A LOT of my friends are Rangers fans. Folks, this one is for you.
2nd Overall: Kaapo Kakko (RW, TPS: Liiga)
Rangers get the best wing in the draft. Kakko is the cream that rose to the top. There’s not much to say about him that hasn’t already been said. Dynamic wing, can crash the net, can score from anywhere. Without question, one of the top 2 players available in the draft. Rangers get a franchise forward who is going to dazzle their fans for years to come. He’ll be in the lineup this season for sure and I’d be amazed if he’s not on the top line. He projects to be the kind of player that is good for 60+ points per year and he’s likely the October front runner for the Calder Trophy.
49th Overall: Matthew Robertson (D, Edmonton Oil Kings: WHL)
Matt Robertson is a big mack truck of a defender, with the smooth hands and puck skills of a veteran puck moving defender. No nonsense or frills to his game. Just smart decision making, cool under pressure with a long reach and great passing instincts. Plays top pairing minutes now in a leadership role for the Oil Kings and I would expect that to continue on through next season. It would not shock me to see him suiting up for the Rangers to start the 2020 season. Probably starts as a third pairing defender, but quickly works his way up the ranks.
58th Overall: Karl Henriksson (C, Frolunda HC J20: SuperElit)
In spite of his small stature (5’9) there were some who felt Henriksson was really under rated. His passing is truly elite. There was talk that he was the benefactor of playing with Lucas Raymond (2020 draft) but that simply does not account for Henriksson’s ability to find teammates with timely, accurate passes. He’s got excellent wheels and fantastic endurance. Watching him, it almost seems like as the game goes on, he gets faster, but I think that’s more the players he’s playing against wearing down. He’s always a threat to spring a teammate and if he doesn’t have a passing lane, he has the speed to get to open ice and create opportunities for new lanes to form. He’s a capable shooter, but his bread and butter is really that of a set-up man. I project him as a potential middle of the roster center who can be useful on the power play.
68th Overall: Zachary Jones (D, Tri-City Storm: USHL)
Jones was a benefactor of having several gifted players around him. Don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s not capable on his own. He masterfully overcomes his size limitations (5’9 or 5’10 depending where you look) by being a truly gifted passer of the puck. His puck movement in all 3 zones is excellent. He makes up for his lack of size by being so good with the puck on his stick. Will Butcher might not be an unfair comparison for him. We’ll have to see where his career at UMass Amherst takes him to really know how far his puck skills can carry him.
112th Overall Hunter Skinner (D, Lincoln Stars: USHL)
The Rangers really gave the USHL a good look this draft. Hunter Skinner is quite the opposite of the aforementioned Zac Jones. Skinner is a 6’3, 174 pound, lanky, kid that hasn’t quite filled out his frame. Once he does, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with. He has excellent athleticism and is a strong skater. His defensive game is still a bit raw, but that’ll get honed in the NCAA quite a bit. Grabbing defensive prospects in the later rounds, who are NCAA committed allows a team to really see what they’re going to get out of a kid. The NCAA game also helps condition them. If Skinner is going to have success he’s going to have to fill out a bit and hit the gym, but he’s also going to have to develop his reads and hockey IQ further. He has a good base and could one day be a middle pairing defender for the Rangers.
130th Overall: Leevi Aaltonen (RW/LW, Kalpa U20: Jr. A SM-Liiga)
I was really big on Leevi Aaltonen and (full disclosure) I’m pretty unhappy the Rangers got him. I’ve described him as a similar player to Phil Kessel, except he’s also good in his own zone. Aaltonen just has that kind of straight line, blistering speed that allows him to burn past opposing players. Then he fires that same, on the move snapshot that Kessel has in his toolkit and does so with force and accuracy. Aaltonen takes example of simple physics and does so in a big way. I honestly had him going in the second round, but he’s one of those guys that was projected all over the place. Regardless of that, NOBODY had him going this late in the draft. He’s an absolute steal for the Rangers at 130. Projects to be at worst a speedy role playing forward, but more than likely, I think he eventually develops into a speedy option in the Rangers top 6. I’m not looking forward to it.
161st Overall: Adam Edstrom (C/W, Mora IK: SHL)
Adam Edstrom is big. He’s 6’6 and 207 pounds and the best I can say is that he looks like a Swedish Brian Boyle. He played 15 games for Mora in the SHL as an 18 year old and only managed 1 assist, but the Swedes are known for limiting the ice time of younger players in favor of veterans. He does need to grow into his body a little bit and I imagine his final playing weight will be closer to 230 or 240. But even now, as a kid, he’s got plenty of strength on the puck and he’s a surprisingly good skater for someone his size. Long term project for the Rangers, but he could get there one day.
205th Overall: Eric Ciccolini (RW, Toronto Jr. Canadiens: OJHL)
You don’t see a lot of kids from the OJHL get drafted. Those that do end up in the NHL usually go the undrafted route through college and then get picked up after their senior season. Ciccolini is a slight in build at 5’11, 160 pounds but he has puck skills for days. He’s also very well regarded for his 2 way game and how responsible he is. He’s committed to the University of Michigan. The Rangers liked what they saw enough to grab him now and watch his development shake out over the next few years. Tough to project.
Rangers did quite well for themselves here. Their picks through the first 3 rounds are all excellent value picks and every one of them will be a contributor to the Rangers in some way, some day. The 4th round pick is kind of a wild card. The 5th round pick is the best value of the bunch in my opinion and they round out the draft getting some size and then some skill in the 6th and 7th. They really took a balanced approach to the draft and got players with upsides in the later rounds with longer development paths. Gorton once again shows that he’s the man to bring the Rangers back to prominence.