For Roman Lyashenko, his March 12 trade to the New York Rangers came as a bit of a surprise. Dealt by the Dallas Stars to the Blueshirts, along with Martin Rucinsky, the 6-0, 190-pound forward didn’t see it coming, but welcomed the chance for a new start on Broadway.
“I never heard any rumors about being traded,” said Lyashenko. “I was very surprised, but it was good. I needed a change, something new. I was happy that it was to the Rangers. They are a good organization trying to improve.”
Improve the Blueshirts certainly look forward to doing and acquiring players like Lyashenko make the process all the more optimistic.
“I think Lyashenko is a guy that’s going to play,” said Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather at the time of the trade. “He’s played over 100 games in the NHL. He’s played in the playoffs in Dallas. He was a decent player there. If you look at the players they had at center ice – Mike Modano, Joe Nieuwendyk (prior to his trade to New Jersey for pivot Jason Arnott), Pierre Turgeon – there probably just wasn’t a spot for him. I see him as a guy who can play third or fourth line center. He’s still a young guy who has the opportunity to keep getting better.”
Prior to his trade to New York, the 22-year old center spent the majority of the 2001-02 season with the Utah Grizzlies of the American Hockey League (AHL), where he tallied 11 goals and 25 assists for 36 points and a plus-seven rating in 58 games. Lyashenko also appeared in four matches with Dallas before joining the Blueshirts. In 15 games down the stretch with New York, the Murmansk, Russia native notched two goals.
Following the conclusion of the Rangers’ season, Lyashenko joined the Hartford Wolf Pack in the Calder Cup playoffs, where he appeared in four games, collecting two points. But with Team Russia calling him to represent his country at the 2002 World Hockey Championship, he answered their call. Skating in nine games with Russia, Lyashenko posted a pair of assists and 14 penalty minutes while centering a line of Buffalo’s Maxim Afinogenov and Russian Hockey League winger Ravil Gusmanov. Despite only two points in the tournament, the pivot impressed many with his solid defensive awareness. His strong two-way play, his speed and his puck handling skills stood out. The offensive side of the rink, which Lyashenko recognizes as the part of his game which needs the most attention, will come.
“I need to work more on my offensive skills,” he said. “My problem has always been finishing. I need to shoot more and be more aggressive.”
After spending some time watching Lyashenko over the past few seasons, particularly in the latter stages of the 2001-02 campaign, Rangers Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Player Personnel Don Maloney likes what he sees in the Russian center.
“Roman is a very smart, subtle player who is only going to get better,” Maloney said. “He was acquired in part due to his defensive prowess yet there is much more offensive potential then we first thought. He played an important role in Russia's silver medal winning World Championship team and we look forward to him being an important part of the Rangers.”
With the likes of Eric Lindros, Bobby Holik, Petr Nedved, Rem Murray, the potential return of captain Mark Messier, Lyashenko and Jamie Lundmark competing for roster positions at the center position, the Rangers are much stronger down the middle than they’ve been in years. Lyashenko knows the competition in camp will be strong, but his outlook is nothing but positive.
“Anytime you have a chance to play alongside guys like Lindros, Bure, Messier, Leetch, it’s a great thing for any player. I’m really looking forward to training camp and proving that I can help this team win.”