Manny Malhotra

Don’t Screw It Up!

After the euphoria of seeing the Rangers draw second pick in the 2019 NHL draft, the first time the team will pick in the top three since the introduction of the entry draft in 1969, old fears have begun to resurface.

If fans had one message for management, it would be DON’T SCREW THIS ONE UP!

The history of the Rangers is littered with bad selections in the first round, and even putting aside the unfortunate events that sidelined the likes of Stefan Cherneski and Alexei Cherepanov, team management over the years has a lot to answer for.

Since winning the Cup almost 25 years ago – just a couple of months short, New York has traded away their first round pick on five occasions, has drafted three goaltenders, and three players who played less than 82 games in the NHL.  So let’s take a look back through the nightmare that has been New York Rangers first round draft picks.

The Neil Smith era 1994-1999
After taking the Rangers to the cup in 1994, Neil Smith started with the last pick in the first round, taking goaltender Dan Cloutier as a future starter that would replace Mike Richter.  As it turned out, Cloutier would play just 34 games for New York before stints with Tampa Bay, Vancouver and Los Angeles, ultimately finishing with 351 NHL games to his credit, along with a further 25 for the Canucks in the playoffs.  Not a bad pick given the position in the draft.

The NHL lost part of their season in 1994-95 over labor negotiations, and the Rangers had already traded their first round pick the previous off-season, to Hartford in exchange for Pat Verbeek.  The Verbeek era would last just 88 games before he left to join the Stars.

In 1996, the Rangers ended up with the 22nd pick, with which they selected defenseman Jeff Brown from the Sarnia Sting.  Brown would never make it to the NHL, playing just 18 games with the Hartford Wolfpack over three seasons, spending most of the time in the ECHL.  He was one of two first-rounders never to play in the NHL, the other being Pittsburgh’s selection with the following pick.  In their defense, eleven of the twenty six players selected in the first round played 82 NHL games or fewer over their career.

After a strong run in the playoffs, where they were ousted 3-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Philadelphia Flyers, the Rangers picked 19th in the first round.  With that selection, they chose Stefan Cherneski, a potential power forward from the Brandon Wheatkings of the WHL.  Cherneski recorded 43 goals in just 65 games as a 19 year old before he turnded pro.  Things looked promising for the young Canadian until he suffered a fractured kneecap just over a month into the season.  He tried to make a comeback over the next two years, but was ultimately forced to retire with just 40 AHL 

1997-98 marked the first of seven straight years that the Rangers would miss the playoffs, and their poor regular season allowed them to pick #7, which they used on Manny Malhotra.  Rushed into the line-up against the wishes of head coach John Muckler, Malhotra was oversold and of course underperformed those expectations.  He ultimately had a solid career as a checking centerman, recording over 911 games in the NHL, 206 of them with New York.  Out of the 258 players selected that year, only 12 appeared more times in the NHL, and only 18 tallied more than his 116 goals.

In his final draft as the Rangers GM, Smith scored two first round picks, both in the top 10.  With the 4th overall pick, the highest in franchise history at the time, Smith’s team selected Pavel Brendl.  The young Czech had lit up the WHL, but had some questions over his personality.  Ultimately he never played for the Rangers, and was included in the deal that brought Eric Lindros to New York.  Brendl played 78 total NHL games for three franchises but never appeared in more than 42 games, or scored more than 5 goals.

With their second pick the Rangers selected Jamie Lundmark.  The young centerman finished his career with 295 NHL games, 114 of them with New York, but never established himself as a top two centerman.  When he finally was traded, he brought back Jeff Taffe, hardly the type of return you’d expect from a successful pick.

In the six years that he ran the drafts, Smith ended up with six picks, resulting in two solid NHLers in Cloutier and Malhotra, a complete miss with Brown, an unfortunate injury to Cherneski and a bust with Brendl and Lundmark that helped lead to his downfall and ouster.

The Glen Sather era 2000-2014
After missing the playoffs for a third straight season, the Rangers turned once again to Edmonton, the organization that they had leveraged so hard to win the Cup in 1994.  Glen Sather came in with a record of success as the Oilers GM and Coach, and was even a former Rangers defenseman himself.

Sather showed little confidence in the draft, perhaps partially influenced by his success in the 80s when an influx of Europeans, as well as the dissolution of the WHL lead to some proven talent being readily available, bringing in the likes of Gretzky and Kurri without the need to work through the draft.

Sather’s tenure started without a first round pick, the Rangers having used to help acquire the 4th overall pick the previous year, but in 2001 his team used the 10th overall pick to select promising netminder Dan Blackburn

The newly drafted netminder became the youngest Rangers goalie in franchise history when he was rushed into the line-up in his draft year, to take over from an increasinly injured Mike Richter, and appeared in 64 games in his first two years as a pro.  The future could well have been bright, but for an off-season training injury that damaged a nerve in his shoulder, preventing him from being able to lift his catching hand above his shoulder.  He retired after just two seasons.

At the 2001-02 trade deadline the Rangers sent their 2002 first round pick to the Florida Panthers in exchange for PAvel Bure, meaning they’d miss out once again on a high-ish draft pick – what turned out to be the 9th overall.

In 2003 the Rangers once again had a first round pick, and with Assistant GM Don Maloney running the draft, the hope was high that the Rangers would acquire a solid player at #12.  As it turned out Maloney elected to go off the board a bit, selecting the relatively unproven Hugh Jessiman from the realtively lowly ranked Dartmouth program.  Jessiman was in just his second college year, and had shown some promise, but played for a team that played in what was considered amongst the weakest NCAA leagues, and in a program that had not had a lot of proven experience developing NHL quality players.  

