With the 2017-18 season quickly becoming one to forget, what better time to take a look ahead at what the future may hold for the New York Rangers?
The New York Rangers have won three of their last 19 games in regulation. The injuries are mounting, with Chris Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jimmy Vesey, and Marc Staal all out against the Dallas Stars on Monday.
In light of the failures in the months of December and January, the Rangers are more pretender than contender. The 2017-18 season that began with such hope has become the worst season in recent memory; certainly the most disappointing since the 2004-05 NHL lockout.
At 25-23-5, the Rangers currently have the ninth-fewest points in the NHL (55). Besides the untimely injuries, poor coaching, inept defensive play, and inconsistent scoring have been issues throughout the campaign. I do believe, however, the maddening offense is due to poor player deployment by head coach Alain Vigneault and injuries more than anything else.Patience is a virtue with this offense.
But the way the Rangers are playing warrants a tank. A finish just out of a second wild-card spot will do this team no good in the future, despite the noted depth of this upcoming NHL Draft.
Because of this abhorrent skid, rumors of the Rangers being sellers at the NHL Deadline have surfaced. Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, Mats Zuccarello, and Michael Grabner are among the names that have been included in these rumors. The Rangers are looking for young prospects and first-round draft picks in return for each of these players.
Trading any of those players would accelerate the tanking process. It’s realistic to see the Rangers, barring a major turn around, to finish as one of the 10 worst teams in the NHL this season.
Should they embrace the idea of rebuilding and trade at least two of the aforementioned players, the team’s future becomes a fun one to predict. It’s almost impossible to project the team’s exact finish, how many first-round draft picks they will have, and what an NHL mock draft will look like in June, but I will try to give the most realistic look at what the Rangers will be doing come draft day.
With the eighth-worst record in the NHL, the Rangers—without the lottery—would be drafting at the eighth position in the draft. This would make the prediction process much easier to predict. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.
There is, indeed, a lottery in the NHL Draft. So, for the sake of argument, let’s have the Rangers drafting, with their own pick, somewhere between sixth and 10th in the draft.
It’s evident that the Rangers should be looking for defense in one of the deepest drafts for defensemen in recent memory, so my focus will be on the premier defensemen in the draft this season.
As much as I dream of Rasmus Dahlin playing for the Rangers, it is unlikely. The incredible Swedish teenager looks to be an immediate impact player for whatever team he is drafted to. He is the perfect all-around defenseman—a fast skater, skilled puck-handler, and a strong shooter with immaculate vision and a smart, physical component to his game. He is also a good size at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds. Dahlin is said to be the best defenseman Sweden has ever produced. Yes, Sweden is the country that produced Nicklas Lidstrom and Erik Karlsson.
But, it is unrealistic that the Rangers add Dahlin in the draft. More realistic options are Adam Boqvist, Evan Bouchard, Bodie Wilde and Quinn Hughes.
All four of these young men are exceptional offensive defensemen. Bouchard seems to be the only true two-way defenseman of the four, but all players exhibit skills that can translate well to playing defense in the NHL.
Boqvist, the most skilled of the four, is said to be a defenseman with talents similar to Karlsson. His speed, vision, outlet passing and wrist shot are lethal weapons for the young Swede. His size and defensive ability are his only downfalls. Like Hughes and Wilde, he has issues with strict defensive coverage. But, as Blueshirtbanter writer Adam Herman notes, proper angling by defensemen in any defensive situation can almost cancel out deficiencies in size. If trained properly, Boqvist can have the highest ceiling out of any defenseman in the draft, aside from Dahlin.
If Tony DeAngelo can consistently do this then he's going to stick in the NHL. Using his speed, he takes a great route to cut off Elie's path to the net, then uses his body to keep Elie to the outside. pic.twitter.com/5ImoYbp8m5
— Adam Herman (@AdamZHerman) February 6, 2018
Wilde and Hughes are very similar to Boqvist in style, just at a slightly lower level. Both are also fantastic skaters that look to create off the rush with adept passing ability and good vision. They also have their own issues with defensive coverage, more notably Wilde, but their offensive abilities will translate well to the Rangers defense. The biggest difference between the two is that Wilde has greater size at 6-foot-2 than Hughes has at 5-foot-10. Wilde is a similar size to Dahlin whereas Hughes is of a similar size to Boqvist. Other differences in include Hughes’ superior shot and power play quarterbacking ability. Wilde seems to be a superior puck-handler and a more vicious gambler in the offensive end.
Bouchard is a different breed. He reminds me very much of McDonagh from his skating ability, leadership skills, and two-way style. Despite a more limited offensive game than the previous three, Bouchard is a more skilled defender and a more reliable player on the ice. He also leads the OHL in points by a defenseman, so maybe the perceived offensive superiority of the previously mentioned three defensemen is a farce.
Now, defensively speaking, I’m banking on the Rangers to draft a second defenseman in the first round. This would hopefully come from a trade of Nash or Grabner. This defenseman should be a rugged player, reminiscent of a shutdown defenseman. Players like Jarred McIssac or Mattias Samuelsson can fit this role. They are projected to be drafted late in the first round and are regarded as puck-smothering, rugged, shutdown defensemen. On top of all of this, they can both skate well and make good zone reads and outlet passes. These two may need a year of seasoning in the AHL, but they will become, hopefully, very reliable shutdown defensemen in the future.
The message here is that the Rangers need to draft two defensemen in the 2018 NHL Draft. They can build their offensive youth via deadline deals for prospects, preferably at the wing.
The time to tank has come, and the formula is clear. Build the offense at the deadline via prospects, and build the defense in the draft. If the organization cannot do this, prepare for an extended period of ineptitude and decline, Ranger fans.