Draft day has always been one of the most important days on the NHL calendar, but for the prospects who get selected, today is more than just one day -- it's a moment they will remember for the rest of their lives.
Ask any NHL player to name the top 10 moments in his hockey career, and his draft day will likely be in there. From the time they first put on skates, many youngsters dream of playing in hockey's greatest league, and the elite players begin looking forward to their draft year from the moment they understand the concept.
The 2009 NHL Entry Draft class will be made up mostly of players born in 1991 -- a significant year in Rangers history that featured the arrival of Mark Messier. These teens are too young to remember the Blueshirts' Stanley Cup championship in 1994, but a number of them have significant ties to the team and the New York area.
Tonight's first round, televised live on Versus at 7 p.m., could include two sons of former Rangers players and a New York area native who grew up rooting for the Blueshirts. If one or all three don't get picked on Friday night, they would likely be scooped up in Round 2, which will be streamed live on NHL.com, beginning on Saturday at 10 a.m.
Here are four prospects to watch this weekend because of their special Rangers connections: Landon FerraroCenter
Projected Round 1
|Landon Ferraro spent some formative years in the New York area, as his father, Ray, was one of only a handful of former NHL players who played for both the Islanders and Rangers during the 1990s. |
Former NHL player Ray Ferraro
scored 25 goals in his 65 games with the Rangers during the 1995-96 season, when his son Landon was only 4 years old. Landon Ferraro plays the same center position as his dad. He is known for his goal-scoring ability as well as his attention to defense.
Born in Trail, British Columbia, Landon spent the bulk of his early years in the New York area, where his father played for both the Rangers (1995-96) and Islanders (1990 to 1995). He got his first taste of hockey during his father's years on the Island, and skated for the very first time with his older brother at an Isles team function.
Since his father was an NHL player, Landon had the opportunity to get to know many top stars at a young age, and his family now includes step-mother, Cammi Granato, who captained the U.S. women's team to the 1998 Olympic gold medal.
This past season, Ferraro scored 37 goals in 68 games with the WHL's Red Deer Rebels. That's far from his dad's record-setting junior pace of 108 goals in 1983-84, but the senior Ferraro played in a much higher-scoring era.
Like his father, Landon is very quick on his skates and was the fastest skater at the CHL Top Prospects Game's skills competition earlier this year. He also played for Canada at the Under-18 World Championships, picking up four points in five games.
"He's very good defensively," said NHL Central Scouting's Blair MacDonald in a quote on the NHL.com draft preview site. "He has very good defensive positioning; he's always on the right side of the puck. If there's a turnover he's in good position right away. And he comes back deep in his own zone to help. He's very strong defensively, as well as being an offensive threat."
The younger Ferraro says he is not the same type of player as his father and instead grew up striving to be like Mats Sundin. At 5-foot-11, Landon is hardly Sundin's size, but he's also a bit bigger than his own dad, who was listed at 5-10 during his playing days.
"The thing that really made him (Ray Ferraro) a really good player was his hockey sense, I think I've got that from him," Landon said of his father, who went on to become a broadcaster. "But other than that, no. He didn't have the best shot so he tried to stay around the net as much as he could. I have a better shot than he does and I can skate better; he doesn't want to admit to it that much, but I'm pretty sure I’ve got him beat in skating."Kyle Palmieri Right Wing
Projected Round 1
|Every Rangers fan can relate to what Kyle Palmieri experienced growing up a die-hard Blueshirts supporter in the heart of New Jersey Devils country. |
Born on Long Island in Smithtown, Palmieri grew up in Montvale, N.J., as "a huge Rangers fan" in the heart of Devils country. His childhood idol was Messier, and he began playing hockey at age 5 on a friend's backyard rink.
Although his loyalty was to the Rangers, Palmieri ended up playing for the New Jersey Devils Under-16 team while attending St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City. He was eventually selected to be part of USA Hockey's prestigious National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he spent the past season.
Next season, Palmieri will play at Notre Dame. He is committed to pursuing the college route, although he did have the option of jumping to the Ontario Hockey League, where his rights are owned by the Guelph Storm. Current Rangers forward Ryan Callahan
and defenseman Dan Girardi
both played on the Storm during their junior careers.
Palmieri is sometimes compared to Rangers captain Chris Drury. At 5-foot-10 and 191 pounds, his size is nearly identical to Drury's.
“I think Kyle's got a little bit of Chris Drury in him," said NHL Central Scouting's Jack Barzee in a quote on the NHL.com draft preview site. "I look at his passion, his natural skills and his tenaciousness, and that's what I saw in Chris. He's a lot of fun to watch because he has that vision along with a wicked shot. He very seldom passes up the opportunity to make the right play -- he's in position to shoot the puck and has that insight into whether to freeze and dish or just let it go.”
Palmieri's family is friendly with former New York Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson, who is Palmieri's godfather. Harrelson was a member of the Amazin' Mets team that won the World Series in 1969.Tim ErixonDefense
Projected Round 1 or 2
|Tim Erixon's father, Jan, was known for hard work and commitment to defense. Twent-eight years after Jan was drafted, Tim is now on NHL scouts' radars. |
Rangers fans over the age of 21 will likely Tim's father, Jan Erixon
, who played 556 games for the Rangers between 1983 and 1983. Jan was drafted by the Blueshirts in the second round of the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, and if Tim gets taken by the Rangers in this draft, it would mark the first time in team history that the Blueshirts drafted a father-son combination.
