Beller drafted by N.Y. Rangers in sixth round

Like all hockey players growing up, Greg Beller dreamed of playing in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final and racing end-to-end to notch the game-winning goal.
“I’ve always dreamed of that,” he said.
On Saturday, that dream got one step closer to becoming a reality for the 18-year-old Rainy River resident as he was drafted by the N.Y. Rangers in the sixth round of the National Hockey League’s entry draft.
When his name was announced as the 178th pick overall, Beller was not in Ottawa but instead taking advantage of the ice rink in Baudette to fine-tune his skills for the upcoming season with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League.
(Some 25 other players from that league were drafted on Saturday—the most the USHL, headed by Fort Frances native Gino Gasparini, has ever had selected despite the fact the draft was shortened to seven rounds from nine).
Beller received the news from his parents when he got back from the rink. They had just gotten off the phone with Gord Clark, the Rangers’ assistant general manager of player personnel, but the teen was cautious about believing anything at first.
“I didn’t know if they were playing a trick on me,” admitted the 6’3”, 201-pound centre, who played a few games with the Borderland Thunder last season.
“I mean, it was totally possible because I had talked to the Rangers quite a bit, but I just wanted to make sure they weren’t trying to trick me.
“I was almost in disbelief upon hearing it, but then they showed me on the computer and I got pretty excited,” he added.
Andre Boullion, a pro scout in Minnesota, spoke with Beller back in March when he was part of the Great Eight tournament in Minneapolis.
And when his team, the Lake of the Woods Bears (Baudette), played Warroad in front of a contingent of pro scouts in late January, Beller stepped up despite the pressure.
“I rose to the challenge. Whenever I play Warroad, I always try to be better than T.J. Oshie—that’s my goal whenever I play him,” said Beller, who had 22 goals and 27 assists for the Bears, who are part of the Minnesota High School Elite League.
Those pro scouts had come to see Oshie, who was selected in the first round Saturday by the St. Louis Blues (24th overall). But while Warroad won that game by a score of 4-0, Beller felt he played well despite the loss.
That thinking was reinforced afterwards when the assistant coach with the Minnesota State university team “thought I was the best player in the game.”
And judging from comments made by the Rangers, they are confident that what they saw in that game—and a few others—were not flukes but the signs of a future NHL player.
“We consider him [Beller] the dark horse of the draft,” said Don Maloney, the Rangers’ vice-president of player personnel. “He’s very talented.
“He has an interesting story in that he’s from Canada but plays in northern Minnesota for a high school team,” Maloney added. “He was our long shot of the draft.
“At that stage, he was the guy we thought we could pull out and hit one over the fence.”
The Rangers’ top pick (12th overall) was Marc Staal, the younger brother of Eric, who was selected second overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2003.
Maloney said while the Rangers didn’t win the number-one pick in the lottery to get a player like Sidney Crosby, the way this draft shaped up was the next best thing.
“Other than winning the lottery, we felt the way that this draft went was as good as we could do,” he remarked. “We couldn’t be happier.”
Beller was the only player from the Gamblers’ roster chosen in the entry draft, so it’s a bit surprising to see that he was the 79th overall pick in the USHL entry draft back in May.
Still, he hopes this upcoming season with the Gamblers will open the door for him to sign with a Division I college in the States
And if he sticks to his current work ethic, that goal of reaching the next level should be well within his reach.
“It took me a lot of work just to get drafted,” Beller said. “I had to make a ton of sacrifices most people probably wouldn’t make, like going out with your friends partying and having a good time.
“And while they were doing that, I was at the Baudette Arena working on my skating. I was almost always the only guy there, just skating and shooting pucks, and getting better,” added Beller, who is recovering nicely from knee surgery back in June.
“It does get lonely, but I’m definitely glad that I made those sacrifices,” he stressed. “I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t.
“It’s my second-biggest dream to be drafted and my biggest dream is to play in the NHL.”