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FISCHLER: Rangers, Islanders, Devils draft winners

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It's a rare occasion when all three local teams can legitimately claim to have emerged from the annual NHL Entry Draft as winners. But 2003 just happens to be such a unique situation. The , starving for good news, got it when Glen Sather plucked Hugh Jessiman, an oversized right winger with considerable skill and the coincidental fact that he was actually born in New York City. Plus, he's a certified, lifetime Ranger fan. Although superficially it may appear that the goofed in bypassing the son of a former Nassau hero, Mike Milbury came away with Robert Nilsson, a remarkably gifted winger, who also happens to be the son of former big-leaguer Kent Nilsson. Adding gravy to their Stanley Cup triumph, the — drafting 17th — struck gold with Isles' hero J.P. Parise's kid, Zach, who many projected should have been taken in the top ten. Of course, there's no guarantee that any of the aforementioned trio will become a star, but certainly the credentials in each case are most impressive. The following is my view of the key moves made the locals in Nashville:

Jessiman, got his wish when he was selected 12th overall by his favorite team. The New York-born and Connecticut-raised right-winger was the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference's Rookie-of-the-Year playing for Dartmouth College. The smooth skating forward with good hands stands 6-foot-5, 200 pounds. His need to fill out that frame immediately makes him somewhat of a project — albeit an awfully talented one. I'm told that he's two or three years away from the NHL. Along with Jessiman, the ' draft could best be described as balanced. Sather picked five forwards — Jessiman, Ken Roche, Nigel Dawes, Ivan Dornic and Jan Marek — four defensemen — Ivan Baranka, Corey Potter, Phillipe Furrer and Dylan Reese — and a goaltender — Chris Holt. In order to provide some needed organizational depth to the blue line, the second round pick was used to select Slovakian defensive defenseman Baranka. This strong stay-at-homer with a penchant for the big hit is exactly what Sather requires Baranka could be a useful piece in the Blueshirts' puzzle.

As usual, most of those who follow the NHL draft looked for Milbury to provide some trade fireworks. But they never came, as the Isles selected players with all nine picks with which they came to Nashville. The trades weren't there to be made, especially most teams in a salary-cutting mode. The ' first pick, Nilsson, an undersized (5-foot-11), but physical winger, has top-line type talent, evidenced by his recent breaking of 's scoring record for junior players in the Swedish league. That's quite a feat. Described as a "mini-Peter Forsberg", Nilsson is highly skilled and physical, but his most significant development lies in the year ahead. The first of the three second-round picks the Isles held was used to draft another high-upside scoring forward, Dmitri Chernykh . Rated by many higher than Nilsson, Chernykh is known as an explosive skater with game-breaking skills. Like many young skilled forwards, Chernykh's defensive capabilities are questioned. Surprisingly, head European scout Anders Kallur says he sees more potential in Chernykh than Nilsson. "As happy as I was with the Nilsson pick, I put Chernykh in his class when it comes to skill and hockey sense and it wouldn't surprise me if Chernykh turns out to be as good as Nilsson, if not better," says Kallur. Both Nilsson and Chernykh are playing in their respective country's top leagues, against men. Both are expected to have far greater roles in the coming year. It wasn't until the draft's second day that the Isles addressed their most glaring organizational need, a lack of prospects on the blue line. They picked three consecutive defensemen in the late rounds, including an intriguing prospect out of the Quebec Junior league, Bruno Gervais. The offensive-minded defenseman is already captain of his junior team, Acadie-Bathurst, and is noted for a powerful shot from the point. Gervais led the high-scoring Quebec league in goals by a defenseman and was a gaudy plus-47. His overall game still requires improvement, so it's safe to label Gervais as a project. While Milbury was trying to make a trade to shake up his Isles, the deal didn't happen. "I'm surprised by the lack of conversation," Milbury said. "I can't find a dance partner." Instead, he opted to stock up the farm and look for deals later.

The turned heads with their first selection in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. New Jersey swapped with Edmonton in the first round, jumping from 22nd to 17th, and selected the University of North Dakota's Zach Parise, a 5-foot-10, 186-pound center. Zach was projected by many to go higher and the smiles on GM Lou Lamoriello's and head scout David Conte's faces suggest that Parise will be a major asset. After drafting first rounders such as , , , , , et. al., Conte's track record is splendid. Another noteworthy pick was Petr Vrana, the Czech-born center who's currently playing in the Quebec Junior league. By no means big at 5-foot-10, Vrana is a quick playmaker with impressive vision. "Like all small players, he's real smart with the puck," says one scout of Vrana. "He's very productive, but size is the only issue." Joining an organization that has never shied away from smaller players (see: ), can only help Vrana. The drafted one defenseman, another Zach — Zach Tarkir — 167th. Tarkir and the others are far from standouts or can't-miss-picks, but after a few years in the Jersey system, maybe one day Ivan Khomutov (C/W), (G), Joey Tenaute ( C) and Arseny Bondarev (LW) will be valuable parts of the franchise. On a side note, the managed to find a taker for the headache otherwise known as . He was moved to St. Louis in a deal involving a swap of this year's third rounders. Lamoriello succinctly summed up the as follows: "It's the happiest I've seen our table, as far as being pleasantly surprised." And that may be an understatement. Known as "The Hockey Maven" in both local and national circles, Stan Fischler is one of the most outspoken authorities on the game of hockey. Fischler can be seen offering NHL analysis on "MSG SportsDesk" and on Fox Sports Net's "Regional Sports Report — New York Edition." Fischler also provides studio interviews and pre- and post-game features and reports for both the and on FSN. His columns appear regularly on MSGNetwork.com.
Tagged: Bruins, Oilers, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Blues, Canucks, Ducks, Brian Rolston, Jason Smith, Scott Niedermayer, Martin Brodeur, Petr Sykora, Markus Naslund

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