With the losses of Jaromir Jagr, Sean Avery, Martin Straka, and likely Brendan Shanahan to free agency the New York Rangers figure to place a larger emphasis on young, home-grown talent this season.
With several young players who are already NHL ready or are about to become so this writer will devote one column a week to profiling some of the young talent coming up through the system. This week's profile will be left winger Lauri Korpikoski.
Lauri Korpikoski, 22, is a Finnish left-winger whom the Rangers drafted 19th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Korpikoski began his professional career at the age of 18 with TPS Turku of the Finnish Junior League. In 2003-2004 he posted solid numbers for Turku, tallying 12 goals and 8 assists in 36 games.
Korpikoski had breakout performance while representing Finland at the International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 World Junior Championships in Russia. He tied for the tournament lead with 11 points (6 goals, 5 assists) in six games.
After his selection by the Rangers, Korpikoski remained in Finland for two more seasons with TPS Turku before coming to Hartford late in the 2005-06 season. In his time with the Wolfpack he has shown flashes of offensive brilliance coupled with strong defensive ability.
In 2007 Korpikoski was brought into Rangers training camp with a shot to make the club. An uneven performance in camp led to another trip to Hartford. The message was sent and appeared to be received as Korpikoski had a breakout season for the Wolfpack tallying a career-high 23 goals and 27 assists for 50 points.
When the Hartford Wolfpack were knocked out of the AHL playoffs, Korpikoski finally received the NHL call. Dressed just in time for game 5 of the Eastern Coference semi-finals, he had an immediate impact scoring a key goal to bring the Rangers within one in the third period. While the Rangers would ultimately tie and fall in overtime it was still an impressive performance under pressure-packed conditions.
Lauri Korpikoski is rated the seventh best prospect in the Rangers system by Hockeysfuture.com. He is also rated by the site as a level seven prospect which means his potential is to be a second-line forward but not quite good enough to be a top-line superstar.
According to Hockey's Future, Korpikoski brings plenty of skill to the table including great speed, excellent face-off ability, great anticipation and vision, and a quick shot release. When combined with his excellent defensive ability at the forward position he has all the tools to be a very solid second-line forward.