FROM THE CREASE with BRUCE BERLET

bruce mug shot 1BY: Bruce Berlet

More future Connecticut Whale players will be selected in the NHL draft Friday night and Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

The parent New York Rangers have the 15th pick and are likely to take a forward considering goaltending is in good hands for years with Henrik Lundqvist, who is getting married this summer in his native Sweden, and the defense is full of youngsters such as former Hartford Wolf Pack blueliners Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Michael Sauer, Ryan McDonagh. And Michael Del Zotto who played in the NHL and AHL last season before being sidelined March 5 with a broken hand sustained when hit by a puck in a 2-1 overtime victory over the Springfield Falcons.

The Rangers also have Matt Gilroy, who is a free agent, and Pavel Valentenko and Tomas Kundratek, who played with the Whale last season and are considered solid NHL prospects.

But the Rangers need more scoring to help Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan and former Wolf Pack forwards Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov. Vinny Prospal, Ruslan Fedotenko, Sean Avery and Alex Frolov are free agents, though Frolov has already signed a three-year contract with Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League in his native Russia after not playing after sustaining a knee injury in a game against the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 8.

Captain and Trumbull native Chris Drury was expected to have the final year of his five-year, $35 million contract bought out, but that might not be possible because a degenerative condition in his left knee, which helped lead to missing 52 games last season, more than in his first 12 NHL seasons combined.

The Rangers will host a draft viewing party on Friday night at SNAP Sports Bar, located on 14th Street between 7th and 8th Ave. Wing Carl Hagelin and defenseman Dylan McIlrath, who joined the Whale at the end of last season, highly touted prospect Christian Thomas and former Rangers defenseman Jeff Beukeboom will be on hand.

Fans are encouraged to arrive early as there will be giveaways, trivia and other activities taking place throughout the evening. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. with television coverage of the event starting at 7. There is no charge for admission, but fans must be at least 21 and will be asked to show valid ID upon entry.

Fans also can follow the Rangers draft via a live chat at www.newyorkrangers.com. There also will be a live video chat with Rangers director of player personnel Gordie Clark and assistant director of player personnel Jeff Gorton, as well as exclusive features with Stepan, McDonagh and Sauer. And fans can enter a contest to win the first autograph from the Rangers’ first-round pick.

Hagelin, McIlrath, Thomas, those drafted this week and several others will participate in a prospects camp Monday through next Friday at the team’s training facility in Tarrytown, N.Y. The list of players should be released Sunday.

JAGR NOT CONTACTED BY RANGERS

Despite the need for more offense, former Rangers captain and future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr, on the verge of returning to the NHL, won’t be returning to Broadway after a three-year sabbatical Russia because he hasn’t been contacted by president and general manager Glen Sather.

That news came Thursday in a story by the longtime Rangers beat writer Larry Brooks of the New York Post.

“I don’t want to put this the wrong way, but teams that want me and think I can help them have been calling me, and the Rangers never called, so I don’t think they would want me,” Jagr told Brooks by phone from his home in the Czech Republic. “I don’t want to be a guy who says, ‘Do you need me. Do you want me?’ It’s not like I’m looking for a job. Teams know I’m serious about coming back. If Glen though I could help, he would have told me.

“But I have no hard feelings. I loved my time in New York. I will never have a bad thing to say about the Rangers.”

Jagr came to the Rangers from the Washington Capitals on Jan. 23, 2004 and had 109 goals and 171 assists while playing all 246 regular-season games before signing with Omsk as a free agent after the 2007-08 season. He put the Rangers on his back in September 2005 and carried them to the playoffs after a seven-year absence as he set franchise season records for goals (54) and points (123) in his first go-round on Broadway.

But Sather likely didn’t call Jagr because the Rangers are now building mostly with young, homegrown talent, though they are interested in signing Dallas Stars free agent Brad Richards, 31, who would be their No. 1 center and provide much-needed help on the power play.

The destination for Jagr, who will turn 40 on Feb. 15, isn’t certain, but the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins have expressed interest in his services. Jagr was the Penguins’ first-round pick (fifth overall) in 1990 and helped them win the Stanley Cup in his first two seasons with the team.

Jagr would not tell Brooks which teams are pursuing him, but he did say, “I’m not talking to any rebuilding teams.”

“I haven’t made my decision yet,” he said. “I hope I can make it pretty soon.”

Jagr said he began to consider a return to the NHL when agent and former NHL defenseman Petr Svoboda suggested the possibility just before the World Championships in which he had five goals and four assists in nine games while leading the Czechs to the bronze medal. But he has played in the slower and less demanding KHL for three seasons, so there’s the question how much the once dominant Jagr has left.

RANGERS SCHEDULE ANNOUNCED

The Rangers will open the 2011-12 season with two games at the Ericcson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, against the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 7 and Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 8 as part of the 2011 Compuware NHL Premiere. The visit to Sweden will be especially meaningful to Swedes Lundqvist and Hagelin, if he makes the team.

The Rangers will play their first seven games on the road, including a four-game western swing to Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg, as three-year renovations to Madison Square Garden continue. Their first game on Broadway will be Oct. 27 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and they will participate in the NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 2 at 1 p.m. at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia against the Flyers. The Winter Classic is usually on Jan. 1, but that Sunday is the final week of the NFL season. Previous Winter Classics have been played in Orchard Park, N.Y. (Buffalo Sabres), Chicago (Blackhawks), Boston (Bruins) and Pittsburgh.

The Rangers will play each of the other 29 NHL teams at least once and all Eastern Conference teams at least four times each, including the new Winnipeg franchise, relocated from Atlanta. Their longest homestand will be seven games from March 11 against the New York Islanders to March 23 versus the Sabres. They will have two home games against the Stanley Cup champion Bruins on March 4 and April 1. They end the season at home on April 7 against the Capitals.

