the hopes of Ranger fans than Evgeny Grachev has and will good reason. The Ranger's first of two 3rd round pick made us look like the smartest folks in prospect coverage by becoming the hands down Ranger Prospect of the Year.
40 goals, 40 assists and a very long list of accomplishments that have Ranger fans believing this is the prospect who just might make the direct jump to the Rangers next season. There is no question that Grachev is for real and a long playoff run will help fuel this developing prospect's path towards Broadway but he and his Brampton Battalion are going to come up just a tad shot in winning a OHL Championship.
Do not get us wrong, Stan Butler (coach of Brampton) is one of our heroes as we see the work he does in producing NHL players. The only difference betweeen Brampton and London is John Tavares as London has him and Brampton does not.
However that also does not mean Grachev will not have an impact either as we know firsthand that Grachev has that special quality about playing better in the bigger games. We watched Grachev as a 17 yr old almost beat Canada, we saw his play in the World Juniors and now we will see him in the OHL playoffs.
If Grachev does as we expect then a Brampton/London OHL is not out of the question. The only thing we have not see Grachev do is go up in the stands and sell hot dogs and soda. We call Grachev Godzilla but a couple of emails suggested changing it to the Magic Man as his bag of tricks is second to none.
We counted how many different ways Grachev used to score goals this season and lost track after 11. Pick one whether it is a blast from the faceoff circle, a crash the net rebound, a backhand, a bar down knuckleball or our favorite the "in your face nothing you can do to stop me" goal where he looks right at the goalie and pushes it right past him.
Grachev we are going to set the bar high for him as we think it is fair and say that IF Brampton makes it to the OHL finals then expect him to end up with no less that 15 goals in the playoffs. For Brampton to get that far we believe he has to score that much because honestly there is nobody really big enough to stop him.
Now if there ever was a prospect who was a great story and the kind of person you took an instant like to then it is Mitch Gaulton of the Erie Otters.
Gaulton was the Ranger's 6th round pick in the 2008 Entry Draft and put on one of the most inspiring comeback efforts we have been lucky to witness. To come back from Tommy John Surgery in just 5 months after being told he would be out for 18 months is mind boggling.
Gaulton did it but now sadly we have to wonder if it was worth doing as Gaulton found himself in the doghouse of Coach Robbie Ftorek over Gaulton's conditioning. Gaulton spent most of the final month of the OHL season dressed but glued to the Ottter bench.
According to Victor Fernandes, at best Gaulton will be used as a 6th defenseman used to spell the main 4 defenders of the Otters. Of course come playoff time coaches do shorten the bench so if Gaulton wants ice time then he needs to put up numbers to force Ftorek to play him more.
The problem for Gaulton and his Otters is that they are facing Michael Del Zotto and the London Knights and rather than dwell on why the Otters have almost no chance to win this series we suggest you head over to Victor's blog and see the excellent break down explaining why it will be a short series for Gaulton and friends.
The CHL playoffs got underway on Wednesday evening and already teams that are heavy favorites got to see the message sent by the Sudbury Wolves to the Belleville Bulls. The 8th seeded Wolves took game two from the top seeded Belleville Bulls 2-1 to even the series and steal away home ice advantage.
Want to bet that every other high seeded team is going to hear about the results from their coach?
(Pics: Del Zotto/New York Rangers, Grachev/Brampton/OHL, Mitch Gaulton/Erie Otters)