There was much anticipation for the Blueshirts prior to the 2018 NHL draft. This was considered to be a deep draft and going into draft, the Rangers had nine selections, including three first-round and two second-round picks. GM Jeff Gorton had indicated that all of the picks “were in play,” as far as trades go, and that he “had a lot of opportunity to make [the] team better and build the pieces that [the Rangers] need to make the team better.” As it turns out, the Rangers made only two trades on the floor—one, moving up a four slots in the bottom of the first round and, the other, adding a seventh round selection—but the team was able to get the 10 players they wanted with the picks that fell to them.
Team Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark has run the draft for the past 13 years and, after holding meetings and making decisions about prospects over the last month, this year was no different. What has been different over the last three drafts, and seems to have increasing influence over time, is the presence of Director of European Scouting, Nikolai Bobrov. Bobrov joined the scouting staff in August 2015 and has become instrumental in finding and evaluating New York’s early picks. Bobrov played college hockey at Middlebury in the 1990s, worked as a video scout with the Boston Bruins, became an NHL scout in 2001 and joined the KHL in 2009. From 2011-2014, Bobrov was the North American representative for the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg (the team Igor Shesterkin has played for over the last four seasons).
Since Bobrov joined the Rangers organization, New York has looked more and more toward Europe for their top picks. Last summer, both of the first round selections (Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil), and a total of five of the seven NYR picks, were from Europe. This weekend, six of the 10 Rangers’ picks were from Europe, including two first rounders (Vitali Kravtsov and Nils Lundkvist) selected on Friday night.
Why am I emphasizing this, you might ask? It is because it is an excellent strategy to have a very strong European scouting staff, when you do not necessarily have a lot of top picks in the draft. Although the Rangers have selected seventh and ninth over the last two years, New York is hoping not to have many more top ten picks in the future (unless they trade for them). A better record will have the team drafting later, theoretically, causing the available talent to lessen. But, that will not be true if the Rangers have a better European scouting staff than most other teams.
And, right now, New York has one of the better European scouting staffs in the league. Bobrov heads that group and has great input in the team’s draft selections. So, without further ado, let’s get to those picks.
Vitali Kravtsov, RW, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL)
Birthdate: 12/23/1999; Height: 6’3”; Weight: 184
Drafted: 1st rd., 9th overall
According to Bobrov, Kravtsov is a “very exciting player, a very smart . . . very skilled player, with great size and a lot of speed, and very, very good character.” What more could any team want? Although it appeared that when the Rangers chose Kravtsov that his name came out of the blue, one scouting agency had him ranked six overall. And The Rangers had him ranked as the second best forward in the draft—ahead of Zadina and Wahlstrom. Kravtsov was the recipient of the Alexei Cherepanov Award as the KHL’s top rookie. What was particularly impressive about Kravtsov was his play during the KHL post-season, where he excelled and basically put on a show. Remember, this is the KHL playoffs, where Kravtsov played against men, not against players his own age. He posted 11 points (6 goals, 5 assists) in 16 games–as an 18 year-old. Bobrov stated, that Kravtsov “was the youngest KHL player to score a playoff goal in the modern day history of the KHL.” With high-end puck-handling skills and speed, and outstanding vision, the offensive upside for him is unlimited. But, Kravtsov weighs only 184 pounds and needs to build strength. That will be remedied over time, as he fills out his big frame. It is not clear whether or not Kravtsov will come to North America to play this coming season. He has another year on his KHL contract, but he will be in development camp this coming week and thought will be given to Kravtsov remaining in North America. Although others have discussed a similarity between Kravtsov’s situation and that of Chytil last year, the decision is not comparable. The kind of money Kravtsov would lose by moving to the AHL is not comparable to what was lost to Chytil. Therefore, it would seem that Kravtsov would only stay in North America this season if he makes the NHL roster.
