When the New York Rangers made an unexpected decision to trade promising prospect Christian Thomas to the Montreal Canadiens in return for Danny Kristo many were perplexed. It was not an ostensibly poor move, but rather an interesting one; it's not often you see teams swapping well-regarded prospects without there being some sort of "catch" or circumstance that makes a trade foreshadowed, in sorts. A player requesting a trade, maybe. Or a blatant need for a change in scenery. That was not the case here, but rather two teams seemingly viewing the other team's prospect as the better value. In sum, it's a trade that Gordie Clark and the New York Rangers are making based on pure instinct. So lets look back at recent history and evaluate just how good Clark and the rest of the scouting staff has done with more notable trades involving prospects.
January 6th, 2006: Rangers Trade Maxim Kondratiev To Mighty Ducks For Petr Sykora And 4th Round Pick
I hesitated before including this transaction as Kondratiev was 22 years old and had played 29 games in the NHL prior to the move. Far off from being an established NHLer, but not exactly a full-blown prospect, either. Nonetheless, Kondratiev was acquired from the Maple Leafs in the infamous Brian Leetch trade and had upside. He was not overly impressive during his stint with the Rangers and he was moved to Anaheim (who were still "Mighty" back then) in return for Petr Sykora, who produced a moderately impressive 31 points in 40 games with the Rangers and was helpful in their first playoff push in eight years. Kondratiev, meanwhile, played four whole games for Anaheim before opting to play in Russia, where he has remained since.
February 5th, 2007: Rangers Trade Jason Ward, Marc-Andre Cliche, And Jan Marek To Kings For Sean Avery, John Seymour
With the Rangers having won only three of their last 10 games and lacking energy, a move needed to be made to change the dynamic on the ice. Sather made a bold move, acquiring the controversial Sean Avery from the Los Angeles Kings. Cliche, a former second round pick, supposedly had an NHL future as a two-way forward in some capacity, while Marek was a wildcard prospect who was making a name for himself in Europe but seemed reluctant to make the transition to North America. Cliche has played a total of one NHL game for the Kings. Marek remained in Europe, most recently playing for Atlant of the KHL during the 2010-2011 season.
(UPDATE: As commentor PeterAltomare pointed out, Jan Marek unfortunately passed away in the 2011 Lokomotiv plane crash. )
Sean Avery sort of speaks for himself, both metaphorically and quite literally. Avery remained outspoken and controversial during his time with the Rangers and you will find a vast array of opinions on him and his tenure with the Rangers. But this much is objectively true; Avery spent parts of six seasons with the Rangers and had moments where he gave the team the spark it sorely needed. And that's far more than anything Marek and Cliche have combined for at the NHL level.
February 27th, 2007: Rangers Trade Pascal Dupuis, 3rd Round Pick To Thrashers For Alex Bourret
Dupuis, 27, was acquired from the Minnesota Wild in return for Adam Hall, scored against the Hurricanes in his first game with the team, and then played five more games with the Rangers before being shipped off to the Thrashers along with a third round pick. In return the Rangers received Alex Bourret, a former first round pick whose stock had slipped largely because of concerns about his attitude and work ethic. Bourret would had a decent tenure with the Wolfpack, posting 51 points in 77 games, but ultimately did not do enough to earn enough faith from the Rangers to get a shot in the NHL.
Dupuis, meanwhile, had a nondescript tenure with the Thrashers before being shipped along with Marian Hossa to the Penguins, where he has since thrived. Dupuis has most recently produced back-to-back 20 goal seasons with the Penguins and earned a relatively healthy contract extension. It's perhaps Gordie Clark and the New York Rangers' biggest trading failure involving a prospect, though Dupuis' stats are probably boosted playing with guys like Crosby and Malkin and. In addition, Dupuis took multiple years – into his early 30's – to really figure out his niche. It's hard to blame anyone for not foreshadowing that occurance. Nonetheless, the Rangers did cut bait with Bourret and moved him to the Coyotes for a 3rd round pick.
June 30th, 2009: Rangers Trade Scott Gomez, Tom Pyatt, and Michael Busto for Chris Higgins, Ryan McDonagh, and Pavel Valentenko
Perhaps the most famous Rangers trade of the last decade, so everyone knows the story by now. Gomez was coming off a pretty heavy knee injury and was not living up to his contract. A lot of good things came out of this trade for the Rangers, such as opening up cap space for Marian Gaborik and moving Higgins to acquire Brandon Prust, but for the purposes of this article the focus is really on the acquisition of then-prospect Ryan McDonagh. McDonagh was very highly thought of when the Canadiens drafted him 12th overall in the 2007 draft but Montreal scouts were very concerned with McDonagh's (lack of) development in his first couple of years with Wisconsin. In fact, Tom Pyatt, brother of Taylor, would go on to have a nice rookie season as a shutdown center with the Canadiens and led some (though probably a minority) to believe that perhaps it was the Habs who acquired the best prospect in the deal.
