You can thank the absence of a transfer agreement between the National Hockey League and the International Ice Hockey Federation for the break the Rangers received Saturday at the NHL Draft. Teams were scared off by the annoying red tape involved in such transactions keep in the mind the nonsense the Pittsburgh Penguins endured with Evgeni Malkin and the prospect of convincing Alexei Cherepanov to leave his native Russia.
Word had it Cherepanov would be delighted to come to America for a chance to play in New York City. He has that chance because The Hockey News' No. 5 prospect dropped all the way to No. 17 in the draft, where the Rangers grabbed him in an instant and spent Saturday night in Columbus in a state of delirium. So highly did the Rangers think of Cherepanov, they considered dealing with Phoenix to take him at No. 3. So confident are the Rangers in Cherepanov's abilities, and that he'll one day scintillate the Big Apple, that they're willing to work through his Russian contract , which has two years remaining and includes an escape or buyout clause after the 2007-08 season.
"We had him going way before [17th]," said Rangers head scout Gordie Clark. "I don't know what other teams were thinking about, the [lack of a transfer agreement or his contract], but my boss, [general manager] Glen Sather, told me, 'If this kid is what you think of him, if you think he is special, then take him and we can get all that worked out.'"
The Penguins have Malkin, who scored 33 goals to win the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie. The Capitals have Alex Ovechkin. The Thrashers have Ilya Kovalchuk. Guess what? Cherepanov's 18 goals and 29 points for Avangard Omsk of the Russian SuperLeague were more than the latter two put up when they were 18. Nicknamed "The Siberian Express," Cherepanov also broke Pavel Bure's SuperLeague rookie record of 17 goals, set nearly 20 years ago.
Last January, Cherepanov was honored as the top forward at the 2007 World Junior Championships after leading Russia to a silver medal against Team Canada, a group that included Rangers prospects Marc Staal and Tom Pyatt. Cherepanov joins Staal, Pyatt and Artem Anisimov in a core that should have the Rangers contending for years to come.
"Everything I've heard about Alexei has been outstanding," said head coach Tom Renney. "In talking to our scouts, I really like the fact that he's got a high level of skill and is a creative thinker, and that he has an instinct for the game that really enables him to exhibit his skill. That's exactly what you hope for with a guy that's gifted like that. This is obviously something we're really excited about."
The Rangers and their fans should be excited because they now have their Malkin. Their Alexander the Great. Their "Russian Rocket." Their "Siberian Express." It was a chance too obvious not to risk. Politics aside, Cherepanov wants to be here. He wants to play with his idol, Jaromir Jagr. He'll be part of something once unheard of around the Rangers: a bright future.
"I was a little surprised [to slide] but I have no regrets about anything because [New York] is a great place to be,"
Cherepanov said through an interpreter. "I have two years left on my contract, but there is no clause that will not let me leave the year after this. Next year [2008-09] is my goal. Next year is what I'm going to achieve."
You won't see Antoine Lafleur in New York for the foreseeable future, if at all, but the Rangers buffed their depth at the goaltender position by taking Lafleur at No. 48 in the second round. Lafleur joins a system that includes Al Montoya, but one that is ruled by Henrik Lundqvist. The King told the New York Post on Saturday that he has no interest in either soliciting or receiving potential offer sheets as a Group II free-agent should he earn such status on July 1. The Post's Larry Brooks expects Lundqvist to sign a four-to-six-year contract for around $5.25 million a year.