New York Rangers draft pick Alexei Cherepanov died Monday shortly after collapsing on the bench during a Continental Hockey League game in Russia. He was 19.
Rangers' officials said they had spoken with former captain Jaromir Jagr by phone and the veteran told them he had just finished a shift with the youngster for their Avangard Omsk club when Cherepanov lost consciousness.
Jay Grossman, Cherepanov's agent, was told the six-foot-one, 187-pound forward fell on the ice late in the third period.
There was apparently no collision that preceded the incident and Cherepanov had been playing well — scoring a goal earlier in the contest.
Grossman added he wasn't aware of any health issues Cherepanov had.
"No," he said. "When he was drafted in '07 he went to the Rangers camp right thereafter.
"We certainly weren't aware of any sort of existing condition."
The Rangers announced the death of Cherepanov shortly before they played at home against the New Jersey Devils Sunday evening. A pre-game moment of silence was observed at Madison Square Garden as Cherepanov's picture was displayed in the midst of a black background on the centre ice video board.
Cherepanov appeared in 14 games with Avangard Omsk this season, scoring seven goals and five assists.
"He's a Ranger and I think it'll have an impact on people," New York coach Tom Renney said, just prior to his club's game with the Devils.
"We're going to have to deal with it in our own personal way, but in the interest of a bright, young life that's over we're going to have to pursue the objective of tonight and that's get two points from New Jersey."
Cherepanov, of Barnaul, Russia, was the Rangers' first-round choice (17th overall) in the 2007 NHL entry draft.
"It's a complete shock," Grossman said during a telephone interview. "I was actually on another line and couldn't take the call when one of our associates had called to report the news. I just told my office to take a message, I assumed it was just some sort of injury or something that you could recover from.
"For a young man to be given that much talent and having it all taken away, it really defies any logic. Without putting any comparisons to him or any other people, he was just an exceptional player. He had an unbelievable future ahead of him."
The National Hockey League Players' Association mourned the loss of a young player brimming with potential.
"The NHLPA is saddened to learn of the passing of Alexei Cherepanov," executive director Paul Kelly said in a statement. "Alexei was a tremendous young man and a highly-skilled hockey player whose promising career had no limits. His unexpected passing at such a young age is a great loss for the entire hockey community."
Grossman said he will always remember Cherepanov as a happy, outgoing person.
"He was a really great kid with a great big smile," he said. "When he first came over, his communication skills and English were still pretty basic but you could tell he was a happy kid.
"He wasn't a cocky kid but he was confident in his abilities."
Last season, Cherepanov helped Russia win a bronze medal at the world junior hockey championship in the Czech Republic and the Rangers had hoped to bring Cherepanov to the NHL this season. But the winger had a year remaining on his contract with Avangard Omsk.
"We are extremely saddened by the tragic passing of Alexei," Rangers president 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."
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 in club scoring (28 points).
In 2006-07, Cherepanov set a league record for most goals by a rookie (18), eclipsing Pavel Bure's mark of 17.
Cherepanov had 29 points in his first season with Omsk, which was more than Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, Washington's Alexander Ovechkin and Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk all registered in their first seasons in the Russian Super League.With files from the Canadian Press and Associated Press