(Writer’s Note: I’ve opted to avoid a lot of pictures, because this bad boy is going to be… wordy)
Much has been made about the Rangers decision to tear it all down. Much analysis has been done about how Jeff Gorton went about dismantling the remnants of a team that made it to a final a few years ago and was a perennial playoff contender. Many Rangers fans cannot remember the last time a true rebuild was done. It might even be reasonable to say this is a true first for the MSG faithful. But, one need only look across the river at their bitter rival, the New Jersey Devils, to see a road map to success. Gorton certainly took the lessons of his Hudson River Rival GM. The Rangers GM has seven picks in the first three rounds of a drafted loaded with top and middle tier talent. The Rangers will be in a position to draft several franchise cornerstone type players to bolster their current prospect pool.
That existing prospect pool is where it gets interesting. Continuing with the Devils example, GM Ray Shero inherited a prospect pool with no real blue-chip prospects and only four players with any considerable NHL viability. Miles Wood and Blake Coleman have made their presences felt this season while Steven Santini and John Quenneville have yet to make a real heavy full-time impact for the Devils. Other “top” prospects in the Devils’ system at the time have gone on to become career AHLers. Aside from that, there were no really good quality young players already in the NHL either aside from Damon Severson. In this regard, the 2018 offseason Rangers are miles ahead of where the 2015 offseason Devils began.
The Rangers prospect pool has an interesting mix of high potential ceiling players and a couple real blue-chip prospects.
Sean Day (D)
Day was taken 81st overall in the 2016 draft. The Rangers had mortgaged the future to make another unsuccessful dash at a cup, so Day was their first pick in this draft. The massive young defender has been a dominant physical player and point producer in the OHL. This season he was part of a blockbuster trade between the Windsor Spitfires and the Kingston Frontenacs that also sent Gabriel Vilardi to Kingston. Day has put up 45 points in 47 games and should be expected to grow to be an NHL contributor some day.
Tim Gettinger (LW/RW)
The Rangers snatched up Gettinger in the 5th round in 2016. There were a few projections that had him going as high as the 2nd round. The 6’6″, 203 pound, Ohio Born winger has been a constant contributor to the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds for the last 3 season. What he might lack in foot speed, Gettinger more than makes up for using his reach and size in battles. He could be a longer term project, but that might be ok if he hits the NHL around the same time as the Rangers’ 2018 draft picks.
Brandon Crawley (D)
Arguably the biggest surprise of the 2017 draft for the Rangers. Rather than send him back to London, they opted to keep him close in Hartford. His numbers in Hartford weren’t impressive or anything, but it’s worth noting that he hasn’t looked lost or outclassed as an 18-year-old pro. Conventional logic dictates that he’s going to get more experience, more size and stronger.
Patrik Virta (C/RW)
The Rangers took a 7th round flyer on the Finnish forward in 2017. The (at the time) 21-year-old already had 2 full seasons with TPS of the Finnish Liiga under his belt when the Rangers took him. This year though, Virta was a breakout player finishing 3rd on the team in points with 40 in 58 games. Virta could be one of those foreign players that comes completely out of no where in a couple of years.
Libor Hajek (D)
The big piece of the trade that sent JT Miller and Ryan McDonagh to Tampa Bay. Libor projects as a future top-tier defender in the NHL.
Lias Andersson (C/W)
Andersson’s high-profile throwing away of his Silver medal should not outshine his performance at the WJC this season. He was one of Sweden’s top players throughout the tournament and was dangerous from anywhere on the ice. At worst he’s a future role player, and at best he’s the future leader of the team.
Filip Chytil (C/W)
Chytil seemed so close to sticking with the Rangers this season (I thought he would), but then he was sent down to Hartford of the AHL. 28 points in 41 games isn’t exactly tearing up the league, but it is another 18-year-old kid in his first professional season. Chytil’s speed and abilities to create and gain open space are potentially game breaking if he can put it all together at the next level.
Adam Huska (G)
I’ve heard far less chatter about Huska than I have expected to after seeing him play a couple of times. The 7th round pick in 2015 has been a real stalwart for the UConn Huskies for the last 2 seasons. His NCAA numbers good. He keeps his team in games and makes big saves. He’s listed at 6’3, but when he stands in his crease he looks MASSIVE. He has all the attributes you want to see from a future NHL goaltender and at 20 years old, he has time to develop at UConn before the Rangers have to make a decision on him.
What does this mean?
Three of the players listed above are defenders. Combine that with Brady Skjei already on the roster and that Rangers could be set on defenders before they even draft in 2018. They also have two definite future top 6 forwards, along with two guys with real potential to be role players on the team. Those guys get added to a good core mix of players all under the age of 26.