K’Andre Miller, LD, USNTDP (USHL)
Birthdate: 1/21/2000; Height: 6’3”; Weight: 199
Drafted: 1st rd., 22nd overall
The Rangers moved up four spots in the draft (surrendering their 26th and 48th picks in the draft) to select Miller, the player who stock rose the most in scouts’ eyes in the weeks prior to the draft. Rumored to be one of the better interviews at the Combine, and killing it in the testing, Miller is the top American defenseman not named Hughes that everyone was discussing this last month. Had the Rangers not moved up, he almost certainly would have been gone. Committed to the University of Wisconsin for this fall, Miller is an intriguing prospect. It is only over the last three years that he converted from a forward to a left defenseman, so he may need more time to develop than if he had been playing the position all his life, but he has the potential to be a first pairing blueliner. An incredible athlete (playing multiple sports), with great flexibility and strength, he will need to add some weight to his frame to compete in the NHL, but Miller has all the tools (including good hockey sense and skating ability) to reach his potential. He will get plenty of international play along the way. In addition to helping the United States earn a silver medal at the 2018 IIHF U18 World Championship (one goal, two assists, and a plus-four rating in seven games), he represented the United States at the 2016 World U17 Challenge, the 2017 U18 Five Nations Tournament, the 2016 U17 Four Nations Tournament, and the 2017 U17 Five Nations Tournament. This summer, Miller is one of 42 players invited to the World Junior Summer Showcase in Kamloops BC, where he will seek to impress at the initial selection camp for the U20 WJC team.
Nils Lundkvist, RD, Lulea (SHL)
Birthdate: 7/27/00; Height: 5’11”; Weight: 172
Drafted: 1st rd., 28th overall
Able to combine physical play with offensive skill, Lundkvist is a two-way defenseman who likes to play an up-tempo game. By a couple of days, he is the youngest player selected by the Rangers this season and was one of the youngest to skate in the SHL this past year. He split time between the SHL and the junior team (where he was named the Best Defenseman in the SuperElit). He also participated in the 2018 IIHF U18 WJCs, where Lundkvist helped Sweden win the Bronze Medal. One of the better skaters among defensemen eligible for this year’s draft, Lundkvist can be explosive, which helps him on the rush. Although he will make an appearance in development camp this summer, expect Lundkvist to return to Sweden to play in the SHL this fall and maybe for longer (he is under contract in Sweden for two more seasons).
Olof Lindbom, G, Djurgardens J20 (SuperElit)
Birthdate: 7/23/00; Height: 6’0”; Weight: 173
Drafted: 2nd rd., 39th overall
Lindbom was a surprise pick in that Central Scouting had him fifth among European goalies and none of the scouting agencies had him being selected in the second round. There were several reasons for this, not the least of which was his size. At just six feet tall, Lindbom is undersized in today’s NHL. Not that shorter goaltenders cannot do the job, but the current thinking has been that 6’1” is pretty much the minimum. In addition, he did not have a great year with Djurgardens of the SuperElit league. But what he did have was a wonderful 2018 U18 WJCs, where he had a 1.66 GAA and a save percentage of 94.9% in six games. Named the best goaltender in the tournament, Lindbom was instrumental in Sweden winning the bronze medal. A sound netminder, who is economical in his movements, he positions himself well and has an above average glove. Most importantly, Lindbom is a big game player—he loves the added pressure of a contest that counts. Lindbom is not under contract in Europe and should get a chance to work with Rangers’ goalie coach Benoit Allaire over the next week. Although he could stay in North America, it is likely that the 17-year-old will return to Europe for at least one more year.
One of the reasons that this pick was such a surprise had nothing to do with Lindbom’s skill level, but rather with the fact that there are currently six goaltenders in the system, at least two of whom are considered high end. Why would the Rangers select another netminder so early in the second round, when they expect Igor Shestyorkin (the heir apparent to Henrik Lundqvist) to come over in the fall of 2020? When Gorton was asked that question yesterday, he replied that they just took the best player available, but it definitely is concerning, considering several skater prospects with high potential were still available at number 39. It remains to be seen if there is trouble in paradise, but until then, the Rangers now have seven goaltending prospects in the system.
Jacob Ragnarsson, LD, Almtuna (Allsvenskan)
Birthdate: 9/23/99; Height: 6’0”; Weight: 176
Drafted: 3rd rd., 70th overall
Ragnarsson is the son of a nine-year NHL defenseman, Magnus Ragnarsson. He is mostly a defensive blueliner, although he moves the puck well up the ice. His play is not pretty, not exciting, but he gets the job done. He can skate and sees the ice well. Although born in the United States, Ragnarsson has played pretty much all of his junior hockey in Sweden. Last year he was one of the youngest players in the Allsvenskan, led all defenseman in the league under age 19 in games played and in points posted. Expect him to skate in Europe for one more year before coming to New York and joining the Rangers organization.
