D, Portland (WHL)
It's not often that a team can choose a projected first-round choice in the second round of an NHL Entry Draft, but the Rangers managed to do it in 2005 when they selected defenseman Michael Sauer
with the 40th overall pick.
After trading up to take Marc Staal
in the first round, the Blueshirts were pleasantly surprised when Sauer, the player they originally hoped to take with their original top pick, was still available in Round 2.
"Mike is one of those guys that is just going to get better and better," said Rangers head coach Tom Renney. "We believe he has the ability now to play at least pro hockey. Having said that, there is still a lot to learn about the speed and pace of the game on the professional level. He needs to work on his strength so he can handle the bigger forwards and quicker players at this level. But this is a guy we are talking about who has terrific upside and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he is wearing a Rangers jersey at some point in time."
"Playing with Sauer is excellent," said fellow Rangers prospect Brandon Dubinsky
, who was Sauer's teammate last year with WHL's Portland Winter Hawks. "He is a workhorse and does his job really well. He is disciplined and is a good guy to have in the dressing room."
The 2005-06 season was a landmark year for Portland, which reached the second round of the WHL playoffs for the first time in five seasons. Sauer had a big hand in that success - scoring with 22 seconds left in the second period of Game 7 of the first-round series against Seattle. Sauer's blast pulled the Winter Hawks within one goal in a game they had trailed 3-0. The late second-period goal clearly rejuvenated Portland, which went on to win in overtime.
"It was exciting to see him score that big time goal in game seven," said Dubinsky. "I don't think people give him enough credit for his offensive abilities. I saw it early in the season that he is pretty good offensively, has a good shot, and is real smart. He can find areas of the ice other guys can't. He is good on the power play and when he shoots the puck good things happen."
Sauer, the younger brother of Colorado Avalanche defenseman Kurt Sauer, played in 59 games for Portland, recording eight goals and 23 assists for 31 points and 68 penalty minutes. In the WHL playoffs, he tallied four goals and two assists for six points and eight penalty minutes in 12 games.
A high-character player well respected by his teammates, Sauer has been invited to attend the United States World Junior team training camp in August. The native of St. Cloud, Minn., has a reputation for being very coachable and focused on good positioning in his own end.
Sauer got the chance to work on his skills at the recent Rangers Prospect Development Camp.
"I'll do whatever the team needs me to do," he said. "I know I still need to get better. Hopefully, I will work on my foot speed, which is a big one for me. I want to be a better skater. That's once thing I need to work on to get to the next level. I think overall there are a lot of things I need to work on, because obviously, I want to get to the NHL. I think once I do that, everything will start to come into place."
Sauer is also an athletic, two-way defenseman who sees the ice well and is able to make the all-important first pass. The 6-foot-3, 206-pounder routinely hits teammates on the tape from anywhere on the ice, and his shot is improving with every game at the major-junior level.
"I've grown a lot as a player," Sauer said. "I've gotten smarter and stronger on the ice and I've become more of a physical player. Even throughout last year I felt I picked up my physical game a lot. Offensively, I started contributing more."
Sauer joins 2005 first-rounder Staal and 2006 first-rounder Bobby Sanguinetti as one of several talented young defensemen in the Rangers' developmental system.
"It's great to be mentioned in the same breath as Marc and now Bobby," said Sauer. "It's nice to be considered part of an up-and-coming trio. But I've still got a lot of work ahead of me. I've got to keep going. I've got to keep improving." -- Ricky Henne
|MICHAEL SAUER - 2005-06 STATISTICS |
|D ||Portland (WHL regular season) ||59 ||8 ||23 ||31 ||68 ||4 ||0 ||1 |
| ||Portland (WHL playoffs) ||12 ||4 ||2 ||6 ||8 ||4 ||0 ||0 |