Even as the regular season hiatus continues, the New York Rangers have to decide what areas they need to address in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
The New York Rangers are in limbo as the NHL waits to make a decision on the 2019-20 season. Twelve games remain on the Blueshirts’ schedule, but the organization still has to prepare for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
A draft order, lottery draft format, and questions about how to handle “future consideration” deals are at the forefront of the team’s rebuilding process. The NHL is considering something they have never done before, a draft with an unfinished season.
Put aside why the NHL would want to conduct a draft before the conclusion of the regular season, before a possible cancellation of the season and instead look at what the Rangers need to improve the team.
The Rangers have around $13 million in available cap space. That includes the salary of 15-year veteran Henrik Lundqvist who is due $8.5 million next season. He and the Rangers front office could still work out a deal to bring his tenure with the team to an end. A buyout, trade, or even retirement could be in Henrik’s future.
It has been well known that Hank was not happy being the “third goalie” in a three-goalie situation. The Rangers appear to have their replacement in Igor Shesterkin, so goaltending will not be a topic in the upcoming draft.
The Rangers will have 10 picks including two first-round choices. That makes eight first-round picks in the past four drafts.
Their second first-round selection is a conditional pick in the deal that sent defenseman Brady Skjei to Carolina. The team will receive the later (or lower) of either the Carolina or Toronto 2020 first-round pick (via CapFriendly).
Mika Zibanejad is the top dog at center. After this season, he has two tears remaining on his five-year, $26.75 million deal he signed in July of 2017
Team president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton have been good at projected long terms needs of the team and would be smart. to look at centers in the upcoming draft.
The Hockey News listed the top 100 prospects in their May issue. Of the top 15, five are centers including Quinton Byfield (No. 2), Tim Stutzle (No. 3), and Marco Rossi (No. 6). What pick the Rangers have is still unknown, but these players could provide another top center should they be available.
The Rangers have two unrestricted free agents in Jesper Fast and Greg McKegg. The latter will certainly walk away from the team without an offer, but Jesper Fast is the kind of player the team needs to retain.
The restricted free agent on the offensive side of the ice is Ryan Strome and Brendan Lemieux. Lemieux didn’t live up to the hype that he had when the team traded for him in 2019, but Strome was having a great year with Artemi Panarin as his center.
With the season up in the air, the UFA situation will be hard to figure out.
The Rangers saw a vast improvement in their blueline this past season. The team was led by rookies Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren. Jacob Trouba and Anthony DeAngelo were successful in their own unique ways. Marc Staal, the elder defenseman of the bunch, had a solid season once again. Brendan Smith began the year as a winger on the fourth line but found himself back on defense towards the end of February.
The club, as does every team, will need to continue to bolster the blueline. The Hockey News didn’t rank a defenseman in the top five and only had four within in the top 15. This draft definitely isn’t loaded with ready-to-go defensemen.
That could work in their favor as they have time to develop these players in the AHL program with the Hartford Wolf Pack. Hartford general manager Chris Drury has proven he can help formulate a young team to prepare players for the NHL.
Prospects like Jake Sanderson from the USNTDP (No. 11), Jamie Drysdale (No. 5), or William Wallinder (NO. 14) all could benefit contending in the AHL.
The future is here
The club has a host of solid players on the verge of stepping up to the NHL and more who are preparing to enter the professional ranks with some seasoning in Hartford.
Vitali Kravtsov, Lias Andersson, Steve Fogarty, Vinni Lettieri, and newly signed K’Andre Miller all are the future of Blueshirts hockey.
Gorton and J.D. have always preached patience. Through a global pandemic and the uncertainty of an unfinished season, this has never been more important than it is now.