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Blueshirts add new faces on draft's final day

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers Make Cherepanov Their First-Round Pick
Check out's Game On! Draft Blog

Alexei Cherepanov (RW, Omsk, Russia, 6-0, 183)
Central Scouting's No. 1-ranked European skater.
Drafted by Rangers No. 17 overall in Round 1
5 4 11
Antoine Lafleur (Goalie, PEI, QMJHL, 6-4, 186)
Central Scouting's No. 3-ranked North American goaltender.
Drafted by Rangers No. 48 overall in Round 2
-- 157 120
Max Campbell (C, Strathroy, Jr. B, 6-0, 170)
Central Scouting's No. 103-ranked North American skater.
Drafted by Rangers No. 138 overall in Round 5
-- -- 270
Carl Hagelin (LW, Sodertalje, Sweden Jr., 5-11, 176)
Born Aug. 23, 1988. Not ranked by Central Scouting.
Drafted by Rangers No. 168 overall in Round 6
-- -- --
David Skokan (C, Rimouski, QMJHL, 6-0, 191)
Central Scouting's No. 40-ranked North American skater.
Drafted by Rangers No. 193 overall in Round 7
89 74 63
Danny Hobbs (RW, Ohio, USHL, 5-11, 178)
Central Scouting's No. 147-ranked North American skater.
Drafted by Rangers No. 198 overall in Round 7
-- -- 263

After getting the 2007 NHL Entry Draft off to a big start with the selection of Russian right winger Alexei Cherepanov on Friday night, the New York Rangers returned to Columbus' Nationwide Arena to make five more draft picks on Saturday.

With their second-round pick, No. 48 overall, the Rangers took goaltender Antoine Lafleur of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Prince Edward Island Rocket. The Blueshirts then sat out the third and fourth rounds as a result of trades made last year, but they then followed up the Lafleur pick with the selection of four more forwards in Rounds 5-7.

Of course, there was no bigger prize for the Rangers than Cherepanov, whom many scouts project as a potential NHL superstar. The other big story over the draft weekend was the team's focus on forwards.

After taking five defensemen over the previous two drafts, Rangers Head Amateur Scout Gordie Clark said his staff was confident that the Rangers were solid in that area. That enabled the Blueshirts to load up on offense in Columbus. This marked the first time since 1965 -- and the first time since the draft became the primary means for young players to enter the NHL -- that the Rangers did not choose at least one blueliner in the course of a draft.

Despite their late-round push for forwards, the second day of the Rangers' selection process started out with the most defensive-minded of picks -- a goaltender. At 6-foot-4 and 186 pounds, Lafleur was one of the taller goalies available in the 2007 draft. He ranked third on NHL Central Scouting ratings for North American goaltenders and was the second goaltender taken in the draft, behind only Sweden's Joel Gistedt and ahead of OHL prospect Jeremy Smith, who had been Central Scoutin's No. 1-rated North American goaltender.

The Blueshirts didn't pick again until Round 5, when they chose Max Campbell of the Strathroy Rockets, a Junior B team in the Western Ontario Hockey League. Campbell was named the Ontario Junior B Player of the Year after dominating the WOHL with 46 goals and 95 points in 46 games, and Clark described him as a gifted offensive player with tremendous potential.

Drafting in the sixth round, the Rangers chose University of Michigan recruit Carl Hagelin, a Swedish left winger who scored 24 goals and 55 points in 40 games for the Sodertalje Under-20 team. Hagelin had been asked to play for Sodertalje's top team in the Swedish Elite League, but he declined the offer in order to protect his NCAA eligibility.

The Rangers had two picks in the seventh round, which they used on two more forwards. David Skokan, a Slovak center with Rimouski of the QMJHL, was taken 193rd overall with a pick the Rangers had obtained in a trade from Montreal. Using their own seventh-rounder, the Blueshirts took a local favorite, Canadian-born forward Danny Hobbs of the Ohio Junior Blue Jackets. Hobbs, whose selection drew cheers from local junior hockey fans in attendance, will play in Hockey East for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst next season.

The only one of the five Rangers draftees who was actually in Columbus on Saturday was Lafleur, the 157th-ranked prospect by the International Scouting Service and No. 120 in the Red Line Report publication.

