There’s no shortage of questions surrounding the New York Rangers this offseason. While many of them need to be answered before the NHL Draft arrives, the team’s strategy heading into the draft itself must not be overlooked.
The New York Rangers have many important decisions ahead of them this summer. While evaluating (and selecting a head coach), signing restricted free agents and filling holes in the lineup are primary concerns, the upcoming NHL Draft is up there on their list of priorities.
Three key questions surround the team ahead of the draft. Based on how they answer these questions is vital to understanding the approach of the organization on June 22, 2018.
Does Talent Surpass Need When Drafting in the Top 10?
Contrary to common belief, in the case of the Rangers and this year’s top 10, talent does not surpass need in this year’s upcoming draft…for the most part.
The Rangers have a glaring schematic hole in their positional makeup, and that is the entire defense. Mainstays on the blueline next season would include Brady Skjei, Kevin Shattenkirk, Neal Pionk, and, unfortunately, Marc Staal. One could probably throw John Gilmour in there as well, but it’s no guarantee.
The Rangers have one top-pairing defender (Skjei), one top-four defender (Shattenkirk), a developing top-four defender who is currently a third-pairing defender (Pionk), and an experienced, but broken defender who is too old to keep up with today’s game (Staal).
While the future defensive depth has already been addressed by the recent acquisitions of prospects Yegor Rykov, Ryan Lindgren, and Libor Hajek, the organization lacks the number one defender it had with former team captain Ryan McDonagh. Even McDonagh left many, including me, questioning whether he was a true number one defender on a championship team.
The Rangers have a system laden with solid depth defenders. While these prospects address organizational depth issues that are imperative for a future contender, they do not address the Rangers’ lack of a top-pairing defenseman.
Luckily, this year’s draft is loaded up with a lot of them. The top 10 has potential superstars in the making in Adam Boqvist, Quinn Hughes, Noah Dobson, and Evan Bouchard. There are even quality defensemen following the 10th pick, where Ty Smith and Bode Wilde are positioned between picks 10-and-15.
The Rangers should prioritize need over available talent unless there is a clear superiority of a particular forward over a particular defender.
To be more comprehensible, here would be my top 10 for the Rangers by hypothetical pick:
- Rasmus Dahlin
- Andrei Svechnikov
- Adam Boqvist
- Filip Zadina
- Quinn Hughes
- Noah Dobson
- Evan Bouchard
- Brady Tkachuk
- Oliver Wahlstrom
- Ty Smith
That list may seem a bit different when compared to other draft boards. Two of the more notable differences is that Zadina falls outside of the top-three while Tkachuk is ranked eighth as opposed to fourth.
These are the players that the Rangers should draft based on priority. For example, the team needs a defenseman, but they should not pass up on winger Svechnikov if they miraculously move up, via the draft lottery, to the second pick.
But, in regards to Tkachuk, I believe the four defensemen above him would serve a greater purpose to the organization than he would. While contrary to popular belief, this is why he is ranked eighth, for me, in Rangers draft targets.
Boqvist and Hughes have the potential to be top-pairing superstar defensemen. While they do not have the attributes of shutdown defenders, their ceilings as 60-point producers in are too tantalizing to pass up.
Dobson and Bouchard both have great size and defensive capabilities. They are also great skaters and very good puck handlers and distributors.
They could each fill the structural need for a top-pairing defenseman for the Rangers, which supersedes the need for a top-six winger…at least to me.
Thus, while the likes of Tkachuk is ranked at four and five on draft boards, the organization would be hard pressed to miss out on the talents of the aforementioned defensemen, especially when the need for one of these defensemen is so apparent.
Should the Rangers use their assets to move up in the draft?
To keep it simple: yes, they should.
This draft is not only deep in the top 10 but very deep leading up until the middle of the draft. My eyes are on one particular prospect: Grigori Denisenko.
Denisenko, who was formerly in the reach of the Rangers later picks, has been a high riser in this year’s draft. Denisenko has superseded the detrimental Russian label, which for some reason has served as a negative connotation when evaluating a young player.
Denisenko is better than even his current draft ranking, which is hovering somewhere around the 15th pick.
The Rangers could package a deal with one of their late firsts and one of their second rounders for the 14th pick in the draft. A deal could be proposed to Philadelphia, who is not in desperate need of their lottery pick (acquired by St. Louis).
Maybe even a package deal of Vladislav Namestnikov or Mats Zuccarello with the Devils second rounder could pry the St. Louis pick from the Flyers, who have the pieces to compete for the next few years.
Denisenko serves as one of the most talented players in the draft. According to Corey Pronman of The Athletic, via thehockeywriters.com: “Denisenko is one of the most skilled players in his draft class. On a pure talent level, he’s one of, if not the top Russian in this draft class (and no I didn’t forget about Andrei Svechnikov). Denisenko manipulates the puck so well and does so at high speeds.”
That is high praise, to say the least. It could be ascertained that if Denisenko was 6-foot-1 instead of 5-foot-11 and was a Canadian instead of a Russian, we would see Denisenko being drafted in the top 10…hell, even in the top five.
— HockeyProspectCenter (@godofhockey99) April 4, 2018
The Rangers’ goal is to draft players with supremely high ceilings in this year’s draft, even if their talent is still in the raw stages.
If Denisenko is taken off the board before the 14th pick, which is unlikely, great options like two-way defenseman Bode Wilde or skilled winger Joel Farabee will still remain.
Who are the illegitimate options at the eighth overall pick?
Now, while it is fun to imagine Boqvist slipping in the draft to the eight spot, or the Rangers miraculously attaining a top-ten pick from the lottery, it is not realistic.
The Rangers will not see the likes of Dahlin, Svechnikov, Zadina, or Boqvist at No. 8. They will more than likely see players like Dobson, Bouchard, Wahlstrom, and maybe even Hughes if teams are dumb enough to pass on him.
Now, if Hughes slips, I would obviously take him because of his skating ability and offensive ability as a defenseman. This is unlikely but possible.
Players like Dobson, Bouchard, and Wahlstrom will be the players the Rangers likely pick between. This is where my theory of need over talent pulls through.
While Wahlstrom has the makings of a 30-goal scorer in the NHL, I’d prefer a two-way defenseman with skating ability, offensive skill, and top-pairing potential.
If the Rangers were weak offensively and strong defensively, like the early John Tortorella teams, I would choose Wahlstrom with the eighth pick.
But, due to a presence of very good young forwards throughout the lineup, it is in the team’s best interest to select one of Dobson or Bouchard.
Dobson, a 6-foot-3 defenseman with elite skating ability, puck skills, and strong defensive awareness could change the course of the Rangers defense for the next decade.
Bouchard, a 6-foot-2 defenseman with a heavy shot, unbelievable passing ability, great defensive tendencies, has the booming voice and leadership qualities that can help this leaderless Rangers team both on and off the ice.
What fan in their right mind wouldn’t want a defenseman of Dobson’s or Bouchard’s level; especially a team that suffers most from its inept defense like the Rangers invariably do.
To succeed in the draft this season, the Rangers must address these questions properly. If they do this, the foundation of the team will be set for many years to come.