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Grachev stays focused after remarkable year

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Evgeny Grachev won a bronze medal with Russia in the 2009 World Junior Championship tournament -- one of several highlights of his first year after being drafted by the Rangers in 2008.

Grachev Skates in Prospect Camp Drill Watch

By Jim Cerny,

One year ago Evgeny Grachev was somewhat of an unknown player, taking part in the Rangers prospects camp. Now a full year later, all eyes seem fixed on Grachev’s every move as he participates in his second camp for prospects at the MSG Training Center.

All it took was an impressive camp, a 40-goal season in major-junior, and OHL Rookie of the Year honors in the past year to cement Grachev’s status as an elite prospect for the Rangers. And while last year’s prospect camp was a way for Grachev to introduce himself to the organization, this year’s summer camp -- taking place this week in Westchester -- is a springboard for the talented 19-year-old to audition for a spot on the varsity roster when training camp opens up in September.

“It is too early to be excited for that opportunity, but I will be excited when September comes,” said the 6-foot-4 Grachev.

The Rangers selected Grachev in the third round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, 75th overall, after he put up impressive offensive numbers in his native Russia. A few days after the draft, Grachev was taking part in the Rangers prospects camp, though he had to borrow equipment in order to participate.

Grachev’s skates, sticks, and other equipment were back home, so he used what the Rangers let him borrow. It didn’t matter much whose equipment he was using because Grachev still put on quite a show at the camp.

From there, Grachev made the decision to become better acquainted with North America by playing in the OHL with the Brampton Battalion. And it was with Brampton that Grachev surged to the head of the class of Rangers prospects by scoring 40 goals, adding 40 assists, and finishing the season with 80 points.

“It was a good experience for me,” said the understated Grachev, who finished fifth in the OHL in goals scored and 13th in points recorded.

To no one’s surprise, Grachev was selected as the OHL’s Rookie of the Year at the end of the season, though the enormously gifted Russian was not as impressed with his accomplishments as seemingly everyone else was.

“I was older than a lot of the other rookies so I should have been better,” said Grachev, who led all OHL first-year players in goals, assists, and points. “I was 18 when the season started and some of the others were 16 or 17 years-old. But it wasn’t a bad year for me.”

No, certainly it was not a bad year for Grachev.

The scoring machine broke a pair of Battalion first-year player records with his 40 goals (Raffi Torres held the previous record with 35) and 80 points (Jason Spezza was the previous record-holder with 71), while playing alongside Matt Duchene, who was selected third overall by the Colorado Avalanche in this past Friday’s draft. Grachev continued his strong play in the post-season where he scored 11 goals and earned 25 points in 19 playoff games for the Eastern Conference Champion Battalion.

In addition, Grachev helped Russia win the bronze medal at the 2009 World Junior Championships by recording five points (2-3-5) in seven games.

Gordie Clark, the Rangers’ Director, Player Personnel, credits Brampton head coach Stan Butler for sticking with Grachev after the big forward got off to a slow start last season. Clark is convinced that Butler’s nurturing brought out the best in Grachev.

“If Grachev doesn’t go to Stan Butler, I don’t know if he finishes the year with 40 goals and 40 assists,” said Clark. “It took a while for Grachev because it is such a different lifestyle, different culture, different way of playing the games. Stan was patient and he helped guide Grachev to the year he had.”

Not only did Grachev develop into an on-ice force, he was able to assimilate better off the ice, as well. With no fellow Russians on his team, Grachev was forced to learn and speak English by communicating constantly with his teammates, coaches, and host family.

Grachev, who took only five ESL classes, became so comfortable with the English language that he even updated fans on his life and career by penning a blog -- in English -- for part of the 2008-09 season.

But all of the fun, learning, and success from last season is now squarely in the past. Grachev is focused on the opportunity ahead of him, especially after Rangers head coach John Tortorella emphasized on Monday that he would be willing to carry talented youngsters on next year’s roster if they prove worthy during training camp.

Count Evgeny Grachev as one player who plans on trying to make the absolute most of that opportunity when September arrives.

“I just want to have a good summer, get in good shape, and try my best to show my best in camp,” said Grachev. “Then we’ll see what happens.”
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