As of this afternoon, the Rangers have four selections in the NHL draft that begins tomorrow evening. This lack of picks would be somewhat concerning, if this were another draft year. However, as sometimes randomly happens, this is not a year with a large number of available players that look to be high-end NHL stars. That does not mean that there won’t be any, or even only a few; what it does mean is that, at this time, scouts are projecting fewer elite players in this draft class. It is why you may see quite a few teams moving down in the draft to get other assets instead.
So, having fewer draft picks this year (and no first round selections as of now) is not as big a deal as it was from 2013 through 2016 (when not one of the top picks that the Rangers made in each year was a first rounder, and none of those top four non-first-round selections has become a regular NHL player). One does have to remember that all of Pavel Buchnevich, Anthony Duclair, and Ryan Graves were selected in rounds three and four of the 2013 draft. And that 2014 gave the team Igor Shesterkin in the fourth round.
In addition to the talent level within the draft, there is also the Russia “issue,” which almost certainly will be at play in parts of the draft. It is very likely that Russian players will be moving further down the NHL draft than they ordinarily would be due to the situation with Ukraine. There are all kinds of questions about whether players will be able to come to North America, and the current rumors regarding Kirill Kaprizov have a lot of people in Montreal a bit skittish.
Both those things should help the Rangers, who currently are scheduled to select in the 63rd position (2nd round), 111th overall (4th round), 159th overall (5th round), and 191st position (6th round). New York has never been shy about drafting Russian players (there are several currently on the NHL team) and the team could afford to wait for some very good players that fall to them because of the Russian factor.
Who Is in the Pipeline?
The Rangers have a plethora of young players who were on the NHL roster by the end of the playoffs. It would be incorrect to say that the organizational cupboard is empty, but it has significantly fewer players in it than just two years ago. If we take Braden Schneider off the prospect list, it leaves wingers (Vitali Kravtsov, Brennan Othmann, and Will Cuylle) as the team’s top forward prospects. All three are good prospects, which with some of the elite young talent already on the Rangers fits in very nicely–Kravtsov is a very nice sized potential top six forward, Othmann a potential top nine, and Cuylle (who has size and grit and some professional experience) is a bottom nine. The Rangers have even signed two big late round draft picks (Adam Edstrom and Matt Rempe) to fill the bottom six roles. In looking over the prospect pool up front, you begin to see that over the last few years, the brass has begun to cover most of the bases. Where there still is a big hole is at center, which remains a big need for the club. Mika Zibanejad will likely center the first line for quite a few more years, but there has to be an heir apparent, and right now one does not jump out of this group.
On the back end, most of the organizational talent is already in New York. Adam Fox, K’Andre Miller, and Schneider are already in place. Part of the issue is the slower than hoped for development of Matthew Robertson, who was tentatively slotted in scouts’ minds as one of the team’s top four defenseman. Expected to be a big defensive blueline contributor, Robertson did not have a good year in Hartford. The team’s (somewhat) two-way blueline prospect, Hunter Skinner, put up decent numbers but his skating left a quite a bit to be desired.
Which leaves the organization’s top two offensive defensive prospects–Nils Lundkvist and Zac Jones–to consider. Lundkvist, who was expected to fill a roster spot in New York, had a very disappointing season. Jones did better, but both suffer from something that is beyond either of their abilities to fix–both players stand under six feet. Although it is true that the NHL no longer holds to the old 5’11”, 185 pound minimum informal rule, it has been very hard for any team to win the Stanley Cup with more than one small defenseman on the ice. The Rangers already have that guy–it is Fox. And absent something very unexpected, Fox will fill that role for the Blueshirts for a long time. So, it becomes very hard to imagine that either of Lundkvist or Jones could stay in New York for a long time.
In goal, there is Shesterkin and a host of prospects behind him. In addition to Adam Huska and Tyler Wall, who are marginal prospects at this point, there are four goaltenders within the organization. Of the four, right now, the one that stands out is Dylan Garand, who had a great season in the WHL, but any of the other three could prove to be an excellent back up for Shesterkin in the coming years.
Who Are Some Excellent Possible Draftees
So, if a snapshot is taken at this moment, any type of good sized, mobile defenseman and potential centers should be the focus of this draft for the Blueshirts. But, predicting these things in the fluid situation that can change at any minute with a trade before or at the draft is very difficult.
Who could be available though is worth a look. Here are three interesting players that the Rangers might be interested in the positions where they are drafting. But there are literally three dozen players that are possibilities.
- Artyom Duda (ranked 28th overall among Euro players by central scouting)–Left defense–probably a two-way blueliner. Good skater, excellent hockey sense/decisionmaking with the puck, very good first pass, had an outstanding playoffs in the MHL. Needs time to develop.
- Nikita Grebyonkin (ranked 51st among Euro players by central scouting)–Left center–great possible mid to late round pick. Excellent two-way center, who is gritty and can post points on the board. Good vision and smarts.
- Filip Bystedt (ranked 17th overall among Euro players by central scouting)–Left center–incredible size, good hands, and very good skating. His compete level has been questioned by scouts, but he has all the tools.
There are many good players in the draft, but many more than usual are iffy to make the NHL. This could be a fantastic draft or a complete bust. We will have to all wait and see.