For only the 2nd time since the 2004 Lockout, the Rangers missed the NHL playoffs in 2018. After their tough start to the season, the Rangers conceded that it was time to give up on the core that gave this team so much success through the much of the recent decade. Although the core never produced a Stanley Cup, the Rangers were always serious contenders.
However, that core was slowly getting taken apart and the team weakened and got older each year. Jeff Gorton and Co. made the announcement halfway through last season that they were no longer trying to just make the playoffs, but they wanted to build a younger team that would compete for the Stanley Cups. The Rangers sold off solid veterans such as Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, JT Miller, and Michael Grabner for young talent and draft picks. It is a move I fully endorse, as that core took the Rangers as far as they could have gone. They no longer were young or talented enough to make a true run at the Cup, short of a miracle from the aging Henrik Lundqvist. What the Rangers want to do now is turn it around quickly enough to give Hank one more shot at getting back to the Stanley Cup Final.
So, this year, for the first time in about 14 years, the draft MATTERED for our Blueshirts. They had 10 selections, with 3 coming in the First Round. Overall, it was pretty clear that the Rangers had done some HEAVY scouting overseas. 8 of their 10 selections were from either Canada or overseas.
With the 9th overall pick, the Rangers selected 18-year-old Russian, Vitali Kravtsov. With names such as Bouchard, Wahlstrom, and Dobson (the latter two ending up with the Islanders) on the board, the Rangers took a risk and went with the big Russian sniper. This surely disappointed more than a few Ranger fans, but the more you read about and watch Kravstov, the more you see why he was a Top 10 selection. He is a BIG presence that has soft hands and can skate incredibly well. He has a great shot and simply knows how to put the puck in the net, but also has play-making abilities to setup his teammates. The Rangers are hoping they got themselves their version of Kuznetsov, the talented Russian that helped the Capitals win the Cup this year. Only time will tell if this home run swing will pay off, but I like the risk.
With their other two selections in the First Round, the Rangers took US defenseman K’Andre Miller and Swedish defenseman Nils Lundkvist (not to be mistaken for Henrik Lundqvist’s fam).
Miller is much like Brent Burns on the Sharks, Miller converted from Forward to Defense. He is SUPER athletic and can really skate. Only 18 years old, the Rangers love his raw upside and see him as a great two-way defenseman that will be a Top 4 staple. He is off to be a Wisconsin Badger and will hopefully be in New York in the next 2-3 years.
Lundkvist is a smooth skating and passing defenseman out of Sweden who is also 18 years old (notice a theme here?). The guy is a great puck mover that is incredibly smart with the puck. Great Hockey IQ keeps getting thrown around with Lundkvist. He is not as flashy as Boqvist, the other Swede defenseman that got drafted at #8 by the Blackhawks, but some think he has a better overall game. If he can gain some consistency, the Rangers might have found another gem here late.
Overall, I give their first round a solid B. They took some risks, that if they pan out, this could end up being a MONSTER 1st Round, but in the meantime, a lot has yet to be determined with these top guys. All three players are super young and with the right development, could be real players around 2020.
The 2nd round selection of Goalie Olof Lindbom out of Sweden was a bit of a shocker, given the solid organizational depth at the position. To me, much like Quarterbacks in the NFL, you can never have enough talent at the Goalie position. The Rangers went BPA (Best Player Available) here, and with Hank’s career coming to a close in the next 3 years or so, you can’t have enough talent at this spot.
The BPA theme continued from there with taking 2 defenseman in the 3rd Round in Ragnersson and Keane. The Rangers finished out the draft by taking two more defensemen, Nico Gross (No. 101) and Simon Kjellberg (No. 163), plus two wingers in Lauri Pajuniemi (No. 132) and Riley Hughes (No. 216).
Mr. Glass-Half-Full Take:
While many will say the Rangers draft lacked the flash or pizazz that they were hoping for, they got a crop of 10 young men that have the potential to be the new core of this storied franchise. They took a couple swings at some young talent that Gorton will need to pan out, or this wont look great, especially if Wahlstrom and Dobson turn out to be players for the cross-town rival Islanders. Not knowing a ton about each prospect (I wont pretend to be), but going off the tea leaves and what people in the know are saying, I like the potential of this draft and give it a solid B- overall. Now comes the hard part of figuring which of the current crop of NHL-level Rangers are going to be a part of the future going forward. Gorton has his hands full.
Lets make this rebuild a quick one Gortie.