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Rangers draftees leaving a mark at WJC

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Team USA captain Derek Stepan, drafted by the Rangers in 2008, has exceeded all expectations at the World Juniors and could end up as its top scorer.
Game 1 Recap: Stepan Gets Three Points in Win

Game 2 Recap: Kreider Nets Winner in Shutout
Game 3 Recap: Hat Trick for Kreider in Rout of Latvia
Game 4 Recap: Canada Edges USA in OT Shootout
Quarterfinals: Kreider Scores in 6-2 Win Over Finns
Semifinals: Team USA Topples Sweden, Eyes Gold
Bourque Watch | Kreider Watch | Stepan Watch

By Dan David,

On Tuesday night, Team USA has an opportunity to make some history at the 2010 World Junior Championship tournament, as the Americans will go for the gold against five-time defending champion Canada at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

At the heart of this year's U.S. success has been the play of three Rangers draft picks. Derek Stepan, the Blueshirts’ 2008 second-rounder, is the team captain and tournament scoring leader. Chris Kreider, the Rangers’ 2009 first-rounder, is tied for the U.S. lead with five goals in six games. Ryan Bourque, a 2009 Rangers third-rounder, has been one of the team's top defensive forwards and penalty killers.

Beating the Canadians, who edged Team USA 5-4 in an overtime shootout during the final preliminary-round game last week, is a tall order, but it would be a tremendous achievement for American hockey, which has captured only one previous World Junior gold.

While gold is rare for the U.S., Canada will be competing in its ninth straight gold-medal game and has won all of them since Team USA's remarkable victory in 2004 at Finland. The hope is that Tuesday night will be the second gold for Americans at this 34-year-old tournament, and it would be particularly impressive if it comes on Canadian ice.

With five goals in six games at the World Junior tourney, Chris Kreider is showing that his remarkable talent can translate well to an international stage.
Gordie Clark, the Rangers' Director, Player Personnel, has been attending this year's World Junior Championship tournament along with a group of Rangers scouts. Clark said the U.S. run to the gold-medal game has been very impressive, particularly the earlier game against Canada and the 5-2 win over the Swedes in Sunday night's semifinals.

"Before the tournament, everybody knew Sweden was strong," said Clark. "They were very strong last year, too. It was looking like Canada-Sweden would be the gold-medal game, but once the U.S. controlled the puck for the first 50 minutes of its game against Canada, everyone realized that the USA-Sweden game could go either way."

U.S. captain Stepan, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, is a major reason that Team USA reached the gold-medal game.   When Clark and his scouting staff chose Stepan with the 51st overall pick in Round 2 of the 2008 Entry Draft, they knew he had play-making ability. Stepan had scored 44 goals and 111 points in his final season of high school hockey at Shattuck St. Mary's in Minnesota, but he didn't get the pre-draft hype enjoyed by many others who were taken ahead of him.

Stepan has shown plenty of offense at this year's World Junior tournament with points in every game so far. His nine goals and 12 points in six games lead all players in the field, and he has a chance to become the first Rangers draft pick since Doug Weight in 1991 to lead this tournament in scoring.

Stepan's leadership abilities have also been evident, as he has risen to the task of wearing the "C". He is looking to become the only U.S. captain other than Mark Stuart of the Boston Bruins to lead his country to World Junior gold.

"He (Stepan) is certainly a guy being talked about by everybody," said Clark. "He's a very skilled guy. We expected him to get invited to the U.S. camp and make the team, but we didn't know anything about the captain part of it. (Coach) Dean Blais might have felt he was the guy to (lead), but how could anyone project that he would be leading the tournament in scoring? It's a real pleasant surprise to see how much the team counts on him. They put him on all the time. He's really becoming a bona fide center as far as his NHL potential."

Clark feels the U.S. has a very good chance to take the gold on Tuesday because of its overall balance.

"As much as Stepan's leading it, they're getting scoring from other guys," said Clark. "This really is the best I've ever seen the U.S. play as a team at the World Juniors. There's no question that this U.S. team had to come out of the first game against Canada thinking about how much they dominated for more two periods."

Like Stepan, Kreider has also turned heads with his offense. His five goals so far include a hat trick in a round-robin rout of Latvia.

High-scoring Ryan Bourque didn't balk when the U.S. coaching staff asked him to take on a defensive role in this year's World Juniors.
A freshman at Boston College,  the 18-year-old Kreider was the Rangers' first-round pick, No. 19 overall, at Montreal last June. During his prep-school career at Andover, Kreider was always recognized for remarkable skating ability and speed. Clark said his emergence at this tournament has been particularly noteworthy.

"He (Kreider) came from the weakest level of anything we scout in terms of prep-school hockey," said Clark. "And he's gone from that weakest level to playing in the World Junior and he's got five goals, which is right there at the top. He's really paying the price on the power play, and the goal he scored against Finland was just a scary type goal. He blew it over the guy's shoulder before anyone could blink. ... There's no way anyone expected to him do all this. Against Canada, he drew two penalties for people taking him down because he blew by them."

Clark said Kreider has a rare level of talent that made him a man among boys in prep school. At Boston College and in the World Junior, he is showing that he can be part of a great team effort.

"It all comes so natural to him that he was more of an individualist because of the weak leagues he was in. He could do it all because his skating is so good," Clark noted. "The time he's spent at Boston College has helped him learn a team game. Not too many people can skate as fast as him. He's just really scratching the surface of understanding the team game."

Bourque, the third Rangers prospect on Team USA, has been a high-scorer in his first major-junior season with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL. At the World Junior tournament, he has been asked to serve as a defensive forward and penalty-killer. Clark said Bourque, whose father is Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque, shows outstanding skill at both ends of the ice.

"He is one of the top scorers in the Quebec league, but he was asked here to play on more of a checking line," Clark said of Bourque. "He accepted that role and has been great in penalty killing and in preserving leads in the last two minutes of games. He's out there for every important situation on the ice."

Roman Horak didn't get to play a lot for the Czech squad at the World Junior tourney, but figures to have a much bigger role if he returns next year.
A fourth Rangers prospect, forward Roman Horak, is also at the World Juniors as a member of the Czech team. The Czechs missed the medal round but emerged from the relegation to ensure that they will return to the tournament next year.

Horak, a fifth-round pick last June, currently plays for the Western Hockey League's Chilliwack Bruins, where he is among his team's top scorers. He didn't receive as much ice time in this year's World Juniors, but would likely be a key member of next year's Czech team.

In his final World Junior tournament game on Monday, Horak helped the Czechs beat Slovakia 5-2 for a seventh-place finish. Horak had one shot on goal in limited ice time.

"He's a very clever center iceman and really plays the position," Clark said of Horak. "He knows where people are behind him and he can move the puck. He's come over from the Czech Republic and jumped right into the WHL and taken all the abuse there, but he just didn't play very much in this tournament. He was happy to be part of it, though. With him it's really all about waiting for his body to mature."
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