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Camp helping prospects learn to 'be a Ranger'

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

2007 first-round draft pick Alexei Cherepanov leads the way during a drill on Monday. Cherepanov was skating on the Madison Square Garden Training Center ice for the first time.
Complete Coverage of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft

Less than 72 hours after being drafted by the Rangers over the weekend, 2007 first-round pick Alexei Cherepanov and 24 other NHL hopefuls were at the Madison Square Garden Training Center Monday morning, taking part in this year's Rangers Prospects Development Camp.

Cherepanov, the highly-touted Russian right wing taken 17th overall in Friday night's first round of the NHL Entry Draft at Columbus' Nationwide Arena, is one of 25 young players at this year's development camp. Dating back to 2001, the development camps have played a big role in helping the Rangers coaches and scouting staff assess the progress of draft picks and undrafted free agents.

"This is a chance to see the Rangers organization and understand what type of culture we want to have here," said Rangers head coach Tom Renney. "The philosphy is to make them (the prospects) identify what it takes to play in the National Hockey league and what we're looking for from them to be Rangers. With the appropriate on-ice work with our coaching staff, and from our strength and conditioning people, they should be able to embrace what that's all about and be better for it."

The five-day camp, which runs through Friday, features 15 youngsters whose NHL rights are currently held by the Rangers. The group includes 2005 first-round pick Marc Staal, 2006 first-rounder Bobby Sanguinetti and second-rounder Artem Anisimov, and recent signees Michael Busto, Brodie Dupont and Tom Pyatt, who are all coming off tremendous major-junior seasons.

Defenseman Michael Sauer, who went all the way to the Memorial Cup Finals with Medicine Hat last month, is also at the camp. Sauer, a second-round pick in 2005, signed with the Rangers last year and, like Staal, will begin his professional career this fall.

In addition to Cherepanov, two other draft picks from this weekend -- second-rounder Antoine Lafleur, a goaltender in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and fourth-rounder Max Campbell, a Western Michigan University recruit from Strathroy, Ontario, are at the Training Center this week.

There are also 10 undrafted invitees at this year's camp, all of whom will have a chance at impressing the Rangers enough to be invited back to the annual rookie camp in September. Two years ago, defenseman Dan Girardi was such a player at the camp. Not only did Girardi earn an invitation to the main training camp, but he also ended up signing and playing for the Rangers for much of the 2006-07 season.

Potential NHLers like Girardi two years ago get a unique opportunity at the camp to make up for the fact that they were not drafted.

"We talked to our scouts," said Renney of how the invitees were chosen. "They might like a player who slipped through the draft or is beyond draft eligibility but is still a player that they believe might have a value within our organization. So even though they're here as free agents, there is genuine interest in them in terms of the feedback we get from our scouting staff. ... My conversation with the guys this morning before we started was that you're all here as Rangers. Some of you come in here as drafted prospects and some of you don't, but you're all here because you are prospects."

This year's invitees feature players from the QMJHL, OHL, college hockey and the Tier II USHL. The group even includes two players from Japan, who are making history in participating at the camp. No Japanese-trained player has ever participated in a Rangers training camp before, but Masahito Suzuki and Masafumi Ogawa are getting a chance to experience both North American hockey and an NHL atmosphere after spending the past season with the Oji Paper team in the Asian Hockey League. Ogawa also played for Japan's national team at the World Championships.

"One of our scouts, Frank Effinger, has a relationship with a member of the Japanese Ice Hockey Federation. They communicated with him and asked if it would be possible for a couple of players to come over and join this camp," said Renney. "I've had the good fortune of having a fair amount to do with the Japanese Ice Hockey Federation as well when I was coaching Team Canada. So I kind of understand that partnership that you should make with countries that are trying to entrench themselves deeper in the game. I talked to Glen (Sather) about it, and he was completely behind it."

The prospects will spend much of the week participating in extensive physical and mental drills aimed at preparing them for life in the NHL. For the Rangers' braintrust, it's is an opportunity to instill the type of work ethic, conditioning, and character needed to succeed in today's NHL.

When the players arrived at the Rangers Training Center on Monday, they were split into two groups (Red and Blue), and given temporary jersey numbers for use during the camp. They went through physical testing in the morning and eventually hit the ice just before 1 p.m.

For the Rangers coaching staff, this represented the first opportunity to watch several of these players in person. Many eyes were on Cherepanov, and Renney in particular was impressed with what he saw. Although the Rangers head coach was not allowed on the ice with the unsigned players under league rules, he watched intently as his assistant coaches, members of the Hartford Wolf Pack coaching staff and former Rangers star Adam Graves ran the players through drills.

"He did fine," Renney said of Cherepanov. "A couple of times, he jumped to the front of the line in drills where I'm not sure he had any idea of what he was supposed to do, but he jumped to the front of the line and went and did fine. I thought he was good. It's tough, though, because it's brand new skates, brand new equipment, and he hasn't been on the ice in awhile. There's also a cultural change and a language barrier, so I thought he did just terrific."

Each player at the camp meets individually with the coaching staff to discuss what they have accomplished, and what they need to work on in the coming months. On Friday afternoon, the on-ice portion of the camp concludes with a 4-on-4 scrimmage between the Red and Blue groups, which will be followed by one last opportunity for bonding at an week-ending barbecue.

Many of these prospects will be getting back together again at September's rookie camp and then heading for Traverse City, Mich., to again participate in that city's annual prospects tournament.

The following is the roster for this week's camp:

2007 New York Rangers Prospect Development Camp Roster
Player POS. HT WT DOB 2006-07 Team (League)
Artem Anisimov C 6-3 187 5/24/88 Yaroslavl (Russia)
Greg Beller LW 6-3 213 1/22/87 Yale (ECAC)
Alex Bourret RW 5-10 205 10/5/86 Hartford (AHL)
Michael Busto D 6-2 210 6/20/86 Kootenay (WHL)
Max Campbell C 6-0 170 12/21/88 Strathroy (Jr. B)
Alexei Cherepanov RW 6-0 183 1/15/89 Omsk (Russia)
Brodie Dupont C 6-2 206 2/17/87 Calgary (WHL)
Ryan Hillier LW 6-0 197 1/25/88 Halifax (QMJHL)
Antoine Lafleur G 6-4 186 12/12/88 PEI (QMJHL)
Tom Pyatt C 5-11 182 2/14/87 Saginaw (OHL)
Billy Ryan C 6-1 175 10/23/85 Maine (Hockey East)
Bobby Sanguinetti D 6-1 178 2/29/88 Owen Sound (OHL)
Michael Sauer D 6-3 206 8/7/87 Medicine Hat (WHL)
Marc Staal D 6-4 204 1/13/87 Sudbury (OHL)
Miika Wiikman G 5-11 177 10/12/84 Hameenlinna (Finland)
Player POS. 2006-07 Team (League)
Peter Boldt F Dartmouth (ECAC)
Adam Bourque D Shawinigan (QMJHL)
Jonathan Carrier D Gatineau (QMJHL)
Justin DiBenedetto C Sarnia (OHL)
Jack Downing F Omaha (USHL)
Andrew Gallant G Manhattanville (ECAC West)
Masafumi Ogawa F Oji Paper (Japan)
Brad Roberts G Army (AHA)
Ben Rosen D Des Moines (USHL)
Masahito Suzuki F Oji Paper (Japan)
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