As he huddled around the group of NHL reporters at Toronto’s Air Canada center last Saturday, Lee Falardeau
couldn’t help but glow as he answered questions about his Draft Day dream that he was living out as he spoke. “This is all a blur right now,” he beamed. “I had no idea what to expect, but this is a thrill for me.”
"I'm honored to be selected by the Rangers," said the 6’4” center moments after his selection. "Being from Michigan, I grew up a Detroit Red Wings fan, but I always viewed the Rangers as one of the foundations of the NHL. I don't think I could've been picked by a better team. Sitting in the stands, I had no idea what to expect, but I am very excited at how things turned out."
Falardeau, a native of Midland, Michigan, recently completed his freshman season at Michigan State University after spending the 2000-01 season on the United States National Under-18 squad. Along with a modest 13-point output (four goals, 10 assists) last season, Falardeau caught the attention of many NHL scouts with his size, determination and aggressiveness.
"He's a Joel Otto-type of player," said Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather
of Falardeau. "He's a big kid who skates well. Lee is 18 years old and will only get bigger. He's a smart, two-way player and we're happy to select him where we did. We had him rated a lot higher on our lists."
NHL’s Central Scouting Service had Falardeau ranked 31st overall among 2002 North American skaters, while The Hockey News rated him 47th overall, but after countless scouting trips to watch him play over the last few seasons, the Rangers were excited to announce his name early in the second round.
"I really didn't pay too much attention to the rankings because a lot of that doesn't even matter at the draft," said the solid, two-way center. "If a team likes you and you have something they want, that's how you get picked high. The ranking really doesn't matter when it comes down to it. I try not to look at it, that way it can't affect you at all, either negatively or positively."
While Falardeau can add offense to a line-up, it was his tenacity and defensive prowess that drew the most praise from those who watched him.
“In watching Lee, he has shown terrific work ethic and intelligence,” said Rangers Vice President of Player Development Tom Renney
. “He knows the role of all three forwards in all three zones, both offensively and defensively. He uses his big frame to his advantage on the ice, finishing his checks and driving hard to the net. Lee played the majority of last season as a checking center for Michigan State. He often played against the opposition’s top lines and was very effective in this role. We see him as a player with a lot of potential.”
"Lee is defensively sound beyond his years," added Spartan assistant coach Tom Newton
. "And offensively, he is better than you think he is."
Falardeau looks to some of today’s top power forwards in the NHL as players who he would like to mold his game after – a rather impressive list to say the least.
"I admire some of the bigger, tougher NHL players like Owen Nolan
, Bobby Holik
and Todd Bertuzzi
for their grit and tenacity," he said. "And also guys like Kris Draper
and Kirk Maltby
, because they are very good hockey players who never give up, work hard and always do their best. Maybe they don't get noticed as much, but teams don't win if they don't have those kinds of players."
Falardeau knows that he needs to work on many facets of his game to come close to the successes that have been reached by these NHL veterans, but with his kind of skill and determination, he has begun to set his goals at a lofty level.
"I think I am a big, strong forward, and yet, I'm a smart player and a smart person," he said in describing his game. "That's something I know teams are looking for in a player. I play well on both ends of the ice and I'm somebody that the team can depend on. I know nowadays that defense is a very important part of the league and in order to play at the top levels, you have to be able to play at both ends of the ice."
Amidst the excitement of June 22, Falardeau’s Draft Day reaction was also met with a small touch of realism. "I know there are tons of people who have been drafted and never play in the NHL or AHL. I don't really want to look at the draft as too big of an achievement because in reality, it is what it is … a doorway into a different world. It's as something you go through to get somewhere else."
While Falardeau’s mentality and approach couldn’t have been more honest, for this one June day in Toronto, the newest Blueshirt prospect was going to enjoy wearing the blue sweater … with hopes that it will look even better on him one day at Madison Square Garden.Special thanks to Michigan State University's Sports Information office for contributing to this story.