During the 2006-07 season, defenseman Dan Girardi
proved to be one of the most reliable Rangers over the second half of the season. Stepping into the lineup as an undrafted rookie, Girardi played with the poise of a veteran and by the end of the season was managing to shut down some of the league's highest-scoring forwards.
Shortly after the playoffs ended, the Rangers signed 21-year-old Michael Busto, another undrafted free agent defenseman whom they believe has the potential to play regularly and reliably in the NHL. Because of their similar situations, comparisons between Busto and Girardi will be inevitable, but there's no doubt Busto's junior career indicates he has what it takes to make the jump and could emerge as an offensive threat in the NHL
The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder from suburban Vancouver had a standout season with the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League in 2006-07, registering 20 goals and 43 assists for 63 points, along with 79 penalty minutes and a plus-21 rating in 70 games.
|Michael Busto got his first taste of the MSG Training Center ice at the Rangers' Prospect Development Camp in late June. |
Busto led Kootenay defenseman in goals, assists and points, finishing third in scoring among all WHL blueliners. He also ranked third in the WHL for goals by a defenseman, and his 27 power-play assists ranked him 12th in the entire league. He was also in the WHL's top 40 for scoring.
"Michael is a very steady, firm and in control defenseman," said Rangers Head Coach Tom Renney. "He doesn't get too rattled or worked up. He plays with the poise that you need back there and makes simple, smart decisions. He's got some bite and sandpaper to his game, too, where he finishes his checks and plays you hard down low. We like that, and we see this as a good signing for a young free agent player who will probably take a few years until he gets to the point where he is challenging for an NHL job, but we believe we've got that in him."
Given all of his upside, it's hard to understand why a player like Busto could slip through the 2004, 2005 and 2006 NHL Entry Drafts, making him eligible to sign with any team.
"That's a good question," said Rangers Assistant Coach Mike Pelino. "You look at someone like a Dan Girardi
who didn't get drafted, and it's probably that Michael doesn't have one quality that makes him stand out above everyone else. It's just that he's got a lot of good qualities, and I think Girardi was the same way. It's not where he's an exceptional skater, has an exceptional shot or is either an offensive defenseman or defensive defenseman; he can just to everything well. And I think that's what Mike's got in his repertoire."
Pelino is one of the biggest advocates of Busto.
"Busto, I think, is someone who's got good potential. He's got good hockey sense on the back end. He's got the ability to shoot the puck. He needs to continue to improve his quickness and foot speed. I think right now he's trying to find himself as to what his ideal playing weight is. He's someone who I've liked and had my eye on for a real long time."
The Rangers first contacted the 21-year-old last spring, as he neared the end of his junior career with Kootenay.
"They came up to watch one of my playoff games," Busto recalled. "I played pretty well, and they were pretty happy, so we started talking once my season was over. From there I went on to signing a contract offer."
A confident young man, Busto knows what he brings to a team.
"I am a player that can play physical," he said. "I can slow down the offense that is coming at me. I can make that first pass, and I see the ice pretty well so I can jump into the play and make the right choices usually. Still, I definitely need to get quicker and faster for the pro game. I've got to sort of learn from everyone I watch and pick up little traits from the older players."
Busto will arrive at his first Rangers training camp next month, and if he's looking for inspiration, he'll have a great mentor in Girardi, who has already shown that missing out on the draft experience can be a blessing in disguise.