Rangers first-round draft pick Cherepanov dies during game in Russia

MOSCOW – Alexei Cherepanov, a former first-round draft pick of the NHL’s New York Rangers, died Monday during a game in Russia. He was 19.

The six-foot-one, 187-pound Cherepanov reportedly collapsed on the bench of his Avangard Omsk team in the third period of a Continental Hockey League game and died a short time later.

Cherepanov had seven goals and five assists in 14 KHL games this season.

He helped lead Russia to a bronze medal at last year’s world junior hockey championship.

“We are extremely saddened by the tragic passing of Alexei,” Glen Sather, the Rangers president and general manager, said in a statement. “On behalf of the New York Rangers organization, I would like to extend our deepest sympathies to his family.

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“Alexei was an intelligent, energetic young man, with tremendous talent and an extremely bright future.”

The fact that Cherepanov was a first-round pick in the 2007 draft wasn’t surprising, but where he was selected certainly was. Prior to the draft he was projected to be a top-five selection, but mysteriously plummeted to No. 17 before going to the Rangers.

Cherepanov appeared in 106 career Russian Super League games with Omsk, registering 40 goals and 29 assists. Last season, he established a career-high in assists (13) while finishing fourth on the club in points (28).

In 2006-07, Cherepanov set a league record for most goals by a rookie (18), eclipsing Pavel Bure’s mark of 17.