Alexis Lafreniere
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Mixed results at the draft and waiting for prospects to develop has impacted the Rangers’ success. 

The New York Rangers are about to embark on a new season with elevated expectations. Their young talent is making an impact on the NHL roster and a new coach has fans hoping for a deep playoff run.

But the importance of the 2021-22 season goes well beyond this individual year. The club has two enormous decisions to make in free agency next summer: defenseman Adam Fox and forward Mika Zibanejad.

The team has some big money being spent already on long-term commitments, so the roster as it will be constructed this season cannot stay together beyond this season if Fox and Zibanejad get their deserved raises in 10 months.

The situation would feel a lot better if the Rangers had drafted well over much of the past decade. But disappointing draft classes have hurt the team’s ability to replace key departures with internal options.

Drafting Poorly

The Rangers haven’t had much of anything come out of their draft classes since their best class of the last decade, 2013. That year, the Rangers didn’t even have a pick until the third round.

In 2013, the Rangers selected Pavel Buchnevich (third round), Anthony Duclair (third round) and Ryan Graves (fourth round) with three of their five selections. All three players have appeared in at least 149 regular-season games; Buchnevich and Duclair have played in 301 and 396, respectively.

However, none of those three players is with the Rangers’ organization any longer.

For the sake of this conversation, we’re going to leave the 2020 and 2021 draft classes out. Because of the pandemic and the growth curve of picks, we’ll limit expectations of an impact from those classes.

With that being said, we cannot overstate enough how much the Rangers need Alexis Lafrenière to continue developing into a star player. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and jumped directly to the NHL level. There have been and will continue to be growing pains, but he’s a huge part of the Rangers’ future.

Too Many Misses

Between the 2014 and 2019 NHL Drafts, the Rangers made 45 selections.

Two of those 45 players — Filip Chytil (186) and Kaapo Kakko (114) — have appeared in at least 100 regular-season games. Only two!

Lias Andersson, the seventh overall pick in 2014, has appeared in 89 games to date.

If an organization wants to build and then sustain success, continually having replacement players drafted and developed is an absolute must. The Rangers simply haven’t done that.

Consider the impact their draft classes between 2014-19 have made in the NHL:

  • 20147 players selected, 49 regular season games
    Igor Shesterkin accounts for 47 of the 49 games.
  • 20157 players selected, 9 regular season games
    Aleksi Saarela accounts for all 9 games, none of which were for the Rangers
  • 20166 players selected, 12 regular season games
  • 20177 players selected, 280 regular season games
    Andersson and Chytil have combined for 275 of the 280 games.
  • 201810 players selected, 74 regular season games
    K’Andre Miller (53) and Vitali Kravtsov (20) account for 73 of the 74 games. 
  • 20198 players selected, 124 regular season games
    Kakko represents 114 of the 124 games.

That’s not good.

The biggest immediate problem for the Rangers is the lack of NHL players drafted between 2014-17. However, when Jeff Gorton replaced Glen Sather in 2015 the needle started to move up and has continued to improve in the past four years.

Help Is Coming

In the defense of the Rangers, many analysts consider the organization’s quality of prospects still coming to be very good. The Athletic ranked the Rangers No. 2 overall in the league in February and No. 4 overall in their September update.

Nils Lundkvist (2018) and Zac Jones (2019) are two of the top prospects who are on their way to the NHL. Jones has appeared in 10 games to date; Lundqvist is coming soon. Braden Schneider, their first-round pick in 2020, is also considered a top prospect.

The problem: all three are defensemen.

The Rangers already have a bloated blue line at the NHL level. They have three defensemen — Jacob Trouba, Ryan Lindgren and Patrik Nemeth — with at least three years left on their current contracts. Fox needs an extension asap and Miller has two years remaining on his ELC.

The good news is three of the forwards who have already made the NHL roster — Lafrenière, Kakko and Chytil — are still relative babies in the NHL. They’re 19, 20 and 22, respectively. Growth will happen, but it’s going to happen at the NHL level.

If the Rangers want to continue climbing in the Eastern Conference, they’re going to need some of their recent draft picks to make an impact on the NHL soon. And their last eight years haven’t produced many impact players — yet.

Tab has written about MLB, the NHL and the NFL for more than a decade for publications including The Fourth Period, Bleacher Report and La Vida Baseball. He is the author of two books about the Chicago Blackhawks and has been credentialed for the MLB All-Star Game and postseason and multiple Stanley Cup Finals. He is the co-host of the Line Drive Radio podcast.