Treff: Beyond The Rangers Losses In Ottawa

It was a depressing night–the Rangers losing 6-5 in Ottawa in double OT. Especially when they were up by two goals with less than three and a half minutes to play in regulation. It was more than depressing; it was downright galling. And while everyone else is now writing about the one bright spot in the Rangers epic collapse, ie, Brady Skjei, we wanted to address (and debunk) a reason that is always given for New York’s current woes.

Last night and this morning, there is much finger-pointing, and one particular writer who is attributing the Rangers’ current (and future) problems to poor drafting. The story goes that the team has not drafted a player in the first round since 2012 (when it selected the aforementioned Skjei), and had the team made better use of its draft picks, they would have the horses to be consistent and go all the way this year.

So, I thought that we would take a look at this theory, to see if there is even a hint of truth in it. Spoiler alert–there isn’t, but indulge me and let me show you why.

Not surprisingly, none of the players selected by the Rangers in 2014-2016 have reached the NHL. Unless a player has top potential, it can be up to a five-year trajectory to make the NHL. The Rangers have not even selected in the first round for five years, so it would be shocking to find a player who is a regular NHL among their draft picks. But guess what, two of those picks are regular NHLers–Pavel Buchnevich and Anthony Duclair were both selected by the Blueshirts in 2013. More than pretty good, actually.

Plus, everyone has to remember that the Rangers made the playoffs in each of those years, so they would have been drafting in the second half of the first round had New York had a pick. When you go over the players that were selected in the spots the Rangers would have been in each year, there would be slim pickings for those players helping this season.

In 2013, the Rangers lost in the second round of playoffs, so they would have been toward the bottom of the draft. There were good players that were picked there, including Andre Burakovsky (WAS, 23rd overall), Shea Theodore (ANA, 26th overall), and Ryan Hartman (30th overall). But, and this is a big but, what the Rangers traded the pick for was Rick Nash.

Would you say that this team would be better off with Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, and the first rounder than having Nash during these playoffs? Okay maybe some of you would, but neither of those centers has the potential that Nash does to break open a game, and both stunk up the joint as their teams got tossed in the first round of this year’s playoffs.

Going back to the 2013 draft though, the Rangers had no second round pick either. Not so great, but, it is interesting to note that, outside of those players selected in the first round, the player drafted in 2013 that has seen the most NHL games is the Rangers’ third round pick–Anthony Duclair. Ah, Duclair–we will get to him below, but I still shake my head.

In 2014, the Rangers made the Stanley Cup finals, so they would not have had the chance at any of the 2014 first round picks that have made the NHL as regular player thus far. The team then selected right on schedule in the second round– goaltending prospect Brandon Halverson at 59th overall.

Whether Halverson pans out as a pick or not is debatable (and will be the subject of a coming article on goalie prospects), but he was a legit pick at that spot. Since then, he has struggled, but the Rangers goalie coach and prospect evaluator, Benoit Allaire, thought that Halverson was worth the pick. Allaire’s home run that season though was when he also advised the Rangers to select Russian goalie Igor Shesterkin, the player who is now the potential jewel among the prospects in the organization. Selected in the fourth round ( #118 overall) of the 2014 draft, Shesterkin currently stars in the KHL.

Considered by many to be the heir apparent to Henrik Lundqvist, if that is all that comes out of this draft, in a few years, all of New York will be rejoicing and saying what a great draft year the Rangers had.

As for 2015, this draft stings a bit more. The Rangers did not have a first round selection in the draft because of the trade that brought Martin St. Louis to New York. Certainly not a bad trade that almost brought a Stanley Cup to NY. What stings is that one of the best picks the Rangers did make that year, Aleksi Saarela (third round, #89) was sent to Carolina in exchange for Eric Staal.

In my opinion, the trade for Staal (which included two second round picks going to the Canes) was one of the worst trades in recent Rangers history. Saarela had an excellent 2016-17 season with the AHL affiliate and looks to be on his way to a very good NHL career.

Although I still cringe at just the mention of this trade, there are two current organizational prospects obtained in the 2015 draft (Ryan Gropp and Sergey Zborovskiey) that look to have real potential and could wind up being NHLers.

Turning to 2016, the Rangers once again made the playoffs, although they did not go far. New York would have had the 16th overall pick had they not swapped it and Duclair to Arizona a tthe trade deadline in 2015 for Keith Yandle, Chris Summers and a 4th rounder. It turned out that the only regular 2016-17 NHLer who was picked in the lower half of the first round last season was that 16th overall pick, Jakob Chychrun, who looks to be a budding excellent NHL blueliner.

So, the Rangers basically got a 19-year-old smaller defensive prospect Teumu Reunanen (playing in Europe), a minor league D-man, and Yandle for a little more than one season, and wound up no closer to the Stanley Cup. For Duclair and a excellent defensive NHL rookie. To me, this was also not a good deal. But, it had nothing to do with drafting. It was the trade that left the Rangers short. The drafting was excellent given the spots that the scouts had to work with.

You may be getting my drift here. My colleague is wrong–it was not poor drafting that has caused the current Rangers’ woes. Yes, the Yandle trade was iffy at best, and the trade for Staal was downright head-scratching. But, the consequences of those trades have probably not affected the NHL team yet.

After all, this year alone, Buchnevich and Skjei are NHL rookies and Skjei particularly has been a positive factor in the post-season. And you cannot totally blame the trades. That cannot be the whole reason that the team has been up and down in the later part of the regular season and through the first two rounds.

Frankly, we can speculate all we want–is it the coach, is it the chemistry, is it the defense–but one thing is sure, something needs to be changed to get this team moving closer to the Stanley Cup.

About the Author

Leslie Treff

Leslie Treff is a contributor for NY Sports Day, covering NY NHL teams. She has been covering the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils for more than 15 seasons. Leslie is a recognized expert in hockey prospects and has served as a scout for several independent agencies. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, in her former life, Leslie was an attorney in the judiciary in New York City.

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