Joey Keane, RD, Barrie (OHL)
Birthdate: 7/2/1999; Height: 6’0”; Weight: 180
Drafted: 3rd rd., 88th overall
The Rangers selected Keane in his second year of draft eligibility. A very good skater with good defensive skills, Keane put up some nice numbers this season (12 goals, 32 assists, in 62 games, 52PIM, +45). The OHL leader in plus/minus last season, Keane was recently invited to World Junior Summer Showcase in Kamloops BC, where he will compete for a spot on the U20 WJC team. Expect Keane to return to Barrie this fall, where it is hoped that he will dominate.
Nico Gross, LD, Oshawa (OHL)
Birthdate: 1/26/00; Height: 6’0”; Weight: 185
Drafted: 4th rd., 101st overall
A Swiss native, Gross played in Oshawa this past year after being selected 40th overall in the CHL Import Draft. He was named to the OHL Second All-Rookie team this season after posting four goals and 10 assists, and 46 PIM. Gross has a lot of international experience, representing Switzerland at the 2018 U20 WJCs, 2018 U18 WJCs (where he served as team captain), and the 2017 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. He was one of only two players younger than 17 years old who participated in the 2017 U20 WJCs (along with Rasmus Dahlin), and he was also one of only two players younger than 16 years old who participated in the 2016 U18 WJCs (the other was Andrei Svechnikov). Gross can be a catalyst for offense, but mostly he is best in his own zone. He has good wheels and hockey smarts, but he does not have a lot of offensive upside in the NHL. Although there are rumors that he will return to Zug in Switzerland next season, it is more likely that he will remain in the OHL.
Lauri Pajuniemi, RW, TPS (Liiga)
Birthdate: 9/12/99; Height: 5’11”; Weight: 183
Drafted: 5th rd., 132 overall
The Rangers selected Pajuniemi in his second year of eligibility. As an 18-year-old, he spent most of the season playing against men and really started to come on in the playoffs this spring. In nine games, Pajuniemi scored three goals and recorded one assist. He skates well and has good hockey smarts. More of a playmaking winger than a scorer, Pajuniemi will need to devlop more upper body strength to be able to play in the NHL. Pajuniemi is under contract for one more year in Finland and is not expected to play in North America until at least the fall of 2019.
Simon Kjellberg, LD, Rogle J20 (SuperElit)
Birthdate: 2/17/00; Height: 6’3”; Weight: 190
Drafted: 6th rd., 163 overall
The son the Rangers’ European scout Patric Kjellberg, Kjellberg the Younger appeared in 43 games with Rogle J20 team last season (four goals, five assists). In addition, he posted three points (two goals, one assist) and recorded two penalty minutes in three playoff contests. There is very little scouting information on him—except that he will need to bulk up to fill out his frame in order to be successful in North American play.
Riley Hughes, RW, St. Sebastian’s School (USHS-Prep)
Birthdate: 6/27/00; Height: 6’1”; Weight: 174
Drafted: 7th rd., 216th overall
The Rangers traded their seventh round pick next year for the second to the last pick in the draft to get Hughes, who they have loved for most of the year. A longshot to make the NHL, for sure, but Hughes got their attention when the scouts were watching prep hockey. Very raw, Hughes, can skate very well, has good hockey smarts, and completely ran circles around his prep competition (he recorded 21 goals and 15 assists in 30 games). Committed to Northeastern for the 2019-20 season, his USHL rights are owned by Sioux Falls (he played in two games there last season). Should Hughes decide to go to the CHL instead of the college route, his rights are owned by the Gatineau Olympiques.
In total, the Rangers made 10 selections in this weekend’s draft. In my opinion, they hit it out of the park in the first round. Although the first pick was not well known to most fans, Kravtsov has high marks from everyone who has seen him play. And the Miller and Lundkvist selections were excellent. The mid-round picks were also good, however, it is hard to understand picking a goaltender early in the second round—especially when there were so many good prospects still on the board. Frankly, it makes me nervous that something may be going on to interfere with Shestyorkin’s expected arrival. Let’s hope not, but all in all, this was an excellent draft for the Blueshirts. Development Camp starts tomorrow with scrimmages on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. More reports then. Until then, catch me on twitter