Currently, the Rangers own six selections in this weekend’s entry draft in Buffalo. As of this today (post-trade of Keith Yandle’s signing rights), the Rangers have a third round (No. 81), fourth round (No. 98), fifth round (No. 141), two sixth round (Nos. 171, 174) and one seventh round (No. 201) selection. Absent a last minute trade that will allow New York to move up significantly, Gordie Clark and crew will wait for the third round to make a selection and once again be looking for diamonds in the rough.
After quite a few seasons of brilliant drafting, which resulted in a mostly homegrown team, New York has traded away its top picks over the last few years. A victim of its own success, the Rangers looked for the few pieces that they thought they were missing to win the Stanley Cup and gave up what turned out to be too much. The coveted Cup did not materialize, leaving the team with a very weak prospect group and quite a long way to go before being able to fully recover.
The team has not selected a prospect in the first round since 2012. And when you don’t have high picks, in this salary cap era, it is hard to replenish your NHL team. Generally, a team looks for two shining stars in a draft–its first rounder and one more in the draft class. In 2013, the Rangers did not have a first rounder, but might have found two stars–Anthony Duclair and Pavel Buchnevich–in the third round. That was a wonderful anomaly that the scouting group gets full credit for, but Duclair was gone in less than two years in the trade that brought Keith Yandle to New York. As the scouts quickly found out, it is really hard to keep winning that lottery–the 2014 class has produced only one potential regular top player (Igor Shestyorkin) and he may not even wind up playing in North America.
Now with a weaker prospect group, the Rangers have one position at which the prospect group is strong. There are currently three legitimate NHL prospects being developed within the organization, with two additional potential journeymen. In addition to netminders, there is one excellent prospect at wing, in Buchnevich (signed to come to North America this fall) and two very good prospects on defense–Brady Skjei (the last first round pick the Rangers had) and Ryan Graves (who is showing promise as a stay at home blueliner). Other than that, New York has several boom or bust prospects and then quite a few bottom six potentials.
What Clark and company have done in the recent past is to turn to European players to find highly skilled forwards. He is likely to do so again. A smaller player, with excellent hands and good skating ability would be desirable. Potential top six centers would be highly prized. Also needed is an offensive defenseman, which may not be available this far down in the draft, but it would be worth taking a chance on a player with an issue (maybe smaller size) to get this type of asset.
Additionally, the Rangers are always looking for big tough forwards and defensemen in the late rounds, although last year, New York picked up Adam Huska, a high risk, high reward goaltender, who the scouts felt should have gone higher in the draft.
The fact remains, however, that whoever the Rangers select at the draft this year, without a significant trade that includes high end prospects coming back, the organizational depth will take time to rebuild.