With the 2011 NHL Entry Draft a mere six days away in St. Paul, Minnesota, Blue Line Station continues its look at some of the Rangers potential picks during the first-round.
Yesterday we discussed the merits of centers Mark McNeill and Mark Scheifele and today we take a look at two European wingers with tremendous offensive upside.
Join me after the jump for Part II of our Entry Draft preview series…
Sven Baertschi, LW, Portland Winterhawks.
Sven Baertschi has been up and down a myriad of mock drafts over the past month, going as high as eighth and as low as 18th. It remains an outside shot to expect him to be on the board come the Rangers’ first-round selection, but it is by all means possible.
The Swiss-born left-winger spent last season playing in the WHL with the powerhouse Portland Winterhawks, posting 34-51-85 in 66 games as the ‘Hawks topped the Western Conference en route to losing the Championship final to Kootenay. His speed, vision and drive are three of his greatest assets, Central Scouting’s Blair McDonald going so far as to call him one of the best puck distributors in the league;
"Baertschi is a finesse player. He has very quick hands and is a deft puckhandler. His radar vision probably makes him the best in the WHL at distributing the puck."
It’s always good to see a young player be so eager to improve, but it’s even better when that player already has the tools to succeed. Baertschi is quick, has great hands and an insatiable work ethic on the offensive side of the puck, three assets that leave his attacking game as one of the best on the board. Given the Winterhawks stacked roster last season – Niederreiter, Ryan Johansen and fellow 2011 draftee Ty Rattie to name just three of his teammates – it’s tough to compare him to the likes of Mark Scheifele who shone in spite of a poor roster last year.
If there is a knock to be made against Baertschi, it’s his size. At 5’10 and 181lbs one of the biggest detractions by scouts has been his tendency to shy away from physical contact in the tough WHL. With the Rangers tending to lean toward bigger, more physical selections it’s perhaps an outside shot to even consider Baertschi if he were on the board at 15, though his offensive game is second to few and something the Blueshirts could desperately use.
Joel Armia, RW, Ässät.
Unlike Baertschi, Finnish right-wing Joel Armia has the size that many sides will look for mid-round.
At 6’3 and 191lbs, Armia is considered to be one of the best goalscoring talents on the board. He enters the draft fresh from a tremendous Under-18 World Junior Championships where he notched four goals and nine assists for 13 points in just six games.
During the 2010/11 season Armia skated for Ässät of the Finnish Elite League, posting 18-11-29 in 48 games at the age of 17. One of the biggest plus points to Armia, aside from his tremendous offensive upside, is that’s he’s spent the past year playing against skaters both bigger and older than himself without looking out of place.
If there is something to be held against him, it’s said to be his compete level. Bruins Draft Watch made mention of Armia recently, citing a lack of backchecking and a lackadaisical approach to the neutral zone as key factors in his potential availability late in the round;
"We suspect an NHL club will jump on him in the top-15 because of his intriguing mix of size and scoring upside. That said, he’s risky because to us, he looks a lot like a more skilledMikko Lehtonen, who scored goals, but also went through the motions for two seasons as a member of the Providence Bruins before tearing it up in the Swedish Elite League this past year.Whenever the puck is near him in the offensive zone, he’s a threat to put it in the back of the net. He uses his large frame to fight off checkers and has a quick stick with laser-like release. However, when you watch the rest of his body of work, you keep wondering: “Where’s the beef?” He doesn’t backcheck much and just looks lazy skating up and down the wing at times.Armia has the potential to blow this scouting report out of the water, but we gave him the benefit of the doubt several times. In the end, his uneven compete level and a lack of seeing him ever really take charge in any game we watched him play has him just outside the top-20."
Of course, it’s tough to see John Tortorella accepting a selection that has noted issues with his backchecking and defensive game, though that is something that can be worked on over the next few seasons before Armia even sniffs the NHL. His offensive game may simply be too good to turn down if he’s available at 15 given he has the kind of attacking attributes that cannot be taught.
Check back over the next six days for further assessment of some of the Rangers likely options next Friday.