Going into the 2007 NHL Entry Draft Russian winger Alexei Cherepanov was considered one of the top talents available, but he slipped to 17 overall because of concerns over issues with Russian players possibly staying in the KHL. At 17 the New York Rangers took the gamble on the immense talent of Cherepanov selecting him with the hopes of him developing into the kind of impact offensive player the Rangers had not been able to produce.
Cherepanov continued his development over in the KHL and while he did not come over during 2008 for camp, the talk was that he was going to leave the KHL following the 2008-09 season when his contract with Omsk was complete. This upset many Rangers fans, but that anger turned to excitement when Jaromir Jagr left the NHL and signed with the same team. The idea that Cherepanov could learn from and play with Jagr only increased the excitement to see how good the young Cherepanov would be, but sadly we would never find out.
Three years ago today, during a game against Vityaz Chekhov, Cherepanov would have his life cut far too short when he collapsed on the bench following a shift and he passed away. The tragedy likely could have been avoided if the medical personnel was still in the building or the defibrillator had a full battery, but regardless the hope for the Rangers future was extinguished never knowing what he would actually become.
For some the development of players like Artem Anisimov and Derek Stepan has changed the amount of wonder about what Cherepanov would have become in a Rangers uniform. While both are excellent players and have the talent to be top line players, neither is likely to develop into the superstar or sniper that Cherepanov was said to have the potential of being. Instead much of that pressure and hype has been transferred to other prospects rising through the ranks, most notably Chris Kredier as the savior goal scorer the Rangers have not developed to this point. The Rangers have done a phenomenal job in developing a number of excellent young talents that are capable of the 20-25 goal mark in a given season. It is that development that brought the team to a place that the organization felt signing a Brad Richards would bring them into the contender status. Having said that, it is still hard not to wonder if Cherepanov would have been that missing top six forward the team is searching for right now.