"We are extremely saddened by the tragic passing of Alexei. On behalf of the New York Rangers organization, I would like to extend our deepest sympathies to his family. Alexei was an intelligent, energetic young man, with tremendous talent and an extremely bright future."
-- Rangers GM Glen Sather
, the New York Rangers
' first pick (No. 17) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft and one of the club's top prospects, has died after suffering an apparent heart attack Monday late in a game with Avangard Omsk, his club in the Kontinental Hockey League.
The 19-year-old Cherepanov had 8 goals and 13 points in 15 games this season, his third with Omsk.
Cherepanov had scored the game's first goal in what ended as a 5-4 loss for Omsk against Vityav Chekhov.
"We are extremely saddened by the tragic passing of Alexei," said Rangers General Manager Glen Sather
. "On behalf of the New York Rangers
organization, I would like to extend our deepest sympathies to his family. Alexei was an intelligent, energetic young man, with tremendous talent and an extremely bright future."
"We lost a life today," Rangers coach Tom Renney said prior to Monday's game against the New Jersey Devils
. "It’s a sad thing … a young fellow like that. If it meant anything I’d go over myself and see the family. … The first thing we can do is honor him with a great effort tonight."
"The NHLPA is saddened to learn of the passing of Alexei Cherepanov
," added NHL Players' Association executive director Paul Kelly
. "Alexei was a tremendous young man and a highly-skilled hockey player whose promising career had no limits. His unexpected passing at such a young age is a great loss for the entire hockey community. The NHLPA extends our condolences to Alexei's family, friends and teammates during this extremely difficult time."
The Rangers had been hoping to bring Cherepanov to New York for the club's prospect evaluation camp or training camp, but with the lack of a formal transfer agreement between the NHL and International Ice Hockey Federation, Cherepanov remained in Russia, with the Rangers hoping to bring him over for the 2009-10 season.
Rangers assistant coach Mike Pelino had visited Cherepanov in Russia in late August, and told reporters Monday how pleased he had been with what he had seen -- on and off the ice.
"When I went over I was really excited after I got to spend a little bit of time with him," Pelino said.
"First of all, he was a very, very engaging as a young man. He was very excited about the opportunity of when it was going to happen for him to get to New York. We went out to dinner, with him myself, Jaromir (Jagr) and a couple of the other guys on the team. He was just full of energy, full of enthusiasm, really excited. … He said he was really looking forward to the day when he could come play for the New York Rangers
Jagr, the former Rangers captain, signed with Omsk this summer and reportedly had started to serve as a mentor to Cherepanov. The two had just finished a shift together when Cherepanov was stricken
"He was just full of energy, full of enthusiasm, really excited. … He said he was really looking forward to the day when he could come play for the New York Rangers
." – Rangers assistant coach Mike Pelino
"The last conversations I had with Jaromir and (Omsk coach) Wayne (Fleming) was that he was playing really well and Jaromir thought that he could actually probably play on our second line right now," said Renney.
Cherepanov was the top-ranked European skater heading into his draft year, and backed up his credentials with 29 points in 47 games with Omsk when it played in the Russian Super League. He had more points in his first year in the RSL than Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin
and Ilya Kovalchuk
, and his 18 goals in 2006-07 broke Pavel Bure
's RSL rookie scoring record.
"He was close to a complete package," said Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting. "Very fast skater. He was a goal scorer and a passer.
"I think he could have been a big spectator favorite because he was that kind of player. Sometimes you could hardly notice him, but on one shift, he could do unbelievable things with the puck -- passing, shooting, skating, extremely skillful. A finesse player with a capital 'F."
That he slipped to No. 17 in the draft was a major surprise, one the Rangers were extremely thankful for
"There are going to be a lot of teams that say, 'Geez, I can't believe he was still there,' " Gordie Clark, the Rangers' director of player personnel, told the New York Daily News after the team picked Cherepanov." But we had him going way, way before this. The guy has got an incredible pair of hands and head on him."
Cherepanov represented Russia at numerous international tournaments. He was named the best forward at the 2007 World Junior Championships after he finished with a tournament-high 5 goals, and his 8 points led the Russian team in scoring and to the silver medal. He had 3 goals and 6 points in six games at the 2008 WJC as Russia won the bronze.
"I saw him more as a person than a player," Fleming told ESPN.com. "He was a great, great player but he had the character of a special person.
"He was just a really upbeat person. Very respectful of his teammates and all of the staff. We're going to miss him in Russia and they're going to miss him in the NHL."
"He was a great kid," Cherepanov's agent, Jay Grossman told TSN. "He had a great smile and was an outstanding player with a great future on and off the ice. It's both shocking and devastating news for all of us."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.