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European prospects on verge of new season

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
By Dan David,

It’s still the height of summer, of course, but hockey season is getting a lot closer for some Rangers prospects planning to spend 2009-10 in European leagues.

In fact, three of the nine Rangers prospects expected to play full seasons in Europe this year are on teams that begin preseason play next week.

Rangers seventh-round draftee Mikhail Pashnin was the No. 1 pick in the 2009 KHL draft. The defenseman, is expected to play in the KHL this season pending his release from a contract he signed with his last Russian team in Chelyabinsk.
The first of these European players to see action will be Roman Psurny, as 2003 Rangers draft choice, and Zdenek Bahensky, who was picked at the 2004 draft. Both of their NHL playing rights remain with the Blueshirts.

This season, Psurny will be playing for Usti nad Labem in the Czech First Division, and that team’s first preseason game is scheduled for next Tuesday, with regular-season play opening on Sept. 9. Bahensky, who is spending 2009-10 with Psurny’s former team, Mlada Boleslav of the Czech Extraliga, also has an exhibition game on Tuesday and a regular-season opener on Sept. 9.

Just a few days after Psurny and Bahensky’s teams take the ice, 2007 Rangers draftee David Skokan begins preseason play with Bratislava of the Slovak Extraliga. Skokan, who spent last season in the lower, First Division with Poprad, has an exhibition game scheduled for July 31. His regular season begins on Sept. 11.

In August, the six other Rangers prospects on European rosters get into action. Like Psurny, Bahensky and Skokan, most of these players are unsigned, but their 2009-10 NHL rights belong to the Blueshirts.

The oldest member of the European group is 31-year-old Ilya Gorokhov, a 1995 draftee who is the alternate captain of Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in the KHL. Gorokhov has never chosen to come to North America, which is why the Rangers still hold his rights if he ever does arrive. His Yaroslavl team begins preseason play in the middle of next month, with its KHL opener on Sept. 12 vs. Nizhnekamsk.

Also expected to play in the KHL this year is 2008 seventh-rounder Mikhail Pashnin, the No. 1 overall pick in that league’s draft who will join CSKA Moscow as soon as his contract and transfer from Chelyabinsk are complete.

Currently under contract to Chelaybinsk, Pashnin must gain full release before he can report to CSKA, which has exhibitions beginning on Aug. 11 and a season-opener set for Sept. 11 vs. Moscow Dynamo. Pashnin, a defenseman, was a teammate of Rangers prospect Evgeny Grachev on Russia’s 2009 World Junior Championship squad.

If Pashnin is in uniform for the Sept. 11 opener, he could be seeing another Rangers prospect on the other side of the ice in that game, because fellow defenseman Pavel Valentenko is listed on the Dynamo roster for next season. Valentenko’s NHL playing rights were obtained from Montreal in the Scott Gomez trade on June 30, and even if he remains in Russia, he would still be in position to join the Rangers in a future season.

A third Rangers prospect playing in Moscow is Spartak’s Ivan Baranka. The defenseman, who appeared in one game for the Rangers in 2007-08, has exhibitions starting on Aug. 11 and a season opener on Sept. 12 vs. Kazan.

Rounding out the Rangers’ European contingent for 2009-10 are 2006 draftees David Kveton and Lukas Zeliska, who will be teammates with Trinec in the Czech Extraliga Their regular season begins Sept. 9.

One player who won’t spend this season in Europe is 2008 fourth-round draft pick Roman Horak, a highly-regarded center from the Czech Republic. Horak, a strong candidate for the Czechs’ 2010 World Junior Championship team, will follow in the footsteps of Grachev and Tomas Kundratek, two Rangers draft picks from 2008 who both left Europe to play major-junior hockey in Canada.

Drafted by the Chilliwack Bruins at No. 8 overall in the first round of the CHL Import Draft on June 30, Horak will be coming to North America in the coming weeks to prepare for his first Western Hockey League season. Like Grachev and Kundratek this season, he would be eligible to play in Hartford the following year.

Horak’s decision to play major junior means that eight of the past 11 players drafted by the Rangers off of European teams’ rosters have opted to leave home and spend their first season after the draft playing in North America --a testament to their desire to play in the NHL rather than remaining overseas.

Keep an eye on during the weeks and months ahead for regular updates on the performance of Rangers prospects playing outside the NHL.
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