Central Scouting's profile describes Lafleur as a butterfly-style goalie who "reads the play well and anticipates the cross-ice pass well." He ranked fourth in the QMJHL with a 2.97 goals-against average in 2006-07 and was major-junior hockey's Goaltender of the Week in November 2006 after a three-game win streak that featured a .960 save percentage and 1.36 GAA.

Clark explained that Lafleur was not expected to be PEI's No. 1 goalie in 2006-07, but an injury to the regular starter pressed him into action for the bulk of his team's games. Given that unexpected pressure, Lafleur was able to thrive.

Lafleur even managed to score a goal during the 2005-06 season in Halifax, although he did not actually shoot for the net. He was simply the last PEI player to handle the puck before a Halifax player shot it all the way back into his own net during a delayed penalty call.

Nicknamed "Laff", Lafleur comes from a large family in Gatineau, Quebec, where his father owns an optometry business. His favorite player as a youngster was Patrick Roy, but he said he modeled much of his game after Roberto Luongo, the Vancouver goaltender who finished second to Martin Brodeur in the voting for the past season's Vezina Trophy.

No relation to Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur, the goalie has never been to New York and said he looks forward to his first visit, which will come at next week's Prospect Development Camp. All six players selected over the weekend have been invited to the development camp at the Madison Square Garden Training Center.

With Henrik Lundqvist established as their starter and 2004 first-round pick Al Montoya waiting in the wings, the Rangers have some of the best goaltending depth in the NHL. Clark said Lafleur might require up to five years before he gets his first taste of the league, but the opportunity to work with Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire, a fellow French-Canadian, will give him a tremendous edge in his development.

The day's second pick, Campbell, will play at Western Michigan University next season. He was ranked 103rd overall among North American skaters by the NHL's Central Scouting division.

Campbell grew up idolizing Pavel Bure and rooting for the Montreal Canadiens, even though he grew up in Ontario. In 2007, Campbell played a key role in leading Strathroy back from a two-game deficit in the WOHL championship series. The Rockets eventually won the series in seven games.

Hagelin, picked 168th overall, was not ranked by any of the major scouting services, but the 18-year-old was a favorite of the Rangers scouting staff and was seen often by Christer Rockstrom, the team's chief European scout. He will get a chance to adjust to the North American game when he arrives in Ann Arbor this fall to play for the same Michigan program that produced Rangers forward Jed Ortmeyer.

The seventh round was the only one in which the Rangers had two picks. The No. 193 overall choice used to draft Skokan was acquired from the Canadiens last month, when the Blueshirts had sent the rights to unsigned 2005 draft pick Ryan Russell to Montreal in exchange for the Habs' seventh-rounder.

Skokan was ranked as high as 63rd by the Red Line Report publication and 74th by International Scouting Service. He had been invited to work out for scouts at the NHL Draft Combines in Toronto after posting 35 points in 52 games with Rimouski. He was particularly sharp in the first half of the 2006-07 season, and his mid-season Central Scouting ranking was No. 14 among North American skaters.

Central Scouting's report on Skokan calls him a "skilled forward with a good commitment to defense." He played for Slovakia at both the 2006 and 2007 World Junior championships, which made him one of the 2007 draft's most experienced international players at age 18. He was also invited to the Canadian Hockey League's Top Prospects Game.

Skokan's determination to make it to the NHL can't be denied, either. When he arrived in Rimouski for the 2006-07 QMJHL season, he said it had been a lifelong dream to leave his native country and play hockey in North America. Now he has a shot at this continent's highest level of the game.

Hobbs is not as high-profile a seventh-rounder as Skokan, but the native of Shawville, Quebec, also pursued his pro hockey dreams by venturing off to Ohio, where he was an anchor of a Tier USHL expansion team that struggled through its first season. He will enter UMass in the fall.

The Entry Draft's opening round had taken place on Friday night, and the Rangers managed to land a draft gem in Russian winger Cherepanov. The Blueshirts picked Cherepanov with the 17th overall selection, even though he was rated No. 1 among European skaters by NHL Central Scouting and No. 5 among all prospects in The Hockey News draft preview issue.
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