Roman Lyashenko became a New York Ranger on March 12th, 2002. He and Martin Rucinsky were acquired from the Dallas Stars in exchange for Manny Malhotra and Barret Heisten.
Lyashenko was the focal point of the trade.
A former second round pick the Russian prospect had 139 games of NHL experience (17 of which were playoff games) before coming to New York. Praised as a cerebral, two-way center Lyashenko played 15 games with the Rangers in the 2002-03 season as a fourth line center. He picked up two goals while managing to stay out of the box and broke even in plus/minus.
It was a promising start to his Rangers career.
The next year Lyashenko played just twice for the Blueshirts. He spent the majority of the season in the AHL where he put together his best North American season. Playing in Hartford he had 58 points in 71 games to finish third on the team in scoring. He was an AHL All-Star that year despite requesting a mid-season release to join a club team in Russia. It was no secret that he wanted to return home.
That same year he left the Wolf Pack during the playoffs to represent Russia at the 2003 World Championships. Playing alongside former Ranger Dmitri Kalinin and former Sabres star Maxim Afinogenov Lyashenko won silver. He picked up two assists in nine games. He had won a gold, bronze and silver medal playing for Russia at the World Juniors before the beginning of the millennium.
Despite that international and minor league success, it seemed unlikely that the young center would find a role in New York. The Rangers roster featured centers Mark Messier, Eric Lindros, Bobby Holik, Petr Nedved and Jamie Lundmark.
It was beginning to look like Lyashenko would return to Russia or be dealt before the 2003-04 season.
"We knew going in that it was a long shot, but that didn't have any effect," Lyashenko's agent Todd Diamond told USA Today. "Several teams were interested in him because they knew he wasn't a fourth-line guy."
Lyashenko would have turned 38-years-old on May 2nd of this year. But he committed suicide while on vacation with his mother and sister in Turkey in the summer of 2003. He was 24-years-old.
Most young Rangers fans probably don't remember Lyashenko, and that's a shame for a litany of reasons. Lyashenko is so more than just a cautionary tale or an uncomfortable chapter in Rangers history. He deserves more than that.
Unfortunately Lyashenko isn't the only Ranger that left us too soon. He is one of a growing number of professional hockey players who have taken their own lives.
Remember Roman Lyashenko. Remember Derek Boogaard.
Remember to listen when you talk with someone who is in a bad place. Remember to be kind.
Remember that talking openly about mental illness is important. Remember that it’s healthy. Remember that it’s okay. It may be impossible to believe, but you're not alone in how you feel. You don't have to face your battles alone- no matter how personal or private they feel. No one does.
Living with a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not your fault and it’s not your choice. But you can choose to do something about it. It’s not easy, but it is worth it.
If you are struggling with depression, thoughts of suicide and/or other mental health issues please reach out to someone. Help is out there. You deserve it. You're worth it.
NAMI: the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: free and confidential, 24/7.