The Rangers, however, convinced McDonagh to skip his senior season at Wisconsin and sign a professional contract. A short stint with the Wolfpack and McDonagh would soon earn his first call-up with the Rangers. He would never look back. Though Gomez certainly did not do much to lessen the blow of this trade for Montreal, there was not much that he could have done that would have not made the acquisition of McDonagh a brilliant move by Sather and Clark. McDonagh, of course, just recently signed a 6-year extension with the Rangers and will feature on the team's first-pairing for years to come.
June 26th, 2010: Rangers Trade Bobby Sanguinetti To Hurricanes For 2nd, 6th Round Picks
Defenseman and Former first round pick Bobby Sanguinetti had an astounding junior career with the Owen Sound Attack and Brampton Battalion before moving on the the Hartforld Wolfpack, where he continued to put up points and was named an AHL All-Star in back-to-back seasons. There was certainly plenty of reason to be optimistic about Sanguinetti's future as an offensive defenseman in the NHL. However, though he did skate well, he was not overly impressive in a five-game stint with the Rangers. That combined with the emergence of Michael Del Zotto, in midst of an impressive rookie campaign with the Rangers at only 19, perhaps led the Rangers to give up on a prospect they were once so very high on and ship him to Carolina. Since the move, Sanguinetti has bounced between the NHL and AHL, though this year he finally stuck at the NHL level. With 2 goals and 4 assists in 37 games this past season, and already 25 years old, Sanguinetti still could put together a healthy NHL career, but he most probably will never reach initial expectations.
The Rangers put those draft picks to use. The 6th round pick acquired from the Hurricanes was used on a relatively unknown Swede named Jesper Fasth. Now going by "Fast," the young Swedish winger has made a name for himself in the Swedish Elite League and will come over to North America for the upcoming season, where he has a real chance to compete for an NHL spot immediately. They never got to use that second round pick, which was moved along with another 2nd and prospect Roman Horak, for Tim Erixon; thus creating a branch-off of the initial trade. Horak has had a few stints with the Flames and has shown flashes of ability, but is nothing special at this point. Erixon was of course a huge part of the Rick Nash trade, and therefore well worth the investment for the Rangers. Credit to Clark and Co. for moving on from Sanguinetti while he still had value and then using the return pieces to boost the organization in multiple ways.
May 8th, 2011: Rangers Trade Ethan Werek To Coyotes For Oscar Lindberg
Werek was a second-round pick of the Rangers in the 2009 NHL draft and had an impressive sophomore season with the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL. However, injuries and suspensions clouded his final season with the Frontenacs, and the Rangers were apparently not happy with Werek's development, feeling he had stagnated. The Rangers were noticibly quiet in the final days in which they had to sign Werek or else lose him altogether, and there is a belief that Werek would not have been signed had he not been traded to the Coyotes in return for 2009 second-round pick Oscar Lindberg.
Werek was signed by the Coyotes and has underwhelmed in the AHL. He produced 25 points in 67 games this past season, which is not overly impressive for a 22-year-old. Werek still could develop into an NHL-caliber player but the odds are against him at this point.
Lindberg was an afterthought for many. A decent prospect who could have some upside as a 3rd or 4th line center. He produced 10 points in 46 games for Skellefteå, which aren't terrible numbers for a 20-year-old in the Swedish Elite League, but certainly nothing to get excited about.
The following season, this past one, was the one in which Lindberg had his coming out party. Lindberg was finally healthy after dealing with a concussion, and made waves as the first-line center for Skellefteå, blowing up for 42 points in 55 regular season games while leading Skellefteå to win the SEL championship with 13 points in 12 playoff games. Lindberg was named the most valuable player of the playoffs and has since been named to Sweden's preliminary roster for the 2014 Olympics. Like Fast, Lindberg will be moving to North America this upcoming season and has ballooned into one of the team's most valuable prospects and arguably the most NHL-ready prospect.
This is not an all-inclusive summation of all moves the Rangers have made since Clark took the reigns, but these are mostly the ones that were tangibly important one way or another. Clark and the rest of the scouting staff are not robots, so they're going to make mistakes. Still, a look over the history of moves the Rangers have made with prospects shows that, more often than not, they know what they are doing. Most of the prospects the Rangers have traded have not amounted to much, if anything, at the NHL level, while many who have been brought in have made their mark. It's a bit peculiar that the Rangers chose to give up on Thomas despite a solid rookie season in the AHL. But, as history shows, there's almost always a method to the madness. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion on the most recent Thomas-for-Kristo trade or any one in the future, but I certainly won't be one to question Clark and his staff. As history very clearly shows, Gordie knows best.
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