Watching Tom Pyatt playing against the Rangers in the second round of the playoffs last night has me wondering where some of the Rangers past top prospects have wound up. Over the years, there were players that I believed were going to go far in the organization and some became big NHL busts (e.g., Evgeny Grachev), while others made surprising successes of their careers. Some of those excellent careers have been achieved elsewhere, and we hardly heard about it. So, I thought that we would take a trip down memory lane and see what happened to some Rangers draftees or top prospects. This is the first in series of articles as we approach the draft.
Tom Pyatt, C
Drafted: 2005, 4th round (#107)
Drafted in the same year as Marc Staal and from the same hometown Thunder Bay, ON), Pyatt was almost Staal’s opposite–Staal was a very tall, big-boned defenseman, while Pyatt was a short and thin forward. But, like Staal, Pyatt was a student of the game. To overcome his smaller size (which was a larger issue then than it is now), Pyatt did everything he could to perfect his skills. Crafty, excellent on face offs, two-way junior player, who was an incredibly hard worker. Frankly, I have rarely seen a player that was willing to give up more to make it in hockey.
But coming out of Saginaw (OHL) in his rookie 2007-08 season, Pyatt struggled to adjust to the pro game. He was sent down to the ECHL in January 2008 and although he did well there, the Rangers were unsure whether Pyatt could even be a regular AHL player, no less an NHLer with more than 350 games played. So, after the second year of his three-year ELC, Pyatt was shipped to Montreal, where he proceeded to become a penalty killing specialist. After two years there, Pyatt was signed as a free agent by Tampa Bay.
Three up and down years in Tampa Bay brought the now 27-year-old to a cross roads; after no NHL team wanted to sign him, Pyatt decided to go to Europe and played in Switzerland for two seasons. Last spring, he was ready to come back and Ottawa offered him a one-year deal. Pyatt took it and responded in his usual way, working as hard as he could to make himself an asset to his team. He then posted the best numbers in his career, without sacrificing his outstanding defensive game. Now at age 31, Pyatt has established himself as a valuable member of an NHL team and should get a shot of playing at least 400 NHL games.
Evgeny Grachev, LW
Drafted: 2008, 3rd round, #78
Grachev is about as different from Pyatt as night and day. First there is their size (Grachev is 6’4″, Pyatt, 5’11”). Then there is their attitude (or apparent attitude) toward hockey and their resulting careers. When he was drafted, Grachev was a Russian phenom. He was a supposed first-round talent, but there were questions about whether or not he would come over to North America, and especially would he play junior hockey in the CHL. Doubts about all of that had Grachev slipping to the Rangers in the third round in the draft.
The young star was in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl system and expected to make a significant sum of money as he progressed through their system. After the NHL draft, Grachev was selected by Brampton (OHL) to play junior hockey in Canada. But there were visa issues to work out. New York assisted with this and Grachev joined the Brampton Battalion in the fall of 2008. He played really well that season on a line with Cody Hodgson, won the OHL Rookie of the Year Award for the 2008-09 season, and that appears to be where the trouble began. Although the Rangers were hoping that he would spend one more season in Brampton, he turned pro in the fall of 2009. That season he at times showed his brilliance, and at others looked lazy and disinterested on the ice.
After a total of two mostly unsuccessful seasons with the Rangers organization, which included an eight game stay in New York, the Rangers traded Grachev to St. Louis in 2011 (in return for another third round pick). Two more mostly unsuccessful seasons in the Blues system (including 26 unimpressive games in St. Louis) saw Grachev return to Russia in 2013. That has not proved fruitful for him either, as in the four seasons since he returned to the KHL, Grachev has not shown anything near his great long-term potential.
But maybe, there were other reasons that Grachev was here in North America from 2008-2013. Reasons that have nothing to do with hockey. Remember, that Grachev played in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl system before coming to North America, and that almost all of the players with that KHL team died in a terrible plane crash in 2011. Just maybe by selecting Grachev and having him play here, the Rangers did the best thing anyone could do for Grachev–they inadvertently saved his life. I’m good with that, and I hope that you are too.