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Rangers draft history full of surprising facts

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
By Dan David,

This weekend, the Rangers organization will participate in an NHL draft for the 47th time. Here are 10 interesting and fun facts and figures related to the Rangers' history at the draft.

No. 1 Overall Pick

The Rangers have had the No. 1 overall pick only once in the NHL draft. That happened in 1965, during the Original Six era, when the amateur draft was a limited event because most major-junior players' rights were already held by the NHL teams who sponsored their clubs. The Rangers got the No. 1 pick because it was due to rotate around the six-team league, and the Blueshirts' turn came in the third annual draft.

With their selection, the Rangers took right wing Andre Veilleux from Montreal. Veilleux never made it to the pros, but neither did most of the 10 other players in that draft, which was arguably the weakest in NHL history.

The Rangers are the only Original Six team that has not drafted at No. 1 overall since the 1967 expansion that ended the Original Six era. Since 1967, the No. 1 pick has gone to Boston two times (Gord Kluzak in 1982 and Joe Thornton in 1997), Chicago one time (Patrick Kane in 2007), Detroit two times (Dale McCourt in 1977 and Joe Murphy in 1986), Montreal four times (Michel Plasse in 1968, Rejean Houle in 1969, Guy Lafleur in 1971, and Doug Wickenheiser in 1980) and Toronto one time (Wendel Clark in 1985).

Although the Rangers have never actually drafted No. 1 overall, a number of former No. 1 overall picks have become Rangers later in their careers. These include Lafleur, Brian Lawton, Eric Lindros, Alexandre Daigle and Bryan Berard.

Billy Smith's Brother

Hockey Hall of Famer Billy Smith, the goaltender who helped take the Islanders to four straight Stanley Cup championships from 1980 to 1983, was certainly one of the most disliked opponents in Rangers history, but before he came on the radar, the Blueshirts drafted his older brother, Gord Smith, in the fifth round of the 1969 draft.

Gord Smith was a defenseman who played 299 NHL games with the Capitals and Winnipeg Jets. He never signed with the Rangers organization after the draft, but incredibly rejoined the Rangers reserve list in 1980 -- when his rights were purchased from Winnipeg -- and actually played for the New Haven Nighthawks.

Steve Durbano

On Feb. 21, 1979, at Madison Square Garden, Rangers enforcer Nick Fotiu and St. Louis Blues tough guy Steve Durbano engaged in one of the most notorious hockey fights of all time. The incident, at 7:26 of the third period in a 7-3 Rangers victory, involved stick-swinging and spilled over into another confrontation in the area outside the locker rooms. The Garden crowd roared for fan favorite Fotiu throughout the fight, and an angry Durbano actually mooned the fans as he left the ice.

This was a rather ironic situation since only one of the two combatants was drafted by the Rangers, and it wasn't Fotiu. Durbano, who passed away in 2002, was the Blueshirts' first-round pick in 1971 but was traded to the Blues before reaching the NHL.

50-Goal Scorers

Rick Middleton
Three players have scored 50 goals in a season for the Rangers. However, none of the three were drafted by the team (Vic Hadfield broke in with the team in the pre-draft era). The Blueshirts, however, have drafted a 50-goal scorer.

The only Rangers draft pick to score 50 in a season was Rick Middleton, who finished with 51 for Boston in 1981-82. Middleton, drafted in 1974, is one of six former Rangers picks with more than 300 career goals, but he's the only one to score 50 in one season.

The most goals scored by a Rangers draft pick in a Rangers uniform in one season was 41 by Steve Vickers in 1974-75.

Miracle on Ice

Five members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that stunned the Soviets at Lake Placid went on to become Rangers Rangers, but only one was drafted by the team. Dave Silk, a 1978 Rangers draftee out of Boston University, jumped right from the Olympics to the Blueshirts. Joining him later as Rangers were Rob McClanahan, Mark Pavelich, Bill Baker and head coach Herb Brooks.

