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Rangers draft pick Alexei Cherepanov dies during game in Moscow

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When the call came into agent Jay Grossman's New York office, he really didn't give it much thought. He was busy on the other line and told an associate to take a message.

Moments later, Grossman learned the call was anything but routine.

It was to inform Grossman that client Alexei Cherepanov, a former first-round draft pick of the NHL's New York Rangers, died suddenly Monday during a Continental Hockey League game in Moscow. The native of Barnaul, Russia was only 19.

"It's a complete shock," Grossman said during a telephone interview. "I was actually on another line and couldn't take the call when one of our associates had called to report the news. I just told my office to take a message, I assumed it was just some sort of injury or something that you could recover from.

"For a young man to be given that much talent and having it all taken away, it really defies any logic. Without putting any comparisons to him or any other people, he was just an exceptional player. He had an unbelievable future ahead of him."

Grossman was told the six-foot-one, 187-pound Cherepanov fell on the ice late in the third period and returned to the Avangard Omsk club's bench, where he collapsed.

"They were not able to revive him," Grossman said.

Grossman added he wasn't aware of any health issues Cherepanov had.

"No," he said. "When he was drafted in '07 he went to the Rangers camp right thereafter.

"We certainly weren't aware of any sort of existing condition."

Glen Sather, the Rangers president and general manager, expressed shock upon learning of Cherepanov's death.

"We are extremely saddened by the tragic passing of Alexei," Sather said in a statement. "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."

Cherepanov was expected to figure prominently in the Rangers' future plans.

"I was shocked when I heard, I thought it must be a misprint or something because he just had so much going for him," Rangers assistant coach Mike Pelino told The Associated Press. "He was someone who I was really excited about and thought, 'Wow, we did get something special here.'

"He had things to work on. We felt he had to become a little stronger still, he had to probably become a little bit more aware defensively. But as far as raw talent went and the ability to score, he was great."

Cherepanov had seven goals and five assists in 14 KHL games this season. He helped lead Russia to a bronze medal at last year's world junior hockey championship.

The previous year, he was an all-star and named the event's top forward after leading the tournament in scoring with eight points (five goals, three assists) in six games as Russian captured a silver medal.

Grossman said he will always remember Cherepanov as a happy, outgoing person.

"He was a really great kid with a great big smile," he said. "When he first came over, his communication skills and English were still pretty basic but you could tell he was a happy kid.

"He wasn't a cocky kid but he was confident in his abilities."

And Grossman said there was no denying Cherepanov's hockey skills.

"He played three years in the men's level in Russia," he said. "There has been no other player that's done that with as much success as he had had.

"This year was a continuation of that. He was on a point-per-game pace and I believe he even scored in the game today. He was a player who had been given a lot of talent and had an abundance of it."

Cherepanov appeared in 106 career Russian Super League games with Omsk, registering 40 goals and 29 assists. Last season, he established a career high in assists (13) while finishing fourth in club scoring (28 points).

In 2006-07, Cherepanov set a league record for most goals by a rookie (18), eclipsing Pavel Bure's mark of 17.

Cherepanov had 29 points in his first season with Omsk, which was more than Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, Washington's Alexander Ovechkin and Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk all registered in their first seasons in the Russian Super League.

The fact that Cherepanov was a first-round pick in the 2007 draft wasn't surprising, but where he was selected certainly was. Prior to the draft he was projected to be a top-five selection but questions regarding whether Cherepanov would sign with an NHL team and leave his home country resulted in him plummeting to the Rangers at No. 17.

-with files from the Associated Press.

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