Though it never hurts to add depth to your prospect pool in any position the Rangers had an organizational need of defensemen and goaltending going into yesterday's draft. Gordie Clark admitted as much. For them to then draft three forward with their first three picks indicates that the scouting staff viewed Tambellini, Buchnevich, and Duclair respectively as the clear-cut superior picks to any available defenseman or goaltender at those positions. With 4th and 6th rounders to spare, however, they did address the need with one defenseman and goaltender each.
110th Overall: Ryan Graves, Defenseman, Prince Edward Island Rocket [QMJHL]
Seemingly no relation to Adam Graves, Ryan was the second consecutive player the Rangers selected from the QMJHL, with Anthony Duclair going 80th overall. The first thing that stands out with Graves is his hulk-like stature. Graves measures at 6'4, 220 pounds and, just turning 18 a month ago, could even still have a couple growth spurts left in him.
Graves plays the exact kind of game you hope somebody with his size would. The Vanguard has quotes from a former coach of Graves while he was playing bantam hockey in Canada.
“'One thing I was always so proud of Ryan for was his ability to block shots. He was never afraid to put his body in front of any shot coming from any direction,' says Churchill. 'That is one thing that I always told my other defensemen through the years, that in order to go to the next level you need to be willing to sacrifice your body or whatever it takes to keep the puck out of your net.'"
There's a Tortorella joke to be made here, but no matter which team you play for or who is head coach blocking shots and taking abuse are going to be part of the game. And Churchill's words are accurate. Some defensemen, like Ryan McDonagh, have enough ability to get by. Others do not. Dan Girardi is, aesthetically, a very average defenseman. His complete absence of fear and his willingness to take some significant pain to make a play are what make him such a quality player. Obviously, hockey is far more than a masochism contest and Grabes is going to have to develop the whole of his game, but a willingness to make take pain to make a difference is often the difference between a career AHLer and an NHL defenseman.
As is the case with most big defensemen, Graves is probably going to take a long time to develop. Size means virtually nothing if you can't keep pace with NHL forwards, and so Graves is going to hit some bumps in the road as he works to improve his foot speed as well as learns to compensate for a lack of speed with body positioning and his long reach. Zdeno Chara didn't really stick as a full-time NHLer until he was 24. Adam McQuaid was 23 in his first full season. Matt Greene was 23. And even then, none of these guys were at their peak. Graves is not going to be NHL-relevant for a while, with a 4th round pick, makes sense as a long-term project.
170th Overall: Mackenzie Skapski, Goaltender, Kootenay Ice [WHL]
On June 14th, 1994, the New York Rangers won their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. On June 15th, 1994, Mackenzie Skapski was born. Now, he is a New York Rangers draft pick. What does this mean? Absolutely nothing. But it's a convenient way to start a brief profile of Mackenzie Skapski.
Scott Stajcer (22), Jasson Missiaen (23), and Cam Talbot (25) are the three goaltenders currently in the Rangers' farm system. While all three still could develop into NHL-caliber goaltenders none have done much of anything to allow anyone to feel comfortable about the goaltending situation beyond Lundqvist and Biron. Nineteen-year-old Skapski puts some young, fresh meat in the pipeline. At 6 foot 3, Skapski has more than adequate size, though, like most prospects, will have to add some muscle. Here's a brief profile on Skapski from WHL From Above's Cody Nickolet:
"Skapski is a big, well-structured goalie…He's got great size, uses it to his advantage with good positioning. This was his first full year as a starter and he was a monster in the second half of the season, guiding the Ice to the playoffs. Have to imagine teams show some interest after passing up on him last year, now that he's got a more complete resume."
You can find NHL players in all rounds no matter the position, but this seems to be especially true for goaltenders. A quick look around the league reveals that some of the better goaltenders were not exceptionally high draft picks. Our own Lundqvist went in the 7th round, and others such as Pekka Rinne, Mike Smith, Jonathan Quick, and Braden Holtby are other examples. He can hardly be penciled in as the heir apparent to King Henrik but Skapski gives the Rangers some sorely needed upside in the goaltending department.
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