Two of the seven players the parent New York Rangers selected in this past weekend’s 2014 NHL Entry Draft, winger Richard Nejezchleb and defenseman Daniel Walcott, are 20-year-0ld Major Junior players and are thus age-eligible to play for the Wolf Pack next season.
The Rangers’ first pick in the draft, goaltender Brandon Halverson, selected in the second round with the 59th overall pick, and third-rounder Keegan Iverson, a right-wing, are both 1996-born Major Junior products, meaning that they are beholden to their Junior teams for two more years, unless they make the Ranger roster. Russian goaltender Igor Shesterkin, a fourth-round Ranger selection, is under contract to play in his homeland for SKA-St. Petersburg next season, and the Blueshirts’ last pick, Minnesota high-school defenseman Tyler Nanne, the grandson of former Minnesota North Stars great Lou Nanne, is committed to Ohio State for 2014-15.
Nejezchleb, a native of the Czech Republic who played the last two seasons in the Western Hockey League for the Brandon Wheat Kings, scored 32 goals in 66 games this past season, to lead the Wheat Kings in that department, after being limited to only 35 games the year before. The New York Daily News quoted Ranger director of player personnel Gordie Clark as saying that the 6-2, 210-pound Nejezchleb “is closer to turning pro” than the other Ranger picks.
Walcott, on the other hand, is “looking at an overage year in Junior,” according to Clark, via the Daily News. Listed at 5-11 and 168 pounds, Walcott would presumably have to bulk up prior to turning pro, and despite having already turned 20, the Ile Perrot, Quebec native has only one year of Major Junior under his belt. He has taken somewhat of an unusual route, playing one season of college hockey at Lindenwood University, which I confess I had never heard of before, in St. Charles, MO, prior to hooking up with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the Quebec Major Junior League. He led Armada defensemen in points, goals and assists this year and was +15, on a team that made it as far as Game Seven of the QMJHL semi-finals.
The Rangers’ other draftee on Saturday’s second day of the draft was defenseman Ryan Mantha, who was their first of two fourth-round selections, taken 104th overall. Mantha is a 6-4, 225-pound native of Clarkson, MI, whose uncle, Moe Mantha, was a long-time NHL defenseman and also coached in the AHL. Ryan Mantha was drafted out of the USHL, and thus is not subject to the restriction that requires players to be 20 years old to play in the AHL. He has committed to the University of North Dakota, though, and is OHL property of the Niagara IceDogs, so it seems unlikely that he would show up in the pro ranks as early as this coming season.
In addition to the Rangers’ highest pick being a late second-rounder, due to using other draft picks as trade chits, and the selection of a pair of 20-year-olds, the most interesting aspect of New York’s draft was the fact that the club used two of its seven choices on goaltenders. The big club had tabbed only one netminder, 2013 sixth-round pick Mackenzie Skapski, in the previous four drafts and hadn’t drafted two goalies in the same year since 2000. Who were those two, you ask? Well the first of the duo was fifth-round pick Brandon Snee, out of Union College, and 62 picks later, in the seventh round, with the 205th pick in the draft, the Rangers took a flier on some guy named Henrik Lundqvist.
Hopefully that’s great karma for either Halverson, Shesterkin or both.