By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
All eyes within the Rangers organization will be on some of the team's top prospects on today as the 2008 IIHF World Junior Championship semifinals take place in Pardubice, Czech Republic
|Center Artem Anisimov, the Rangers' second-round pick in 2006, is one of the stars of this year's Russian team at the World Junior Championships. |
The two semifinal games pit Russia vs. Sweden at 10 a.m. ET and the U.S. vs. Canada at 2 p.m. ET. A total of four Rangers prospects are competing today, including 19-year-old defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti, who leads Team USA into battle against Canada in a game of significance to all North American hockey fans.
The winner of the USA-Canada game will face the winner of the other semifinal in the gold-medal game on Saturday. Three Rangers prospects are playing in that game, including Russian stars Artem Anisimov
and Alexei Cherepanov. Anisimov was the Rangers' second-round draft choice behind Sanguinetti in 2006, and Cherepanov was the Blueshirts' No. 1 choice in 2007. Carl Hagelin
, another Rangers 2007 draftee, is playing for Sweden, which assures the Blueshirts of having at least one prospect in the gold-medal game.
Sanguinetti, chosen 21st overall by the Rangers in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver, has had a solid tournament, so far, for the undefeated USA squad. The native of Lumberton, N.J. has recorded one goal and one assist playing in all four games, posting a plus-2 plus/minus rating. The smooth-skating defenseman notched both of his points in the United States' second game, a 4-2 win over Switzerland on Dec. 28.
This tournament marks Sanguinetti's first appearance for the United States National Junior Team. He earned a spot in this prestigious tournament after an outstanding start this season with the Brampton Battalion in the Ontario Hockey League. In 28 games prior to the start of the tournament, Sanguinetti was leading all OHL defenseman with 40 points on 17-23-40 scoring.
Sanguinetti is hoping to follow in the footsteps of another defenseman who was a first round pick of the Rangers, Marc Staal
. Last year Staal, the Rangers' top pick in the 2005 draft, played a key role in helping Canada win gold at the 2007 World Junior Championship. This season Staal is having a solid rookie campaign at the NHL level with the Rangers, a path that Sanguinetti certainly would love to emulate.
Of course, if Sanguinetti is to wear gold at the conclusion of this tournament, his United States squad will first have to beat the defending champion team from Canada. In a classic semifinal matchup in last year's tournament, Canada prevailed over the U.S. 2-1, winning after seven rounds of the shootout. The U.S., which has won the World Junior Championship only once, in 2004, ended up finishing in third place last year.
The other tournament semifinal on Friday will pit two of the tournament's hottest teams against each other. Sweden and Russia are a combined 8-1 at this year's World Junior event.
Cherepanov has registered two goals for Russia, which has posted a 4-1 record to date in the tournament. The 18--old missed Russia's first game because of the flu before scoring goals in the first two games in which he played.
The 19-year-old Anisimov is 1-3-4 and a plus-five while playing in all five Russian games to date. Of special note to the Rangers is that he has developed a nice chemistry with Cherepanov, assisting on both of his countryman's goals in this tournament.
Hagelin has played exclusively on Sweden's fourth line and has yet to record a point while playing in all four games.
One other Rangers prospect of note, nineteen year-old Slovakian center David Skokan, finished the tournament in strong fashion on Thursday. Skokan netted a pair of goals in Slovakia's 8-0 win over Kazakhstan and finished the tournament 2-6-8 in six games played. Seven of Skokan's eight points were recorded in Slovakia's last three games.
After the 2008 World Junior Championship concludes, Sanguinetti will return to Brampton to finish out the junior season. At that point the Rangers will decide if the talented backliner will join the club's AHL affiliate in Hartford as he did a year ago. NHL rules stipulate that players under the age of 20 must complete their junior season before making the jump to pro hockey.