Even if he weren't Jan Erixon's son, Tim would be a noteworthy prospect. Born in Port Chester while his dad was playing for the Rangers during the 1990-91 season, Tim returned with his family to Skelleftea, Sweden, as a 2-year-old -- after his father retired from the NHL in 1993.
Growin up in Sweden, Tim began playing hockey at age 5. While his father was a left wing known for his defensive expertise, Tim emerged as a defenseman known for his skill and ability to contribute to the power play. In fact, Tim says his favorite NHL player is Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom, although he has learned so much about the NHL from his own father.
A member of Sweden's 2009 World Junior Championships team even before his 18th birthday, Erixon was a teammate of Victor Hedman, who could be the No. 1 or No. 2 overall pick in this year's draft. Together, they helped Sweden reach the gold medal game, where the Swedes fell to Canada 5-1. He also played for Sweden at the World Under-18 championships.
E.J. McGuire, the director of NHL Central Scouting, describes Tim as "a smart defenseman who can either lead a rush or support the rush from behind."
Central Scouting ranks Erixon as the No. 5 overall skater coming out of Europe this year. Given his pedigree and upside, there is a good chance he will be taken in the first round. Otherwise, he is seen as an early second-round pick.
Although his father spent an entire NHL career with the Rangers, the younger Erixon lists the Pittsburgh Penguins as his favorite NHL team in the NHL.com draft preview. Phil SamuelssonDefense
Projected Rounds 4-7
One of the most popular Rangers of the 1990s was Swedish defenseman Ulf Samuelsson
, who played four seasons with the Blueshirts from 1995 to 1999. Now, another Samuelsson is coming of age and looking to reach the NHL -- only this one is an American kid.
Unlike countryman Tim Erixon
, who moved back to Sweden after his career, Ulf Samuelsson has remained in North America. In the reverse of the Erixon situation, Ulf's oldest son, Philip, was born back in Sweden during the NHL off-season, but grew up in the various North American cities where his father played and coached hockey. At age 15, Philip landed in his current home of Phoenix, when his father began working with the Coyotes.
The youngers Samuelsson began playing hockey as a 5-year-old, shortly after his dad joined the Rangers. Some of his first skating experiences came at the Blueshirts' former practice facility in Rye, N.Y. Philip idolized his father while growing up and wears the No. 5 in his honor.
While Ulf Samuelsson was later coaching in the Rangers organization as an assistant with the Hartford Wolf Pack in 2005-06, Phil played in the Connecticut Lazers youth program.
Phil, who spent the 2008-09 season with the USHL's Chicago Steel, will enter Boston College in the fall. He played a big role in the U.S. Under-18 team's gold-medal win earlier this year and was plus-9 for the tournament. Although he also spent some time with a Swedish Under-18 team, Samuelsson is American and will play the rest of his international career for Team USA.
Steve Poapst, a former NHL defenseman who was Phil's coach in Chicago this year, said Samuelsson "seems to find himself in the right position at all times. He has a very active and good stick that allows him to break up a lot of plays defensively and wins most of his one on one battles for the puck. He is a player that is poised and confident with puck while under pressure and can make the right decision in most of those situations."
Samuelsson is projected to go outside the top 100 picks, but could be taken in the third round, since he is 6-foot-3 and has such great hockey genes.
"A lot of people will question his skating but he is so good at owning his space by making sure he is in the right position with a good stick it does not become a factor," said Poapst. "Phil has been very consistent this season and has improved greatly in the USHL. He is a leader on this team and comes ready to compete everyday. He has a lot of upside and will continue to grow as a player.” Andy BathgateCenter
Possible Pick in Rounds 4-7
His grandfather, Andy Bathgate
, was one of the greatest Rangers and NHL wingers of all time, with his No. 9 in the rafters at MSG, but 18-year-old Andy Bathgate, a center with the OHL's Belleville Bulls, is hardly a sure-fire draft pick this year.
Bathgate isn't ranked by NHL Central Scouting due to a mid-season shoulder injury, but places 167th on the International Scouting Service report, which could land him in one of the last two rounds of the draft. He scored four goals and 16 points in 44 games with Belleville this season -- stats that aren't eye-popping even for someone with a Hall of Fame name.
In a recent article on NHL.com, the younger Bathgate said he is very close to his grandfather and loves to hear stories about the Hall of Famer's NHL career.
"I wish I could shoot the puck as hard as he could," the younger Bathgate told NHL.com. "The way I try to play my game is playmaking and that's what he was famous for and that's what I take out of his game."
Bathgate's OHL coach, George Burnett, said his player was clearly influenced by his lineage.
"I think Andy's expectations for himself are tremendous as well," Burnett told NHL.com. "He'd be the first to tell you that he's gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and has a tremendous amount of respect for his grandfather and what he accomplished in the game."
Both Bathgates are 6-feet tall, but the grandson is only 164 pounds and would need to add bulk to take his career to the next level.
"My size is a little bit of an issue," he said. "I'm just not as naturally big as other guys. I play around it, play a smart game. Just be smart about it, but work on it every day, try to get stronger."