The Rangers saw an opportunity to get the player the organization coveted in the first round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft in Marc Staal
, so the front office dialed up the Atlanta Thrashers and swung a deal to obtain the 12th pick of the day.
The Rangers dealt the 16th and 41st selections in the Draft to the Thrashers for the right to move up five slots, and the savvy move paid off big-time, as New York was able to get a burly 18-year old defenseman, who they thought would never be around when it came time for them to step up to the podium.
"We felt we were very fortunate to be in a position to make a deal like that," Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather said Saturday from the Draft floor in Ottawa. "To have this guy available to us at this position was pretty lucky."
The 6'3", 196-pound defenseman, who was projected to be taken high in the first round, went into the Entry Draft ranked ninth overall in North America by Central Scouting, so the Rangers figured they almost had no chance of getting the highly-skilled backliner with their selection.
"We made plans that he might not be there and tried to focus in on areas around there," Rangers amateur scout Rich Brown said." But when he started to slip, we started getting enthusiastic that there was maybe a chance that he'd be there."
But thanks to some quick maneuvering by the Rangers front office, the team was able to reel in the player they wanted in the opening round. Staal tallied 26 points (6 goals, 20 assists) and 53 penalty minutes with the Sudbury Wolves (OHL) during the 2004-05 season. He is considered a mobile and competitive blueliner who logs a ton of icetime, especially when the opposing team has its top line on the ice.
"As a young player in the Ontario Hockey League, which is a tough league to play defense in, for a 17-year old he stepped in and played extremely well in all critical situations," Brown said. "At critical times in all games he was their go-to guy, which says something for such a young player. We were very excited about the possibilities of him as a pro."
And Staal is just as excited to be coming to New York.
"I'm really glad to be here. I had to sweat it out a little bit, but I wasn't too concerned," Staal, whose older brother Eric was selected No. 2 overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2003, said. "As long as I got picked sometime in the first round, it really didn't bother me too much."
"Eric's given me quite a bit of advice already. He's told me just how good everyone is and how hard you have to work to get to that level. So I'm looking forward to trying to do that. Hopefully in a couple of years I'll fill out size-wise and be ready for the pros. I spend a lot if time in the gym just trying to get myself prepared."
The Rangers can't wait to get the young two-way player in their lineup, as he's very smart player on both sides of the puck. Staal has the ability to do whatever needs to be done on the ice to help his team. If you need him to clear the front of your net so your goaltender can see, he can do that. If you need him to clear the front of your net for your goaltender, he can do that. If you need him to start the play the other way with one quick pass, he can also help you out there. The Rangers consider him the complete blueline package.
"He's skates very well for a 6-foot-4 young man and he has terrific hockey sense," Brown said. "He understands the game on both sides of the puck. I think the ability for a defenseman to move the puck is critical and I think he does that's something that he does well. He played a little bit in the power play this year and he showed good sense there as well. We'll have to see how that develops as a pro, but certainly the ability to see the ice and make reliable first passes are things that he does really well, so we're excited about that moving forward."