| • Rangers Select Five More Players on Day 2 of Draft |
It's not every day that an NHL team can draft NHL Central Scouting's top European draft-eligible player and The Hockey News' No. 5-ranked prospect down at the 17th overall pick.
For the New York Rangers scouting staff, Friday night's opening round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft at Nationwide Arena in Columbus was a dream evening, as the Blueshirts were able to nab Alexei Cherepanov, one of the draft's most talented players, with their first-round pick.
"We are thrilled to add a player with the talent and skill Alexei possesses," said Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather. "He has tremendous upside and is an outstanding addition to our organization."
Cherepanov is a dynamic scorer who dazzled scouts as an 18-year-old with Avangard Omsk of the Russian Superleague in 2006-07. Playing against grown men, Cherepanov scored 18 goals and 29 points in 46 games. His 18 goals broke Pavel Bure's Superleague rookie record of 17, which Bure set nearly 20 years ago.
The numbers Cherepanov put up for Omsk were nothing short of spectacular. At that same age when he was playing Russia, Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin had fewer goals (13) and fewer points (23), as did Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin and Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk. These three players are considered the best first-round picks to come out of Russian hockey in recent years, and Cherepanov will look to follow in their footsteps.
Nicknamed "The Siberian Express", Cherepanov was also honored last January as the top forward at the 2007 World Junior Championships, leading Russia to a silver medal against a Canadian team that included Rangers prospects Marc Staal and Tom Pyatt. Cherepanov also won a gold medal at the 2007 Under-18 World Championships, where he was utterly dominant, according to Rangers Head Amateur Scout Gordie Clark.
As thrilled as the Rangers were to land Cherepanov -- a player their scouts had rated much higher than 17 -- the young Russian himself was even more delighted that he will be pursuing his NHL career in New York. Speaking through an interpreter, a beaming Cherepanov said that Blueshirts captain Jaromir Jagr is his favorite player and the Rangers are the NHL team he most wanted to join.
Indeed, the prospect of coming to New York was especially appealing to Cherepanov, who had already scheduled a trip there for this weekend. He said he was particularly interested in visiting the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, where a large community of Russian immigrants is sure to welcome him with open arms.
Now Cherepanov won't just be visiting New York for the weekend. He'll remain in the area to participate in the Rangers' Prospect Development Camp next week, which will feature all of the team's up-and-coming players.
Although he expressed a bit of disappointment in dropping down to No. 17 on Friday, Cherepanov said the wait was well worth it, and he simply couldn't wipe the grin off his face as he went on about the prospect of playing for the Rangers.
"I was a little bit surprised," said Cherepanov. "But I'm not really regretting it now, because New York is such a great place to play."
Cherepanov looks forward to meeting Jagr in the near future and is already familiar with the Blueshirts captain from the 2004-05 lockout season, when Jagr played in Russia with the same Omsk team that Cherepanov played for this past year. He seemed overwhelmed at the possibility of calling Jagr and teammate and said he fully expected to be an NHL player no later than the 2008-09 season after possibly spending another year in Russia.
Asked if his aspirations of being an NHLer within two seasons were overly optimistic, Cherepanov said he has a history of achieving the goals he sets for himself, and this was one of those goals. He said his goals were to become faster and more physically prepared for the NHL game.
"Everything I've heard about Alexei has been outstanding," said Rangers head coach Tom Renney. "In talking to our scouts, I really like the fact that he's got a high level of skill and is a creative thinker and that he has an instinct for the game that really enables him to exhibit his skill. That's exactly what you hope for with a guy that's gifted like that.. ... This is obviously something we're really excited about."
Not only did Cherepanov rank first among European skaters in the Central Scouting year-end ratings and fifth in the prestigious Hockey News poll, he was also the fourth-ranked prospect by International Scouting Service, and Red Line Report had him at No. 11. The consensus opinion of all the draft experts is that Cherepanov was truly a steal at the 17th pick.
The selection of Cherepanov gave the Rangers one of the draft's best forwards at a spot few teams could have expected to get him. In Cherepanov and Artem Anisimov, last year's second-round pick, the Rangers now have the NHL rights to two of Russia's top players under age 20 -- both offensive talents with the potential to light up the Madison Square Garden scoreboard for years to come.
That so many NHL teams let Cherepanov slip through their grasp was one of the draft's biggest surprises. Even forwards rated far below him in every scouting service report were taken well ahead of the Russian, including Colton Gillies, the No. 16 pick by Minnesota, which had traded up ahead of the Rangers.
The most likely explanation for Cherepanov's drop to No. 17 was that other teams feared it might be difficult to get him to leave his native Russia. Given his obvious personal eagerness to live and play in New York, the Rangers didn't have that concern when it came time for them to pick.
Cherepanov's name was announced by Clark, and a Rangers jersey was handed to him by Vladimir Lutchenko, the team's Russia-based scout who saw more of Cherepanov than anyone else in the organization over the past season.
The draft continues on Saturday morning at 10 a.m., with the Rangers scheduled to make five more picks over the next six rounds.