In the spring of 2002 Steve Eminger became the first Rangers to be selected in the first round of the NHL entry draft. In 1996 the Edmonton Oilers used their 5th overall pick to take Boyd Deveraux of the Rangers. In the 2002 NHL entry draft history repeated itself in more ways than one. Much like Deveraux, Eminger found his way into the NHL prior to his junior eligibility had expired. More coincidences would reveal themselves when it was made known that Steve Eminger was the first 18 year old Washington Capitals since former Rangers' defender: Scott Stevens. And like Scott Stevens Eminger would enjoy a Memorial Cup victory, Scott Stevens even faxed his former team a letter wishing them the best of luck in their 2003 campaign after they had qualified for the tourney. Eminger was taken 4th overall in a rich 1999 OHL draft that featured three extremely highly touted defenders, Eminger was the first of those three selected, along with Trevor Daley and Tim Gleason who went to Sault Ste. Marie and Windsor respectively. Daley and Eminger, both would have three full seasons in the OHL to prove their worth, because of late birthdays prior to getting a look at the NHL entry draft and the sight of each player promoted the debate over which team selected the better defender. Those critics got their chance to see the two defenders go head to head in their first seasons in the OHL and just this past season, what most can assume is their final OHL seasons. Earlier in their careers Daley appeared to have the advantage, but over the course of the next few seasons Eminger established a reputation for himself as one of the most elite defenders in the OHL.
Eminger has also received many awards and honors in his three and a half season OHL career. After his rookie season he was named rookie of the year for the Rangers. During his third season with the Rangers he was nominated for the CHL All-Star team, as the top OHL defender on the team. The 2002-2003 season brought more honors and an unexpected detour on his way to the OHL regular season. Eminger was seen at the annual fan appreciation day while several of his teammates were away at various NHL camps, the assumption was that Eminger would suit up for the Rangers in the coming season. Steve, with his strong skating ability and maturity with the puck earned him a second look by the Washington Capitals, something that was unanticipated even from the soft-spoken defender himself. He survived several cuts before finding his way on to the opening day roster where he operated the Washington blueline with one of the greatest Swedish defenders to have ever played the game: Calle Johansson. With friends and family watching in Toronto, Eminger recorded an assist, on a shot from the point. After the Capitals had made several acquisitions on the blueline, most notably Jason Doig, Eminger's ice time began to ease up. It was of little consequence for Eminger who was ticketed for the World Juniors in Halifax over the Christmas break.
After the world junior tourney, where Roy, Campbell
and Eminger helped team Canada win silver in Halifax, NS. Immediately
after the tournament, Eminger was summoned into the office of Capitals
GM: George McPhee where he was informed that a decision had been made to
return Steve to the Rangers to finish his final year of junior eligibility.
Steve took well to the news and during a game against the Plymouth Whalers,
the Rangers' faithful gave a huge cheer as Eminger's face appeared on the
big screen, despite what could have been interpreted as a demotion, Eminger's
attitude was as upbeat as before he left for the pros. After averaging
more than a point a game with the Rangers while on the blueline, Eminger
had a shoulder injury at a very inopportune time. With just two games
left in the regular season, Eminger was injured. Through the first
round Emigner only received ice time while on the man advantage.
Eminger actually started to be criticized by Rangers fans for his play,
however he simply got better and better as every playoff round passed.
Eminger finished the postseason with 11 points (3-8) in 21 games, and was
especially strong during the Memorial Cup where was he was named to the
Memorial Cup All-Star team. A great finish to an amazing junior career.
Photo: Stephen Gardiner Photography