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Rangers may go for Tarasenko at No. 10

by Dave Lozo
NEW YORK -- Gordie Clark obviously wasn't going to let the world know who the New York Rangers wanted to take with the 10th pick in the 2010 Entry Draft during a conference call Wednesday, but he certainly perked up when Russian right wing Vladimir Tarasenko became the topic of conversation.

The Rangers' director of player personnel has shown during his eight seasons with the team that he's not afraid to use an early pick on a Russian prospect, despite the looming threat of his selection deciding to play in the KHL. Clark has overseen the Rangers' drafts since 2005-06 and was instrumental in the team taking center Artem Anisimov in the second round in 2006, right wing Alexei Cherepanov in the first round in 2007 and left wing Evgeny Grachev in the third round in 2008.

While Cherepanov died shockingly in 2008 at the age of 19 during a KHL game, Anisimov just completed his first season with the Rangers, and Grachev joined the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack this season. Clark doesn't have the magic recipe for figuring if a Russian player will cross the pond and play in the NHL, but his track record is evidence he has some mind-reading ability.

"I know with Russians we always hear about their character issues, but it's the same for other kids, too, in this draft. For sure, Kabanov has some issues. You better do your homework before pulling the trigger on drafting a guy like that."
-- Gordie Clark

"We think quite a bit of Tarasenko," said Clark, who credited Rangers scout Vladimir Lutchenko as one of the biggest reasons for the franchise's success in Russia. "You never know. That's the thing you have to deal with with Russia. (Lutchenko) will have the most updated information on what these guys might be thinking of doing, if they've signed over there, how many years have they signed for, when do they want to come over.

"As of today, Lutchenko has been (right) on Anisimov, on Grachev, and unfortunately we never got to see Cherepanov, but everything he had heard and everything Cherepanov had said, he was on his way over. He's been on, so whatever information he'll have will be the information that we'll go with."

Mock drafts vary wildly, but Tarasenko likely will be available when it's time for the Rangers to make their pick. Tarasenko will continue to meet with Lutchenko in Russia before Lutchenko flies to New York to meet with Clark and Jeff Gorton, the Rangers' assistant director of player personnel. All three will fly to Los Angeles for the Draft, which will be held at Staples Center on June 25-26.

One Russian who has fallen off the first-round radar -- if not the entire draft board -- is forward Kirill Kabanov, who left the Moncton Wildcats during the team's second game of the QMJHL playoffs, a game Clark and Gorton attended. According to Clark, Kabanov's teammates were yelling at him on the bench and he never came back out for the third period. He was a healthy scratch the next game, and then returned to Russia.

"There's a lot of talent there, and like all kids here in the draft, we have to do our due diligence about their character," said Gorton. "I know with Russians we always hear about their character issues, but it's the same for other kids, too, in this draft. For sure, Kabanov has some issues. You better do your homework before pulling the trigger on drafting a guy like that."

Should Tarasenko not be available at No. 10 or should the Rangers decide to go in a different direction, perhaps fellow right wings Nino Niederreiter, Jeff Skinner or Brett Connolly could be the answer.

Niederreiter is a Switzerland native who played in the WHL this season in an effort to improve his chances of being drafted. The move worked, as he's projected as a top-10 pick after his 36-goal season with the Portland Winterhawks.

"He's a goal-scorer and a big body (6-foot-2, 203 pounds) and he's going to be a good player," said Gorton.

Connolly dealt with injury issues this season, otherwise he could be in the conversation with likely top two picks Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, according to Gorton. The 6-foot-2, 181-pounder still produced 10 goals and 9 assists in 16 games with the Prince George Cougars of the WHL.

Skinner, a 50-goal scorer with the OHL's Kitchener Rangers this season, improved his game by leaps and bounds after scoring just 27 goals in his previous season. The left-handed shooter is 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds, perhaps the only knock on him.

"Skinner's a goal scorer that's had a great career in junior and he had a great year," Gorton said. "He's a very good player, a little bit undersized but he's got pure offensive talent and he's a natural scorer, maybe one of the best scorers in the draft, so he's going to be a pretty high pick."

According to Clark, the Rangers aren't simply entering the draft with the idea of taking the best available player. They will have a list of "A-rated players" from which they'd like to draft. Should those players not be there when it's time to pick, only then will they instead consider filling a positional need.

"Clearly the two names you hear are Hall and Seguin, for sure are A-players," said Gorton. "Then there's a bit of a fall-off. It depends on your definition of 'A.' For us, sometimes there are four, five or seven guys, then it falls off. I would say there's two guys clearly better than everybody else, then depending on who you're talking to, which I guess is us, there's another 10 guys you can throw a blanket over."

If Tarasenko steps off the Rangers' plane after it lands in Los Angeles draped in a red and blue blanket, fans can get ready for yet another Russian to be brought into the fold.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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