After 21 years as a member of the Rangers European Scouting team, Director of player personnel for Europe, Christopher Rockstrom has been let go by the organization. The man who scouted star goalie Henrik Lundqvist is gone. Could this be signaling a trend in the organization against picking European players?
In this year’s draft in Los Angeles, the Rangers selected one European player. With their sixth round pick, the Rangers selected Jesper Fasth, of Sweden.
In 2009, the Rangers selected two European players—Czech forward Roman Horak in the fifth round, and Russian forward Mikhail Pashnin in the seventh round. Horak spent this past season in the CHL, and Pashnin remained in Russia.
In 2008, the Rangers had two picks in the third round. Both were used on European players. Forward Evgeny Grachev and defenseman Tomas Kundratek both joined the Rangers organization with relatively early picks. However, both players would come to play in the CHL the following season.
We all remember the Rangers first round pick in 2007, the late Alexei Cherepanov. A player who nobody expected to fall to the Rangers at pick No. 17. In the end, the career of what could possibly have been a great player was cut short.
The Rangers would go on in that draft to take Carl Hagelin of Sweden in the sixth round and David Skokan of Slovakia in the seventh. Hagelin then came to America to play NCAA hockey for the University of Michigan Wolverines. Skokan had already been playing in the QMJHL for the Rimouski Oceanic.
It was in 2006, that the Rangers selected four European players, the most in the post-lockout era. These picks are headlined by second round pick, Artem Anisimov from Russia, who showed flashes during a solid rookie campaign this past season. However, the rest of the draft would prove to not be so successful.
After Anisimov, the Rangers selected David Kveton on the fourth round. Kveton came over and played half a season in North America with the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL before returning to the Czech Republic, where it looks like he will stay.
In the fifth round, the Rangers selected Tomas Zaborsky of Slovakia. Zaborsky would come to play in North America after his draft year, playing with the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL. He would even earn a pro contract, getting time with the Rangers top affiliate, the Hartford Wolfpack after his last junior season.
However, the following year would prove to be a difficult one for Zaborsky. Having trouble sticking with the players in the AHL, he would inevitably be sent to the ECHL. His time as a pro in North America was done. He spent this season playing in the Finnish league.
The Rangers used their final pick, in the seventh round on Lukas Zeliska, a little known prospect, who like the previous two in this draft, came to North America, only to return back home, ending their chances of becoming members of the New York Rangers. The playmaking center had a solid rookie campaign in the more defensive WHL, with the Prince Albert Raiders. But Zeliska would return to the Czech Republic.
So of four European players taken in that year, only one, Artem Anisimov, seems to be in the Rangers plans for the future. Glen Sather and the rest of the Rangers brass must have been giddy when they saw that three of their four European picks were coming to North America to play.
However, it is the one player that stayed there for the season after his draft, Artem Anisimov, that has so far proven to be a success.
So after a draft which three picks would end up back in European leagues, are the Rangers being more careful with European draft picks? If one looks at their top prospects, Evgeny Grachev appears to be the only European who is seriously competing for a spot on the Rangers roster next season.
The pipeline is headlined by such names as Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagn, Chris Kreider, Ethan Werek, Ryan Bourque, Michael Sauer, Chad Johnson, Dany Byers, Brodie Dupont, and Dale Weise.
A lot of European Rangers prospects have been picked in the later rounds of the draft. As they search for the diamond in the rough, the Rangers have yet to prove that they can use a late pick that has an impact, the way Henrik Lundqvist did in the seventh round of the 2000 draft.
So, could the Rangers be less excited about the European prospects? Or are they putting less pressure on them to have an immediate impact in North America? Either way, it is clear that the team has steadily cut back on drafting in Europe. It appears the future of the New York Rangers is in the hands of some very talented, North American prospects.