The already stocked Rangers’ organization is richer this morning after a two-day marathon virtual draft. Going into Tuesday night’s first round, the Blueshirts had 10 draft picks. This morning, after more than 12 hours of being “on the floor” during the draft, New York has nine new prospects who, as a group, greatly strengthen the already consensus number one organization. And, if obtaining these prospects was not enough, the Rangers also were able to get decent value for a prospect that was unable to fit into their system since he was selected in the first round of the 2017 draft.
The trade: Lias Anderson was drafted seventh overall in the 2017 draft. Andersson was a very impressive prospect before the draft, with an excellent shot and a very good two-way game. Plus, according to all sources, he was also an excellent interview at that year’s Combine. The Rangers were impressed and felt that he was a sure thing to make the NHL. Trouble started six months later, when Sweden came in second at the 2018 U20WJCs. Apparently Andersson was extremely upset that his team lost the championship game and, in a youthful display of disgust, during the medal ceremony, he threw the silver medal that was placed around his neck into the stands. A youthful indiscretion many said, and it was. However, Andersson continued to show a lack of maturity in the years that followed. Given his maturity issues, as well as his failure to show readiness in 66 NHL games over the course of three seasons, a change was needed for both Andersson and the Rangers. Andersson left for Europe and appeared in 15 games last season for HV71. He has had an excellent start for the same SHL team this season, and New York decided to take the 60th overall pick for him yesterday. Given the circumstances, this must be considered good value for Andersson, who likely would not have agreed to play for the Rangers again.
The draft: The lottery awarded New York with the first overall pick in the draft. Although the Rangers would not confirm anything prior to the draft, General Manager Jeff Gorton admitted on Tuesday that the team made the decision to draft Alexis LaFrenière the moment the lottery ball came up with the Rangers logo. LaFrenière, LW, can do it all offensively. His vision is incredible, as are his passing skills. In addition, he has a tremendous release. And he can score from anywhere—he gets the dirty goals in front of the net as well as those near the dots. At Rimouski (QMJHL), his junior team, LaFrenière played in all situations. Do not expect that to happen at the pro level, but it shows how much he is willing to contribute to help his team win. If he has one drawback (and it’s a big if), according to sources, LaFrenière has less than elite skating. He likely will continue to work on that over the next season when he is definitely expected to appear in a Rangers uniform.
New York’s top two picks were both late year 2001s, which in some cases puts them almost a full year older than other potential draftees. LaFrenière missed eligibility for the 2019 draft by less than a month. The Rangers’ second selection in the first round, Braden Schneider, RD, was born on September 20th, 2001. The Rangers moved up to number 19 in the draft to select Schneider, and it was easy to see why. Big, strong, with excellent hockey sense, Schneider can move the puck, is not afraid to block pucks and has excellent gap control. Projected to be more of a defensive blueliner, Schneider has an excellent shot and could develop into a two-way player. He can still play another year in junior hockey with Brandon (WHL), but he may just turn pro if he is ready to take an NHL roster spot. Time, and the course of COVID-19 in the USA and Canada, will tell if Schneider even gets a chance to show that he is ready.
After selecting two top prospects in round one, the Rangers had no picks in the second round—until they traded Andersson to Los Angeles. In exchange for Andersson, the Kings sent the 60th overall pick back to the Rangers, and with that selection, New York selected William Cuylle (LW). Clearly picking the best available player at that spot (the Rangers already have a strong left side), Cuylle has size (6’3”, 203), a good shot, and some speed. In addition, he knows how to use his body. But, according to scouts, the reason he was not a higher ranked player had to do with his thinking of the game and his vision. If he develops these further, he could be a steal at number 60 in the draft; as it is, he should be a good player, who will at least be an asset in the AHL going forward.
The Rangers then started to select players based upon future need, including two centers and two goaltenders. The first such pick was European prospect Oliver Tärnström (C), son of former NHLer Dick Tärnström. The younger Tärnström was a somewhat surprising pick at 92nd overall, however, he is a skilled center and could become a top six player. More of a playmaker than a scorer, with strong skating and excellent vision, Tärnström is one of the younger players that New York drafted this season. Expected to spend the next few years in Europe (on the team with which his father is affiliated), however, we do not expect to see Oliver in North America for at least two years.
In the fourth round, at number 103, the Rangers selected Dylan Garand. Garand is a small netminder (6’0”), who was a mainstay between the pipes for the WHL Kamloops Blazers last season. Additionally, he played exceptionally well at the 2018 World U17 Hockey Challenge and the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. A big game player, Garand loves to play the puck and has very good lateral movement.
The Blueshirts originally had only one fifth round selection in the 2020 draft. However, during the round, the Rangers acquired the 127th pick from San Jose, in exchange for the 196th and 207th picks this year. The team specifically moved up to select Evan Vierling (C). A decent sized, playmaking center, Vierling has the skills and the foot speed to put together an NHL career as a two-way forward. However, he seems to have been having difficulty thus far putting it all together. But that is part of what junior hockey is for. Vierling dropped in the draft because of some of these question marks, but the Rangers could look absolutely brilliant if Vierling is able to become an NHL regular.
The Rangers then selected an agitating NTDP left wing in Brett Berard with their own 134th overall pick. He is small, with great hockey sense, and an incredible compete level. But he is weak defensively (which is why he slipped to the fifth round). Berard is committed to joining Providence College this year.
The team then selected a very tall (6’8”) right shot center in Matthew Rempe. Rempe had an excellent rookie season with the WHL Seattle Thunderbirds. He has size and some of tools that would be necessary for him to make it to the NHL. However, he is longshot and will depend greatly on his development over the next two years.
With their final pick in the draft (197th overall), New York selected goaltending Hugo Ollas. A native of Sweden, Ollas was named the best U18 netminder in Sweden’s J18 league in 2018-19. He is a long shot to make the NHL, but remember, Henrik Lundqvist was also a seventh rounder.
Final thoughts: The Rangers did well in the 2020 draft. When you get the first overall pick, it’s really hard to conclude anything else. But with this draft, it is more than that. The Rangers managed their picks really well this draft. LaFrenière was a winner, of course. But both Schneider and Cuylle are both prospects that are expected to make the NHL within two to three years.
Another difference with this year’s Rangers’ draft is that six of the nine prospects are from the Canadian Hockey League. Although this draft contained more top prospects from major junior hockey, it was significant that only one of the 9 NYR prospects were from a college-bound program. One has to wonder if the team is switching back to favoring those CHL prospects over those that are taking the college route (at least for drafting purposes).
Finally, it was clear from watching the draft take place Tuesday and Wednesday that team President, John Davidson, was very involved in selecting the draft picks. JD has a reputation of doing so (successfully), and it was good to see that he has begun to make his mark on this team.
For NY Sportsday’s Rangers’ draft preview, see https://www.nysportsday.com/2020/10/06/rangers-2020-draft-preview/