Single-game tickets will be on sale to the public in September. As of now, the Whale isn’t planning another Winter Fest. … Former Wolf Pack wing Trevor Gillies has signed a one-year, two-way (NHL/AHL) contract with the Islanders. Gillies, 32, had career highs in goals (two), points (two) and games played (39) in his 12th pro season and second with the Islanders but was suspended twice. He received a nine-game suspension for charging Penguins forward Eric Tangradi and hitting him high with an elbow before landing several punches in a fight-filled win Feb. 11. Tangradi, who sustained a concussion, was also taunted by Gillies as he got back on his skates, and the Islanders were fined $100,000 for failing to control their players. Gillies then got a 10-game ban for a dangerous hit on Minnesota Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck in a 4-1 victory March 4. In retaliation for Clutterbuck’s hit on Islanders rookie and former Bridgeport Sound Tigers forward Justin DiBenedetto, which drew a boarding penalty, Gillies drilled Clutterbuck and was given a major penalty for checking from behind and ejected. Clutterbuck stayed in the game and then played the next night against the Rangers. Gillies, who has two points and 220 penalty minutes in 48 NHL games, lost just under $61,000. His nine AHL teams also have included the Sound Tigers.

PERRY BIG WINNER AT NHL AWARDS SHOTS

Former Portland Pirates standout right wing Corey Perry of the Ducks was the night’s big winner at the NHL Awards Show in Las Vegas on Wednesday night.

After a 50-goal season, 19 of which came in the final 16 games, Perry won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer and the Hart Memorial Trophy as “the player adjusted to be the most valuable to his team.” He is the first player from a Southern California team to win the Hart Trophy since Hall of Fame center Wayne Gretzky of the Kings in 1989. Perry is also only the third player from a California team to win the Hart, joining Gretzky and San Jose Sharks center and captain Joe Thornton (2006).

“Congratulations to Corey Perry on this tremendous accomplishment,” Ducks general manager Bob Murray said. “This is a historic day for the Perry family and the entire Anaheim Ducks organization. Corey deserves this terrific honor following a season that defines what the Hart Trophy is all about.”

The 26-year-old Perry had 50 goals and 48 assists while playing in all 82 games. He also had a plus-9 rating and 104 penalty minutes, beating out Vancouver Canucks’ center Daniel Sedin and Tampa Bay Lightning’s wing Martin St. Louis for the Hart.

“You don’t come in expecting it. You come in and whatever happens, happens, I guess,” Perry said. “You look at the seasons the other two had, and the only guy to break 100 points in the League in scoring, you never know what to expect. You just come in and have fun with it, I guess.”

Perry tied for the NHL lead with 11 game-winning goals and led in third-period goals (21) and road goals (28). He was third among league leaders in scoring and tied for fifth in power-play goals (14) and shorthanded goals (4). His 50 goals were the most by a Ducks player since Teemu Selanne scored 52 in the 1997-98 season.

Perry, the Ducks’ first-round pick (28th overall) in 2003, spent the start of the 2005-06 season with the Pirates on arguably the best line in AHL history with center Ryan Getzlaf, the 19th overall pick in 2003, and left wing Dustin Penner, a free agent now with the Kings.

Other award winners Wednesday night: Sedin, Art Ross (regular-season scoring leader) and Ted Lindsay (MVP as voted by the players); St. Louis, Lady Byng (skillful and gentlemanly play); Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit, Norris (outstanding defenseman); Zdeno Chara, Boston, Mark Messier Leadership Award; Ryan Kesler, Vancouver, Selke (outstanding defensive forward); Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh, Jack Adams (Coach of the Year); Jeff Skinner, Carolina, Calder (Rookie of the Year); Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, Vancouver, Jennings (fewest goals allowed); Mike Gillis, Vancouver, General Manager of the Year; Ian Laperriere, Philadelphia, Masterton (perseverance and dedication to hockey); Doug Weight, Islanders, King Clancy (leadership and humanitarian contributions); Tim Thomas, Boston, Vezina (top goaltender).

Del Zotto made his first visit to Vegas and the awards show to celebrate his 21st birthday on Friday.

FORMER WHALERS WING PROMOTED TO SENATORS; VIRTUE NEXT?

Former Hartford Whalers right wing Mark Reeds was promoted to assistant coach of the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, and former Wolf Pack defenseman Terry Virtue could be in line to succeed him as head man with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League.

Reeds, 51, was named OHL Coach of the Year after he and Virtue, 40, led the Attack to their first league regular-season division and conference titles and a berth in the Memorial Cup.

“Mark has contributed a lot to this organization over the last four season,” Attack general manager Dale DeGray said in a statement. “Anytime a coach of Mark’s caliber moves on, it creates a hole. However, we cannot thank him enough for his hard work, dedication and the positive attitude he has instilled throughout our whole organization. We wish Mark, his wife Mary, son Kyle and daughter Kelsey nothing but the best moving forward.”

Reeds will assist Paul MacLean, whom he worked with in 1993-96 in Peoria, Ill. MacLean also was joined by Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors coach Dave Cameron, who is no stranger to Reeds. Their teams met eight times in the OHL finals and once in the Memorial Cup.

DeGray’s search for a new coach began immediately, with Virtue being the first in line to be interviewed for the position. Virtue was credited with the Attack having a dramatic decline in goals against, with goalie Scott Stajcer a major reason when he wasn’t recovering from hip surgery. Stajcer recently signed an entry-level contract with the Rangers and could be with the Whale this season.

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