C, Kootenay Ice (WHL)
Rangers fans know first-hand that late-round draft picks can have a big impact on the Blueshirts. During the 2005-06 season, Henrik Lundqvist
and Petr Prucha -- players taken in the seventh and eighth rounds of their respective drafts -- made huge contributions to the team.
There is another emerging star from the 2005 draft class, also chosen in the seventh round, who has the opportunity to make a profound impact. If his play on the major-junior level is any indication, forward Ryan Russell is well on his way to that goal.
Chosen 211th overall, Russell impressed scouts and coaches alike while skating for the Western Hockey League's Kootenay Ice in 2005-06. In 72 games last season, he ranked ninth in the WHL with 75 points on 33 goals and 42 assists. He was named the Ice's "Fan's Choice Player of the Year," and finished second on the team in goals (33), assists (42), and points (75).
Russell had an equally impressive playoff run with the Ice, leading Kootenay with three goals and five assists for eight points in six postseason games. He was also selected to represent the WHL in both games of the ADT Canada-Russia Challenge in late November.
"Ryan is one of those guys that when you look at him you think, 'boy how is this guy getting it done?' but he does," said Rangers head coach Tom Renney says. "He is similar to Prucha in his stature and his offense. He can flat-out shoot the puck. He can finesse it into the net, he can power it into the net. He is a very good competitor. He is a very explosive player; he jumps into holes well and gets himself open.
"Ryan knows where to go offensively to get the job done. The big thing with him is just making sure he continues to acquire the strength to continue his progress. But there is no reason a player like him can't succeed in the new NHL."
In 2005-06 Prucha certainly proved that a player like Russell can find success in the present-day NHL, and Russell himself looks towards the Czech sniper as inspiration.
"Seeing Prucha succeeding the way he did gives you a little bit more confidence and pushes you a lot more," said Russell. "To see a guy who is a smaller guy, a lot of people said he would never make the Rangers, but he scored 30 goals and was an important part of the team. So it pushes you a little more to give an extra effort so that maybe one day you can be in that spot."
While he has always had NHL caliber talent, the 5-foot-10, 165-pound Russell greatly benefited from the rule changes implemented after the lockout.
"The new rules have really opened the game for the faster guys," said Russell. "So obviously it helps me. To play at the NHL level, you not only have to be fast, but you need to be strong and fit, and the new rules will definitely help."
Russell ranked ninth in the WHL, registering 75 points last season.
Russell is swift and fast. He quickly accelerates to full speed and has an extra gear rarely seen even on the NHL level. The native of Caroline, Alberta can beats WHL goaltenders with a bevy of dekes and shots, and brings fans to their feet every time he touches the puck.
Still, the young centerman knows there are areas he must improve upon.
"I have to work on my strength and maybe work on my play a little bit in the defensive zone," he said. "I'm a smaller player, so in puck battles I have to win them with my speed and my positioning. My strength is definitely my scoring, but I need to work on my play in my own zone."
Russell understands he is a year or two away from competing for one of the NHL roster spots, but that won't affect his mindset heading into September's training camp.
"Whenever you go into a camp you want to make the best impression you can," he said. "I am going to go home, maybe gain some weight, get a little stronger in some areas, and who knows? I am going to try to catch their eyes and make them want to sign me. If not, I want to be returning to juniors on a high."-- Ricky Henne
|RYAN RUSSELL - 2005-06 STATISTICS |
|C ||Kootenay (WHL regular season) ||72 ||33 ||42 ||75 ||30 ||14 ||1 ||7 |
| ||Kootenay (WHL playoffs) ||6 ||3 ||5 ||8 ||2 ||2 ||0 ||1 |