Without a selection in either of the first two rounds of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft this past June in Newark the Rangers had to wait hours before their turn finally arrived--three times--in the third round, but in seeing the early results of the three players the Blueshirts drafted in that third round the wait seems to be well worth it.
Three highly-skilled forwards who at one time or another were all considered worthy of first or second round selections, were snatched up by the Rangers, and now all three third-rounders are proving the organization fortunate that each dropped in the draft.
"I think, for sure, that can be used as motivation because they will always look back during their career and say I remember I went in the third round when I thought I was going in the first and that time felt like forever," Rangers assistant general manager Jeff Gorton said, referring the to the team's three 2013 third round selections Adam Tambellini, Pavel Buchnevich, and Anthony Duclair. "From that day on they want to prove everyone wrong. From the organization's side, our guys liked them all. We ended up with three guys who were rated higher by us then where they went (in the draft) which is good. We feel that with our third round picks we, at least, got second-round talents, and maybe firsts."
Tambellini, the son of former NHL player and team executive Steve Tambellini and brother of Jeff Tambellini who also played in the NHL, was the Rangers first selection in the third round this past summer, 65th overall. He was followed by Buchnevich, the highly-skilled Russian, who was chosen ten picks later; and then by Duclair, the speedy Quebec native, who was selected at No. 80 overall.
"There's no question all three of these players showed signs that they could do the things those other (first-round) kids did, but for whatever reason — and it's not important now — they didn't go that high," explained Gordie Clark, the Rangers Director Player Personnel. "All three of those guys had to, and still have to, mature, but we're under the philosophy here that if you see the head and the hands and the hockey sense, then let's be patient and wait for the maturity to happen. And that's the process we are going through here with all three."
To this point all three of the Rangers '13 third-rounders are excelling in their first post-draft year, in particular Duclair who is lighting up the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Duclair currently leads the league in goals with 49 and ranks second behind Anthony Mantha with 92 points in just 52 games played. Compare that with his draft-year stats in which Duclair totaled 50 points in 55 games, scoring 20 goals, and one can see tremendous improvement in his game.
What the Rangers organization has loved about Duclair this season, along with his explosiveness and high-end skill, has been the consistency in his game. In calendar year 2014 he has recorded at least one point in 16 of 18 games, and he has been held off the scoresheet only five times since mid-November.
"You know you're on to something with a player when you walk into arenas for games and fans and scouts and people from other teams are saying 'Oh your guy's on fire' or 'Oh your guy is having a great year', that's how you know, when you don't even ask about your player, but others come up to you and offer their comments," said Clark. "That's the way it's been with Duclair this year."
Added Gorton, "The biggest thing with Duclair this year has been his consistency. Every night you look at the scoresheet and he's on it."
Duclair registered a career-high seven points on January 30th against Halifax, and has notched three Hat Tricks and 14 games of four points or better, so far--simply surreal statistics.
Tambellini has not had as smooth a ride as Duclair this season, but a switch from college to Major Junior has certainly done a world of good for his game and confidence. After enrolling at the University of North Dakota, Tambellini saw limited ice time as a third/fourth line center this fall, recording just two goals and four points in 16 games. After some soul searching, Tambellini decided what was best for his hockey career was to play in Major Junior, where he currently plays for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League.
The move paid immediate dividends for the Hitmen as Tambellini produced a three-point game in his Calgary debut on January 8th against Saskatoon. Tambellini currently has 19 points (8-11-19) in 15 games and is riding a three-game point-scoring streak in which he has totaled six points.
"We didn't get involved in his decision-making process," explained Clark. "That's a personal decision for the player, his family, and his advisers to make and we just support him as best we can, just like we did in the past with [Chris] Kreider, [Ryan] McDonagh, and others. But we are happy for him because he's a lot happier now. The kid's happy because he's playing a lot more."
That Tambellini had his father and brother to "lean on" — using the words of Gorton — to make his decision was important, just as is the wisdom and advice imparted on the youngest Tambellini from his family.
"We are encouraged with him," Gorton said of Tambellini. "He's a mature kid, a kid who gets it. He's got a great shot, got nice hands, great hockey sense. For now it's only a matter of strength, improving on that, because he really projects as something we need — a big strong centerman with skill."
While there could be varying reasons why both Tambellini and Duclair fell to the third round in the draft, the same can be said of Buchnevich, though both Gorton and Clark agree that part of the reason Buchnevich was not selected higher is because there are certain NHL teams that refuse to draft Russian-born players, narrowing the pool of legitimately interested clubs.
That said, the Rangers were thrilled to select Buchnevich, who had a standout performance in the 2014 World Junior Championships and who has more than held his own as an 18 year-old playing in the Kontinental Hockey League. Playing against veterans, and men, in the KHL Buchnevich has 15 points (6-9-15) in 36 games, ranking sixth on his team — Severstal — in points, tied for seventh in goals, tied for third in assists, and tied for second in power play goals with two.
"We knew he was a first-round talent," Gorton said flatly. "He's a highly-skilled player with good hockey sense and he wants to play in the NHL. The thing we like about him is that he's pretty confident he's a top level player, even when playing against men as an 18 year-old. He knows he can play. For him it's just a case of maturing physically and a little bit mentally."
At the World Juniors Buchnevich helped Russia capture a Bronze medal. He was tied for second on the team with seven points (2-5-7) in seven games and was tied for eighth among all players in the tournament in assists and tied for 12th in scoring.
Of course his two-goal outing against the United States in the quarterfinals will be remembered for his over-the-top celebrating in front of Team USA's bench which sparked a mild altercation and some harsh words flying between the two benches.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't wince when that happened, but he paid a price for it — was penalized and understood what he did probably wasn't the best thing to do — and now he learns from it and moves on," said Gorton, who was in attendance for that game.
However Clark adds, "I'd rather see that emotion than have a real bland, vanilla guy. That was a huge win for that team and he played a big part in it. He's a highly-competitive guy. He'll learn from it, but you don't want to see him lose any of that pure emotion."
Duclair and Tambellini — and perhaps Buchnevich, depending on his schedule in Russia — will likely be next seen in these parts for the Rangers development camp in July. As for their collective ETAs in New York, time and patience need to be on their side. Tambellini is only 19 years old, Buchnevich does not turn 19 until April, and Duclair only turned 18 last August.
There will be no rush. As Gorton and Clark both are fond of saying, there is a "process" for these youngsters to take part in before turning pro. However it is quite nice for the organization to know that these three third-rounders are playing with first-round skill level, perhaps able to light up Broadway sometime in the not-so-distant future.
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