The Rangers have confirmed “an earlier report”:http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=252547&lid=headline&lpos=secStory_nhl that Alexei Cherepanov, their first round draft pick from 2007, died in a game played this evening in Russia.
“We are extremely saddened by the tragic passing of Alexei,” Glen Sather said in a statement. “On behalf of the New York Rangers organization, I would like to extend our deepest sympathies to his family. Alexei was an intelligent, energetic young man, with tremendous talent and an extremely bright future.”
According to TSN, Cherepanov collapsed on the bench during the third period, but not as a result of a specific hit or play. The site quotes head coach Wayne Fleming as saying medical personnel tried to revive the player, but without success.
Cherepanov had seven goals and 12 points in 14 games this year for Omsk, where he was a teammate of Jaromir Jagr. The Russian wing was the 17th pick overall in the 2007 draft, although most scouting services had him rated much higher.
Although he had come to a Rangers prospect camp immediately following that draft, he never came back to New York. At the time the player expressed his desire to play in the NHL, but given the precarious relations between the NHL and the upstart Continental Hockey League, there were increasing questions about whether Cherepanov would ever play for the Rangers.
Still, this is a tragic blow—a devastating loss of an immense talent, and a player some saw as a significant part of the Rangers future.
Update, 4:22 p.m.: Spoke to Jay Grossman, Cherepanov’s agent.
“Itâ€™s completely shocking, completely devastating,” Grossman said. “This 19 year old kid who was a great kid, he had a great smile and was a tremendously talented kid. Itâ€™s a situation that you canâ€™t even describe.”
According to Grossman, who spoke to people at the game, Cherepanov collapsed once on the ice, and collapsed again on the bench. I realize there have been reports that he collided with another play, but I haven’t been able to confirm that, and Grossman knew nothing about it.
Finally, I asked Grossman about whether Cherepanov had any history of heart problems.
“Not that we know of. He was here attending training camp two years ago there was no indication of this whatsoever.”
Update, 5:16 p.m.: Most players hadn’t heard of Cherepanov’s death before arriving at the rink.
“Some fan just told me outside,” Brandon Dubinksy said. “It’s terrible.”
Tom Renney hadn’t talked to Jaromir Jagr tonight, but he had spoken to the Rangers captain about Cherepanov in recent weeks.
“Jaromir thought he could play on our second line,” Renney said.
Still to come are quotes from Mike Pelino, who had visited Omsk and spent time with Cherepanov from Aug. 29-Sept. 4.
Update, 5:23 p.m.: Very few players on this team knew Cherepanov. One who at least played against him was Marc Staal, who faced Cherepanov in the World Junior Championship, and then took part in the same prospect camp with him in June, 2007.
“He was very highly touted going into the draft, and when the Rangers drafted him, I was very excited to get him because he was such a talent,” Staal said. “From what I had heard he was playing great and having a great year in Russia. So I’m sure he was going to be a big part of the organization’s future.”
Also, in another conversation with Grossman, the agent refuted reports that a collision with another player triggered Cherepanov’s collapse.
Update, 5:30 p.m.: By way of “the Slap Shot blog”:http://slapshot.blogs.nytimes.com/, the Russian daily Sport-Express reported Cherepanovâ€™s collapse was not a result of a collision with another player or blows to the head or chest. The player was pronounced dead at 10:55 local time.
Update, 5:38 p.m.: Rangers assistant Mike Pelino had visited Omsk in late August in part to check up on Cherepanov, but also as a gesture of goodwill between the Rangers and the Russian team.
“When I went over I was really excited after I got to spend a little bit of time with him,” Pelino said. “First of all, he was very very engaging as a young man. He was very excited about the opportunity of when it was going to happen for him to get to New York. We went out to dinner, with him myself, Jaromir and a couple of the other guys on the team. He was just full of energy, full of enthusiasm, really excited… He said he was really looking forward to the day when he could come play for the New York Rangers.”
I asked Pelino if he got the impression Cherepanov could play for the Rangers as early as next season.
“Iâ€™d have to say if we were in a position to give him an opportunity and he was able to take advantage of it, he would have stuck with us,” Pelino said. “He looked good.”
Update, 7:39 p.m.: Rangers vice president of PR John Rosasco spoke to Jaromir Jagr, who told him that he and Alexei Cherepanov had just come down on a 2-on-1 together and skated back to the bench before Cherepanov collapsed. Contrary to earlier reports, Cherepanov never collapsed on the ice.
Also, Jagr said there was no issue with medical equipment, as had also been previously reported.
Update, 7:57 p.m.: The video below speaks for itself. It’s a tragedy when anyone this young dies, it doesn’t matter how many goals they can score.
But Alexei Cherepanov was obviously a special talent.