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Rangers look to continue building with draft this weekend

With the NHL holding its annual Entry Draft tonight and Saturday, the New York Rangers will try to continue building a team that is on the rise in the Eastern Conference. The draft will be at the Xcel Energy Center, home of the Minnesota Wild. The Rangers have the 15th selection in the first round, the first spot that includes the picks of teams that made the playoffs.

This organization, although more than 80 years old, has come a long way in recent years. Back when the league didn’t have a salary cap, one could always rely on New York overpaying for a free agent and trading for big names while seeing their farm system dry out. A salary cap was installed after the 2004-05 lockout and things suddenly changed with this team.

Since teams were limited to the combined salaries of their players, it made it that more crucial to have young players that wouldn’t cost as much as a few free agent signings during the offseason. Scouts paid more attention to the talent pool and it has shown positive results. In the early 2000s, guys like Hugh Jessiman and Dan Blackburn were drafted really high by the Rangers, only to flameout due to skill and injury respectively. On the current roster, a good number of the guys are homegrown.

In 2000, before the Rangers started realizing the true purpose of the draft, they found a diamond in the rough in Henrik Lundqvist, a Swedish goaltender. He was picked 205th overall and has been one of the best netminders in the league over the past six years. Forward Brandon Dubinsky was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2004 draft and although a headache at times, is an effective player with a lot of heart. Ryan Callahan was drafted two rounds later and could be the new captain once Chris Drury gets his sorry behind out of town. Those three draftees have been the core of the young guns, but it’s getting better!

Forwards Artem Anisimov and Derek Stepan made big impacts this year and managed to stay healthy while most of their fellow comrades fell. Drafted in 2006 and 2008 respectively, they each saw huge strides of improvement, one from a rookie (Stepan) and one from a player that was only 22 during the year. One of the top defensive pairs in the game were also drafted and retained by the Blueshirts over this renaissance period. Marc Staal and Dan Girardi have been rocks on the blue-line and their solid play is so important for a team that struggles to find consistency on offense. Michael Sauer elevated his play about ten notches last year and Michael Del Zotto is still young enough to fight off adversity.

They also have more players waiting in the wings that Rangers fans should learn since they’ll be skating on The Garden ice soon enough. Chris Kreider, Ryan Bourque, Christian Thomas, and Carl Hagelin are all forwards that can strike at any time. I had the pleasure of watching Hagelin for four years at the University of Michigan. The swift Swede can do it all and will be a fan favorite once he’s in the NHL.

So when the Rangers pick tonight, I’d love to see them pick a defenseman that can move the puck and be a threat offensively. Last year, they passed up on Cam Fowler (who I thought was the third best player in the draft) for tough guy Dylan McIlrath. This time around, I hope they could get Ryan Murphy, who dominated the Ontario Hockey League last season. He led all OHL defensemen with 26 goals and was second with 79 points.

No matter who the Rangers select, it won’t take away all the positive strides the organization has made recently. They are forming a team the right way, by developing their own players and bringing them up together. The recent Stanley Cup victories by Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Chicago show that you don’t need big time free agent signings to reach the top. Never have I thought I’d say this in my life, but kudos to general manager Glen Sather and his assistants.