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High draft picks not always so crucial

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Rangers Connection in 2010 Draft Pool

No. 10 Pick Has Been Good to Blueshirts

By Jim Cerny,

For every Marc Staal in the National Hockey League there is a Henrik Lundqvist. For every Michael Del Zotto there is a Sean Avery. That is, for every successful first-round draft pick in the NHL there is a lower-round selection who goes on to become a star or an undrafted player who finds his way into the league as a free agent and carves out a career.

“You’re talking about 17-18 year-old boys, it’s pretty hard to always correctly project what type of player they will turn out to be,” explained Gordie Clark, the Rangers’ Director, Player Personnel.

Rangers forward Sean Avery can look back and laugh at all the NHL scouts who didn't think he was good enough to be drafted back in 1998 and 1999.
Of course, making wise decisions in each round, as Clark and the Rangers will surely look to do next weekend during the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles, is at the core foundation of any successful team. Adding under-the-radar players who were not selected in the draft is a vital plus to constructing a team, as well.

A look at the Rangers roster from the close of last season shows an interesting mix of players selected in various rounds of the draft as well as those who reached the NHL even though they were never chosen in the draft.

Staal and Del Zotto were both selected in the first round by the Rangers and are vital members of the club’s present and future. Marian Gaborik, Wade Redden, and Brian Boyle also were first-round picks of other clubs. Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov were second-round Rangers’ picks.

“These are the players you expect to be regular NHLers,” said Clark. “The closer you are picking to (first overall) those are the players that need to make an impact. But you have to be smart in the later rounds, too, and find kids that can play in the NHL.”

A great example of that is Lundqvist. Selected in the seventh round, 205th overall, by the Rangers in 2000, Lundqvist has emerged as the club’s franchise goaltender, an NHL All-Star, a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist, and an Olympic Gold Medal winner.

“Henrik is the shining example of why you leave no stone unturned and why each pick is so, so important,” Clark said.

Alternate captain Ryan Callahan has made his way as a fourth-round pick and Aaron Voros was a 10th-rounder, 229th overall, in 2001. Just two more examples that each and every pick counts in the NHL Entry Draft.

Perennial NHL All-Star and 2003-04 Hart Trophy winner Martin St. Louis slipped through the draft in both 1993 and 1994 and did not get his first NHL contract until he was almost 23 years old.
Sometimes, though, a future NHL player sneaks through and goes undrafted. Defenseman Dan Girardi was not chosen in the draft, but signed a minor league professional contract before the 2005-06 season. After impressing in the ECHL and AHL, Girardi signed with the Rangers on July 1, 2006 and was up in the NHL the following season. He quickly emerged as one of the club’s top defensemen.

Avery, Jody Shelley, and Matt Gilroy are three other Rangers from last season that were never selected in the draft, but who have made it to the NHL. Avery and Shelley both will be entering their 10th seasons in the league in 2010-11 and have combined for more than 1,000 games played despite not being selected in the draft.

Gilroy, a self-described “late bloomer”, was signed as a free agent by the Rangers after winning the Hobey Baker Award and the NCAA championship at Boston University in 2009. He jumped straight to the NHL last season

The poster-child for undrafted free agents turned into NHL stars is Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis. Overlooked, in part, due to his diminutive stature, St. Louis is a five-time all star, won the 2004 Hart Trophy, led the NHL in scoring that same season, has registered 267 career goals, and helped the Lightning win the 2004 Stanley Cup championship.

Brian Rafalski, John Madden, and Jason Blake are among a host of currently successful NHL players that, like St. Louis, were not selected in the draft.

“It just goes to show that we are not nearly as smart as we think we are,” joked Clark.
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