Brothers, Not Twins

Scot Kleinendorst
Only one NHL team has ever drafted brothers who were not twins in the same NHL Entry Draft, and it was the Rangers in 1980, selecting Providence College's Kurt Kleinendorst in the fourth round and his older brother, Scot Kleinendorst, in the fifth round. Incredibly, both players were born in the year 1960, although they were 11 months apart.

Scot, who went on to play for the Rangers, was born on Jan. 16, 1960. Kurt, who would later work for the Devils as an assistant coach, barely made it into the same calendar year, because his birthday was on Dec. 31, 1960.

In addition to being the only non-twin brothers drafted in the same year, the Kleinendorsts were also the first set of brothers (including twins) ever selected in the same draft.

The First Russian

While the Rangers are famous for having had the first Russian players to win the Stanley Cup -- Alex Kovalev, Sergei Nemchinov and Alexander Karpovtsev -- none of them were the first Russian player drafted by the Blueshirts.

That honor will always belong to the late Sergei Kapustin, whom the Rangers selected in the seventh round of the 1982 NHL Entry Draft. At the time, the Soviet Union was still the Big Red Machine, and it seemed like there was absolutely no likelihood of getting Russians to the NHL. Nevertheless, the Rangers went ahead and locked up the rights to a 29-year-old Kapustin, who had won Olympic gold with the Soviets in 1976, but was not on the team that fell to the Americans at Lake Placid in 1980.

Why did the Rangers draft Kapustin? Perhaps they thought he might defect, or at least they wanted his rights in case the Soviets began allowing their oldest stars to sample life in the NHL, as the Czechs had already done. In any event, the Rangers had to use the draft to obtain Kapustin, since the NHL had ruled that all Europeans, regardless of age, had to be drafted into the league rather than sign as free agents.

After the draft, Kapustin went on to play a few more years in Russia and Austria. He eventually died of a heart attack in 1995.

Raimo Helminen

Raimo Helminen
If Chris Chelios plays for Team USA in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, it will mark the fifth time Chelios has appeared as a hockey Olympian. But he'd still have to reach the Games once more to tie the remarkable record held by 1984 Rangers second-round draft pick Raimo Helminen.

Helminen, a native of Tampere, Finland, represented his nation six times at the Olympics over an 18-year period from 1984 to 2002. He also played 117 NHL games, including 87 with the Rangers in the mid-1980s.

He returned from his six trips to the Olympics with one silver and two bronze medals. He won the silver at Calgary in 1988 and won bronze at Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994, and Nagano, Japan, in 1998. He also played at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, in 1984, at Albertville, France, in 1992, and at Salt Lake City in 2002.

Rangers scouts couldn't have known how much Helminen would mean to the Finnish Olympic program when they drafted him. That's because Helminen had appeared in just one Olympics at the time he was selected.

Father and Son

Ivan Dornic Jr.
Only one NHL general manager has ever drafted both a father and his son at the NHL Entry Draft, and it's current Rangers President and GM Glen Sather.

In the 1984 draft at Montreal, held while he was running the Edmonton Oilers as head coach and general manager, Sather selected a 22-year-old Czechoslovakian player named Ivan Dornic in the sixth round, No. 126 overall. It was pretty much a longshot, since not many players, including Dornic, were coming out of the formerly communist nation at that time.

Nineteen years later at Nashville, in his current position with the Rangers, Sather selected Ivan Dornic Jr. in the sixth round, No. 176 overall. Another sixth-round pick turned into another Dornic family member who never opted to play in North America.

Joe Ranger

It seems almost like a joke now, but there really was a guy named Joe Ranger who played for the London Knights of the OHL in the mid-1980s, and the Rangers actually drafted him in the same year they selected Brian Leetch.

That's right, with their 10th-round pick in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft, the Rangers chose ... Joe Ranger, a 6-foot-4 defenseman from Sudbury, Ontario.

Unfortunately, Joe Ranger never made it to the NHL, but he did appropriately manage to close out his hockey career as a member of the OHL's Kitchener Rangers.
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