The Rangers may not have defeated Carolina in the the qualifying round last week, but it is hard to believe that their win in the draft lottery late yesterday afternoon was a consolation prize. If it was a consolation prize, in the long run, it will prove much more valuable than if they won the qualifying round. One of eight teams that could have won the 2020 NHL Entry Draft Lottery (each team had an equal 12.5% chance of getting the number one pick overall), the Rangers won the “Alexis Lafrenière sweepstakes.” Although, last night, NYR General Manager Jeff Gorton would not commit to picking Lafrenière at the entry draft (which is scheduled to be held in October), the Saint-Eustache, Quebec, winger is the consensus best player available in the draft.
According to Hockeyprospect.com, “[w]hat makes Lafrenière such a special player … is his vision and hockey sense. He’s a great playmaker, but it’s also his ability to make quick decisions with the puck that separates him from the pack.” Clearly, after watching the Rangers in the qualifying round against Carolina, New York can use some help in those areas. And despite the fact that Lafrenière plays on the left side, where the Rangers are already strong (Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin are in the top six at LW), when you are talking about selecting a number one overall, unless it’s a close call, you take the best available player. And there is no question that Lafrenière is the best available in this year’s draft.
Averaging more than two points per game for the QMHL’s Rimouski Oceanic (which was Sidney Crosby’s junior team), Lafrenière already has NHL size (6-1”, 192) and is expected to join the team this coming winter. In his post-lottery video conference yesterday, the presumptive pick said that he may begin the season in Rimouski (if the CHL season begins before the NHL) and then come to New York for training camp. It has yet to be decided whether that will happen, but likely the Rangers would rather him come practice in New York than take a chance on injury in a junior game in Rimouski.
In the post-lottery conference, Gorton was asked questions about the future of the roster and the fact that the team is stocked on the left side. There is no question that the Rangers could use an experienced center, but Gorton was reluctant to answer. He rightfully said that he wants to keep the team needs and any trade talks close to the vest to help the team’s bargaining power. That said, one of the things that was clear from the qualifier round was that the Rangers need face-off help. The Rangers do have a second first round pick and 10 available selections in what Gorton said is a particularly deep draft (more on this in a future article), so he may feel very comfortable pulling the trigger on at least one trade before or during the draft. Hopefully, an additional center will be among them.
One of the more touching moments of the press availability yesterday afternoon was when Gorton was asked about, and then brought out, the late NYPD Steven McDonald’s badge. McDonald, a huge Rangers fan, was a police officer wounded while on duty, who years later succumbed as the result of his injury. The Rangers adopted him and his family into the Rangers’ family and named a yearly award after him—it goes to the player who has given the most effort during the regular season. The McDonald family had loaned the badge to Gorton for luck at last year’s lottery. After New York got the second overall pick in that lottery, yesterday, the family once again loaned the badge to Gorton keep with him for luck. It worked. And it was hard for anyone who was watching not to think that McDonald had a part in this great Rangers’ joy.