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Solid picks built current Rangers team

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Current Rangers on Draft Day
Rangers' Past First-Round Picks

If, as is often said, the road to the Stanley Cup begins at the draft table, then the New York Rangers are truly on the right track.

At Calgary in June of 2000, few Rangers fans could have known that young  Henrik Lundqvist was a man who would be King.
At the upcoming 2008 NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa on June 20-21, the Blueshirts will have an opportunity to add six new faces to the organization, including a first-round choice at the No. 20 overall position. These picks are in good hands with a Rangers scouting staff that has already brought in nearly half of the current roster and formed a core of young players whose entire NHL identity revolves around New York.

That sort of core is evident in this year's two Stanley Cup finalists. Both the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins can claim to have drafted at least half of their roster. In Detroit's case, 13 of the 23 players who have appeared in the playoffs began their NHL careers in Detroit either as draft picks or undrafted free agents. The list stretches back nearly 20 years to the selection of Nicklas Lidstrom in 1989.

The Wings and Penguins are actually the rule, rather than the exception. In the past 15 years, only three teams have won the Cup with five or fewer of their own draft picks. The Rangers did it in 1994 with Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Sergei Nemchinov, Sergei Zubov, and Alexei Kovalev. Tampa Bay repeated that achievement a decade later, also winning the Cup with only five of its own picks.

Last season, Anaheim claimed the Cup with only four draft picks in the fold, but five other Anaheim players had entered the league as undrafted free agents who signed with the Ducks.

Every Stanley Cup champion since 1995 has had at least six players on its roster who signed their first NHL contracts with the team, and the average number of such players on a Cup-winner over this period is 10.

Coincidentally, the Rangers' 2008 playoff roster featured exactly 10 players in this category, and more could be in the lineup next season.  Nine of these 10 Rangers players were drafted between 2000 and 2005. The 10th, defenseman Dan Girardi, joined the team as an undrafted free agent.

The Rangers' run of draft picks already playing for the team began eight years ago in Calgary, when the Blueshirts chose goaltender Henrik Lundqvist with the 205th overall pick in the seventh of nine rounds. In each subsequent year from 2001 to 2005, the team drafted at least one player who has already become a regular in the NHL.

The 2001 draft at the National Car Rental Center in Sunrise, Fla., brought defenseman Fedor Tyutin (Round 2, No. 40 overall) and forward Ryan Hollweg (Round 8, No. 238 overall). In 2002 at Toronto, the Blueshirts picked up winger Petr Prucha in the eighth round, 240th overall, and in 2003 at Nashville they added another speedy winger in Nigel Dawes (Round 5, No. 149 overall).

Few draft years in Rangers history can compare to the 2004 event at Raleigh, N.C. That draft saw the Rangers add four players who played in the NHL this season, including regular forwards Brandon Dubinsky (Round 2, No. 60 overall) and Ryan Callahan (Round 4, No. 127 overall). Lauri Korpikoski, who scored  a goal in his NHL debut during the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs, was a 2004 first-round pick (No. 19 overall), and Dane Byers, who played his first NHL game during the 2007-08 regular-season was one of four second-rounders (No. 48 overall).

In 2005, draft day in Ottawa brought defenseman Marc Staal at the No. 12 overall pick in the first round. The Blueshirts entered the draft with a No. 16 pick, but made a deal with San Jose to move up in the draft and get Staal – proof that anything can happen during an NHL Entry Draft.

Many of these players attended their respective drafts and were there to meet the Rangers scouts and executives when their names were called. Others who didn't expect to be high picks -- including Hollweg, Prucha, Dawes and Callahan -- missed out on the unique experience of being in the audience when their names were called.

The core of drafted Rangers is likely to increase over the next few years. Waiting in the wings are 2006 first-round pick Bobby Sanguinetti, a defenseman taken 21st overall, and 2007 first-rounder Alexei Cherepanov, a skilled forward who fell into the Rangers' lap at No. 17 overall last year. Then, of course, there are this year's picks, whose names will be known to Rangers fans within just over two weeks.
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