Ranked as one of the lowest Prospect teams in the NHL by most experts the Rangers went into the 1999 NHL draft in Boston with the hopes of turning things around. Well I guess a 180 is about as big of a turn around as you can expect. Neil Smith took a gamble on moving up in the draft which should have been expected since he told all the NY papers he wasn’t interested in moving up. The first deal was a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning which gave Neil Smith the 4th overall pick in the draft and guaranteed him the chance to draft one of the tier one prospects in the draft no matter what. When the Atlanta Thrasher decided Stefan was their man and the Vancouver Canucks pulled off a coop by nabbing the Sedin twins the Rangers realized for the second straight year a top gun fell into their lap. Pavel Brendl, the offensive catalyst of the WHL Calgary Hitmen was theirs. Without a second thought the Rangers made their move and got what they have not had since Mike Gartner, a pure scoring sniper.
The Rangers weren’t done though. Shaking the pot a bit they traded Marc Savard and the 11th pick to Calgary for the 9th pick. The Rangers eyed Jamie Lundmark… the Rangers prize prospect all year long. Scouts saw him and they were screaming Jeremy Roenick…and he quickly became the guy the Rangers wanted. When the Isles claimed Taylor Pyatt 8th the groundwork was laid for the claiming of the kid who “turned the entire Moose Jaw Program around” as Martin Madden, director of pro scouting for the Rangers, called Lundmark in an interview before the draft.
In the Round that followed the Rangers claimed slick center David Inman, who has the potential to be a second round steal. In the 4th they claimed one of Swedens elite goalies in Johan Asplund. Suddenly the Rangers system went from dog house to town house as the Rangers remodeled their whole prospect system. Here is a closer look at the Rangers future which all came together on June 26th, 1999 a day which may go down as the day the Rangers turned their future around.
Pavel Brendl: The Kid is listed as a RW but he played LW down in the WHL, most of the time. This kid knows how to score… actually let me restate that, this kid IS AN OFFENSIVE FACTORY!!! Every once in a while there is a kid who sees things before they happen and changed the outcome of a game without trying. It happened in 1990 when a young Czech named Jagr fell into the Penguins laps in the first round. It may happen again when another young Czech fell into the Rangers laps on June 26th. Ten years from now this kid could be a superstar, world class player. Regardless of his lack of defense, this kids scoring makes up for it. Defense can be taught to the extent it is no longer a drawback. Offense is either there or it isn’t. The Rangers hit the jackpot on this one. Listed at 6’0 in CSB, Brendl is probably closer to 6’2 as he grew this year. He is also said to read in around 204 pounds. Brendl matured as the year went on and slowly realized the value of conditioning. Some reports have him at a leaner 195 which seems more correct. Ranger fans should remember this day, because this could prove to a monumental in Rangers history thanks to one certain Right winger.
Jamie Lundmark: Call it love at first sight, call it destiny, but call Jamie Lundmark a New York Ranger. Way back in November I wrote an article about a kid named Lundmark playing in the WHL. Few new him outside of the WHL circles, and even fewer knew that the Ranger already had tabs on this kid a mile high. Director of scouting Marti Madden saw this kid personally several times and each way came away more and more impressed. They saw a hard nosed player play his heart out game after game and saw something they regretted not having 11 years earlier, a chance to draft a kid like that. It was back in 1988 that a young center names Jeremy Roenick was out there for the taking. The Rangers had no first round pick that year and missed the chance to draft this kid who was described as “pure TNT”. Not letting the chance slip him by the Rangers traded for the 9th pick and took Lundmark. Scouts look at his size and point to that fact he is only 180 pounds. But Roenick was 165 when he was drafted. Lundmark, like Roenick, will need a year or two to grow physically and reach maturity with his body. But when he arrives you’re going to see a 6’0, 200 pound center who takes the game in his hands and turns it around. If Manny Malhotra is the future second line player of this team then Lundmark could be the first line star. Had he been the only Ranger pick he’d be all over the front page of every NY paper but being drafted behind Brendl gave him an advantage. He can grow and quietly develop while all the attention is paid to his WHL counterpart. A similar situation occurred back in 1986 when the Red Wings second pick was a certain young center named Adam Graves… then a 5’11, 180 pound center in the OHL. Ludmark is very much like Graves in his game and his heart. Seen as a future team leader and maybe captain, Lundmark’s brash style will make him one of the most popular Rangers in a few years. Mark my words.