The towering forward would finish his NHL career with just 2 games to his credit, only three players in that class of 30 played fewer than 200 NHL career games, and one of those Marc-Antoine Pouliot played 192.

Another poor season in 2003-04 with Glen Sather saw the Rangers finish with the 6th worst record in the league.  Combined with a big trade deadline sell-off and impending lockout risk from CBA negotiations, the Rangers entered the 2004 draft with 13 picks, including the 6th and 19th selections, courtesy of their poor finish and the trade of Brian Leetch to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Disappointingly for many fans, Sather’s team selected Michigan goaltender Al Montoya with the 6th overall pick, and 17 year olf Finnish forward Lauri Korpikoski with the 19th.  Montoya would never play for the Rangers, but did fashion an NHL career of sorts, with 168 games to his credit, while Korpikoski established himself as a 3rd liner in New York and finished with 609 NHL games, including 68 with the Rangers.  When asked about the Montoya selection, Sather replied with the now infamous “you can never have too many goaltenders”.

2005 saw the league delay the draft until the CBA negotiations had been formally concluded.  With the whole season lost, the draft occurred in August, with a 30 ball lottery that saw the Rangers awarded the 7th overall pick.  With the selection, the team chose defenseman Marc Staal, who is now one of the longest tenrured players in franchise history, appearing in 840 regular season games to date.

Following the lockout, the Rangers returned to the playoffs, ending a seven year streak of futility.  They ultimately were swept by the Devils in round one, but had reestablshed themselves behind the leadership of Jaromir Jagr and rookie netminder Henrik Lundqvist.  Their success resulted in a lower pick, ultimately settling on the 21st overall selection and NJ born defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti.  As it turned out the Flyers were hoping to pick Sanguinetti and were caught by surprise, scrambling to adjust to their next best option, who turned out to be Claude Giroux.  Sanguinetti ended up with 45 NHL games to his credit, only five of them with New York.  Giroux has hit the 820 mark and remains a fixture in Philadelphia.

It’s worth noting that 8 of the last 16 selections in the 2006 first round played fewer than 50 games, with the 19th, 20th and 24th picks failing to make the NHL.

In 2007 the Rangers once again picked in the second half of the first round, with the 17th overall pick being used on Alexei Cherepanov.  The Russian winger had been expected to be chosen sooner, but concerns over agreeements with the newly formed KHL and earning releases for playes to move to the NHL pushed all the Russian players down.  Cherepanov looked like a good value pick, but it was not to be.  While playing in the KHL, the young winger suffered a heart attack and was unable to be resuscitated, leaving the team and fans stunned at losing yet another young player.

The next season saw the Rangers pick offensively minded blueliner Michael Del Zotto.  He quickly impressed, and joined the Blueshirts in the year after he was drafted, registering 9 goals and 28 assists in the 80 games during his rookie season.  His sophomore season saw him shipped back to the Connecticut Whale of the AHL, and he rebouded the following year with a career season.  His final two season in New York saw his slow footwork exposed, and he was ultimately shipped off to Nashville for Kevin Klein.  Del  Zotto continues to play in the NHL and now has 608 games to his credit, though his career might be near an end following two trades last season.

In 2009 New York chose winger Chris Kreider out of the NCCA, and the young winger remains with the team to this date.

As solid as the Kreider selection was, the 2010 demonstrated the Rangers still were prone to going off the board.  The selection of Dylan McIlrath at #10 was another reach, choosing the rugged defenseman despite a trend within the NHL moving towards smaller, more mobile blueliners.  McIlrath at least got to play 38 games over four seasons with the Rangers, and a total of 50 including seven with the Red Wings this past season.  Clearly though more was expected from the player and the pick.

New York rebounded with J.T. Miller with the 15th pick in 2011, and then Brady Skjei at 28th in the following year.  The next four years would see Sather trade his first round picks as the Rangers chased an elusive Cup win.

In 15 seasons, Sather had some wins, with Staal, Kreider, Miller and Skjei, and even Korpikoski and Del Zotto could be considered solid picks.  By contrast, McIlrath, Jessiman and Montoya all felt like reaches to some extent, though Montoya was certainly rated highly after backstopping the US junior team to the Gold Medal.

The Jeff Gorton era 2015-Present
Gorton started off his stint as GM without a first round pick in his first two seasons, having had them traded away by Sather for Martin St Louis and Keith Yandle respectively., but since then has chosen to stack them rather than part with them.

In 2017 the team reached a bit with Lias Andersson, but perhaps made up for it by selecting Filip Chytil.  Both players have already played in the NHL, and have growing pains, so it remains to be seen how their careers progress. 

Last year the team made three selections, going a little off-the-board with Vitali Kravtsov at #9, but perhaps ultimately being proven out as the young Russian has since seeing his stock rise.  The selection of K’Andre Miller at 22 looks very promising, with the young defenseman impressing, while 28th overall pick Nils Lundkvist yet to project further.

It’s too early to grade Gorton, but his selection of Andersson over some of the other popular choices has put some fear into the fan base.  If the Rangers do indeed keep the second overall pick as expected, then either of Hughes or Kakko would be seemingly safe choices – let’s not dwell too much on the likes of former #1 picks Alexandre Daigle and Patrik Stefan – but as certain as a pick can be, it would seem the best scenario would be to keep it.

If the Rangers do elect to trade down a couple of spots, then they could potentially try and get more high round picks, but would also reduce their chances of a gamebreaker proportionately.

Whatever they might elect to do, we just have to hope that they don’t make any egregious errors, not with a once in a lifetime – and I mean this literally – opportunity.

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