Before we even talk about drafting players, with just the players listed above the 2019-2020 Rangers could look something like:
Filip Chytil – Mika Zibanejad – Pavel Buchnevich
Ryan Spooner – Lias Andersson – Jesper Fast
Chris Kreider – Vladislav Namestnikov – Kevin Hayes
Jimmy Vesey – Tim Gettinger – Patrik Virta
Libor Hajek – Kevin Shattenkirk
Brady Skjey – Sean Day
Marc Staal – Brandon Crawley
This is not really a depth chart. It’s more of an example of how the Rangers could field a good young lineup with just the players they have in system, and the players they have on their current roster without 2018 draft picks.
The 2018 Draft
So the Rangers have:
3 – 1st rounders
2 – 2nd rounders
2 – 3rd rounders
They’re likely to have a top 10 pick and 2 picks in the 20-31 Range. The IDEAL situation for the Rangers would be to win a lottery upgrade and get a top 3 pick, where they can select Filip Zadina. Zadina would give them a real game changing scorer in system to couple with Andersson or Chytil. For this next section though, we’re going to assume the Rangers do not move up in the draft and we’re going to assume they pick 8th. There should be a plethora of exciting defensive prospects available at number 8. This draft is loaded with high-end defensive talent. Defense is a spot where the Rangers appear to be strong, but adding another blue chip defensive prospect to the mix certainly couldn’t hurt them. To that end the Rangers will probably want to select one of:
Evan Bouchard, Quinton Hughes, Ryan Merkley, Adam Boqvist, Noah Dobson, Bode Wilde, Jared McIssac.
All these players have the potential to become top-tier defenders at the next level. For this example, the Rangers select puck moving, offensive dynamo, Ryan Merkley. If Merkley falls to the Rangers when they pick, they almost have to select him. He checks in under 6 feet tall, but he has the elite puck moving skills and puck carrying skills that teams covet in the modern NHL. His defensive game needs development, but his puck moving and attacking capabilities, in a system with other young defensive prospects could make him a game changing player for New York.
The other 2 Rangers picks are from Tampa Bay and Boston. Both teams expect to make deep playoff runs so those picks are likely to fall after pick number 25. For our conjecture, we’re going to assume they’re picks number 28 and 30. A spot where the Rangers are weak is right-wing depth. There’s not a lot of true right wings in system, or at the top end of this draft. With many teams gobbling up the defenders, there may be some surprise right wings left around the bottom of the first round. German wing Dominik Bokk and Czech winger Martin Kaut are both worth the Rangers time to look into. If Swiss wing Nando Eggenberger is available at this point, he too would be worth the look. If big defender Kevin Bahl is still available, this might not be a bad time to take him.
With their first pick in the 2nd round the Rangers most assuredly should take Nathan Dunkley from Kingston of the OHL. He’s almost worthy of first round consideration to be honest. The move from Kingston to London this year hurt his numbers a bit, as he no longer had Jason Robertson to feed the puck to. But Dunkley is an unselfish, tenacious forechecking center. He’s the ideal complimentary piece to any line that has a dynamic scoring winger. With the wings that the Rangers are likely to have in system after this draft, Dunkley is a slam-dunk.
With the second pick of the second round, the Rangers should keep chasing wing depth and take the huge Russian wing from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, Yegor Sokolov. In his first year in the QMJHL, Sokolov didn’t put up impressive numbers, but that’s not entirely uncommon for young Russian-born skaters in that league. Sokolov’s size and strength are the elements that Rangers are looking at here. The, not-yet-18-year-old checks in at 6’3 and 223 pounds. There’s still room for a big power forward who’s not afraid to go to greasy areas. This kid can be that.
The third round is a time for the Rangers to look for the best player available that suits their needs. There’s going to be a bunch of solid future defenders remaining. Filip Kral, Stanislav Demin, Michal Ivan, Ty Emberson and Xavier Bouchard are all worth picks in this round at the defender position. If the Rangers are looking to add forward depth, Swiss players Jeremi Gerber and Philip Kurashev could still be available here, while 6’8 giant Curtis Douglas also figures to be available.
Lets figure then, that the Ranger’s draft goes something like this:
1st round: Ryan Merkley(D), Martin Kaut(RW), Kevin Bahl(D)
2nd round: Nathan Dunkley(C), Yegor Sokolov(RW)
3rd round: Filip Kral(D), Jeremi Gerber(RW)
These 7 players all add depth in places where the Rangers are currently a little weak. Right Wing is a place of special concern and having defensive depth is the life-blood of successful franchises.
The Future, When?
The development time of these prospects can be anywhere from 1 to 5 years, but 2-3 has been the norm for young players lately. This means that by 2019-2020 the Rangers could be seeing all of their good prospects currently in system and their best prospects from this draft ready to go with the team ready to make another real stab at the playoffs by 2020-2021. That 3 year turnaround would find the Rangers with the majority of their current core still in the primes of their careers. So, Rangers fans, based on this time-table and this conjecture, your team will be able to turn it all around in 3 seasons or less. In the grand scheme of the NHL that’s quite good, and the team that comes out on the other side is just plain scary. Look forward to it, it’s going to be a lot of fun.