David Inman: How does a slick center who is so incredibly smart slip into the second round. Simple, you have an off year. Scouts were disappointed with Inman’s showing during his first year of College and yet they know he is talented. It was all a matter of what team will take a flyer on him. The Rangers picked that flyer and potentially have a steal on their hands. Inman reminds me of a certain center who only recently has had his value appreciated around the NHL. That player is none other then Stars Center Joe Nieuwendyk. Built similarly Inman looks a lot like Nieuwendyk did at 19 as a player in college. Not bad for a second round pick don’t you think? At 6’1 and 190 pounds Inman needs another 10 pounds to be effective… but size and skill together are rare and Inman has a nice combination of both… watch this kid.
Johan Asplund: With Cloutier traded earlier in the day the Rangers figured they might want to give themselves more options for their future in goal. Asplund is certainly a nice option. Many onlookers in Sweden consider him one of the best goalies there. While European goalie remain risky. Asplud is one of those kids who could beat the odds. He is more advanced then John Holmquist was at this age and certainly looks like a card to hold onto for the future.
To sum it all up the 1999 NHL draft was one of a kind. The talent level was great, and the excitement was at an all time high. The Rangers made risky moves.. but yet they were moves that needed to be made. Sundstrom regardless of what Ranger fans want to believe was never going to get any better with the Rangers, like Kovalev he might be suited somewhere else. It is no secret he wasn’t a Muckler favorite… so why keep him if he is going to be miss used.
Cloutier is a tuff pill to swallow… but at the same time a prospect like Brendl is rarer then a Rangers goal fest. In an increasing low scoring NHL the Rangers drafted a kid who is potentially a game breaker and who can put people in their seats. As for the picks in the 2000 draft, its a crap shoot like any other draft so no harm done. Especially when you consider the Rangers got a blue chip kid in Brendl.
Lundmark is a steal at number 9. He is the type of kid you win with. A legit first line center prospect. When you see him you think Jeremy Roenick. Marc Savard is a good player. But lets face it, on a team like NY a generously listed 5’11 pass only center is kind of not what is needed. Savard is closer to 5’9.. trust me on that one. In his prime Savard would be barely a second liner who gets maybe 55 points… 40 of which would be goals. At 5’11 he isn’t a fit for a Rangers team that needs size. The Western Conference is good for him and he is the type of player the Flames need. The picks cancel themselves out. Having seen Lundmark play I don’t think twice about this deal. I fell in love with this kid back in November.. and he doesn’t worry be at all. He is a player. His game is perfect for the NHL…. give him a year or two to add another 15 or 20 pounds and you’re going to forget Savard.
David Inman could be a kid who shocks people and ten years from now is seen as a steal. Rangers made the right move with him in the second round. When you add prospect Jan Hlavac into the picture the deals make even more sense. Nothing was wrong with Sundstrom… but you gotta get a scoring prospect and that comes with a sacrifice. Brendl will make most people forget Sundstrom.. there is no doubt in my mind. Just give him time. Cloutier will come to haunt the Rangers, but Smith had no choice. With an expansion draft coming up and Richter locked into a long term deal, he had to act now or get nothing. Some fans would say they prefer Cloutier but they are kidding themselves if he was going to see more then 25 games next year and if at age 23 he’d be ready to take over as the main goalie in NY, which would happen unless you want to trade Richter for another Doug Lidster. This deal HAD to be made. Believe me Brendl with be better then any kid the Rangers would likely get in the 2000 draft.
As for the Calgary deal, Savard is a bit of a floater. Muckler wasn’t crazy about him and used him more out of desperation then choice. Muckler has seen Lundmark and is high on him. Lundmark is a heart and soul player who is also blessed with a TON of skill. Those types are hard to find. He is potentially the first line center someday. Trust me, you wont miss Savard when this kid plays. Just give him one year to add a good 20 pounds. He has already started and is determined, he is not some kid who will not work to make it. If he has to add 20 pounds, trust me, he will. Think Jeremy Roenick in his younger years, and think Craig Janney…which would you take? That’s the difference between Lundmark and Savard.
Jan Hlavac is a blue chip kid. This guys is going to be a star. He isn’t playing because Calgary couldn’t convince him to come to America. Petr Nedved and some of Cable visions money is a lot more tempting then anything the Flames could offer. This kid is a phenom, watch out. In the end the Rangers had to do these deals… you can’t lose a goalie for nothing. Sundstrom was not going to make it under Muckler and neither was Savard. You give up two solid players and a soon to be great goalie and get a franchise player in Brendl, a future first line center in Lundmark, and a blue chip winger in Jan Hlavac. Sometimes the deals that make you a winner are the ones that scare you the most.