New York Rangers Round 1 Targets: Defense

erik Brannstrom

Barring a sale of an unwanted contract to Vegas, it seems likely that the Rangers will hold a first round pick for the first time in five years. There are of course some pessimists who would like to complain that the Rangers hold a first rounder but it is in a “bad draft”. Personally, I think the bad draft narrative is extremely overblown. Most drafts would look weak after McDavid and Matthews but there are still not only really good prospects but awesome depth in this draft.

I think the Rangers may end up like bandits if they can steal a couple of late picks because their value may be so low. Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli even said that this isn’t a good year to have a second or third rounder. I don’t want to pretend that I know more than an NHL general manager but the Rangers could really use more prospects in the system.

In any case, it has been well documented that the Rangers have two glaring needs; puck moving defensemen and game breaking forwards. Today, I will cover some defensemen who might be available in the first round. There are many kinds of defensemen available but I will focus on the 5 who will either be available around the 21st pick or have been “drafted” by the Rangers in mock drafts. In the comment section, post who you would take.

Erik Brannstrom (LHD, 5’10 179lbs)

That Erik Karlsson guy was pretty good in the playoffs right? The word “Rocket” can explain Brannstrom in more ways than one. First and foremost, he has absolutely shot up the rankings. Originally pegged as a mid-round guy, by February Brannstrom was expected to be a late 1st round pick and now may be gone be a mid 1st round guy. Rocket can also explain his shot and skating speed. I won’t beat around the bush here, Brannstrom would be my choice with our first round pick IF available. He is everything that we can use in this organization, a smart, great skating defenseman with this much skill isn’t usually available to a team unless they draft him, and we have been looking for someone like Brannstrom for the last decade.

Brannstrom’s draft year stats compare very well to Erik Karlsson. While folly to expect the same career progression, it would be foolish to pass on him if available. The reason Brannstrom is rising is that there have simply been no negative stories about him over the year. As every week passes he does something incredible that only adds to his resume. He had the most goals, assists, and points in the U20 season. He then moved on to the SHL scoring 6 points in 35 games for the SHL champion HV71. He alson had the most shots by a wide margin in the U18 tournaments with 37, the next closest was 28. Just overall great stuff from the young Swede.

Another thing in Brannstrom’s favor is how young he is, Brannstrom is one of the youngest eligible players in this draft and is producing against players much older than him. That makes him a stock worth buying. Defensively, I believe he can improve as he gets older and stronger but his ability to skate out with the puck and break passes up is second to none.

Nicolas Hague (LHD,6’6 214lbs)

Hague is the opposite of Brannstrom in not only size but draft ranking. At some point considered a top 10 defenseman, Hague has regressed to the 17-22 range in the draft. My only concern with Hague is that he is one of the oldest draft eligible first time players. With all of that said he would be a great add because the combination of his size and his skating ability makes him, in my opinion, a prospect with a very likely NHL future.

Hague does not have the offensive ability of Brannstrom but he is a great two way defenseman who contributes at both ends of the rink. Hague isn’t your usual 6’6 North American-born defenseman, he is your new age big boy with the ability to exit zones in more ways than one and is adept at breaking up the rush in the neutral zone. Hague’s production has steadily regressed over the course of the season as he has faced tougher competition, but he has still produced at first pair rates. At the end of the day, while I think Hague is great, Brannstrom’s production in a league much tougher than the OHL gives Brannstrom the edge, especially because he is 9 months younger than Hague too.

Conor Timmins (RHD 6’1 181lbs)

Timmins is another OHL offensive defenseman that I believe the Rangers have seen a lot of, as he is a teammate of Tim Gettinger (2016 5th rounder). Timmins reminds me of a right handed Keith Yandle, but ranks third on my list because he is a full year older than Brannstrom and, like Hague, plays in a lesser league. While his shot is ok from the point, Timmins is without a doubt a playmaking defenseman who is an absolute weapon on the power play. Over the course of the season, he has gotten more ice time and he still produced, mostly through his assists at a top tier level in the OHL. Timmins ended the season with a 15.41% GF%rel on a top OHL team, which can signify something special and shows me a player who only makes his team better.

While his assist production both 5v5 and on the powerplay is incredible, his goal production is certainly lacking factoring in his ice time. I don’t think we should be too concerned over that though, as he generates 2.1 SH/GP but has a 4.6% shooting rate. Another thing that makes Timmins such a weapon is his ability to actually keep pucks in the offensive zone and contributing to the cycle.

Defensively, Timmins is a fierce competitor but can certainly get stronger and improve his gap control. He has great hockey sense, as shown with being a good playmaker, so he is pretty good at anticipating and intercepting passes and then breaking out with a quick pass. I mentioned this a while ago on twitter but offensively speaking, Timmins is in a class of his own among OHL draft eligible defensemen.

Cal Foote RHD (6’3 209lbs)

Yes he is Adam Foote’s son. Cal plays a modern defensive game, which is using his skating to be an assertive force. His bloodlines have definitely helped him learn what it takes to be a successful NHL player, and I believe that it would only help him more as he develops. He is a big boy with size and skating that has been a great producer in the WHL this year, scoring 57 points in 71 games.

Foote is a cerebral player, while he does have size he doesn’t really play an overly physical game and just uses it to take up space and close gaps really well. A reoccurring theme with these defense prospects is the ability to take a defensive zone play and immediately transition it into the offense, and Foote certainly fits that mold. The concerning thing about Cal for me is that a majority of his points do not come from 5v5 play, only about 48% of them do. He is a good power play quarterback, similar to Timmins in that he makes his living distributing pucks well, but I would really prefer to see him be more of a dominant force at even strength.

To be successful, Foote needs to round out the rest of his game, he needs to learn how to use his body properly along with his brilliant hockey sense. If he can start working on his shot as well he can be a valuable prospect. His hockey sense and skating will make him someone great to keep tabs on if he can work on the rest of his game he can be a great prospect.

Henri Jokiharju (RHD 6’0 170lbs)

Jokiharju is a very interesting name on the list. He is a player that I can see being available at the time the Rangers pick in the first round, but is more of a player drafted between picks 26-30. If the Rangers move back in the draft and add another pick it may suggest that he is someone they were looking at because of his play style.

Jokiharju is for sure, the more volatile player on this list. He is a wonderful skater who can pass and shoot extremely well. He is a great point producer at both 5v5 and the powerplay. and his skating will only help him break out of the zone which is imperative in this day and age.

The concern and why he is so low on the list? Inconsistency in his play. Jokiharju has a few good games and then tends to lay a goose egg a few days later. He is also someone that would benefit from getting stronger and then becoming more of a force in board battles. He in my opinion, does need to get mentally tough but at 17 years old I think that can be said with most prospects. He is someone that can really use a helping hand in just teaching him what is necessary to become a good pro because he has all of the offensive tools and the skating. If the Rangers move back, add a few more assets and take him it tells me that they not only believe in his absolutely dynamic toolbox but they believe that their development staff can help him and I would be fine with that.

Show More
  • By the looks of the list, we could get a decent defenseman, which one I don’t know, but we will get one. My main concern is that we demonstrate patients with him, and not trade him off, or sit him forever under this coach. Also, as good as the Brannstrom kid sounds, he’s a bit undersized for that position, and could be man handled!!!!!!!!!!!

    One quick note, the first goal taken away from the Preds was BS. Again, the NHL wants to make certain that Cindy and company win the cup. That guy was on side when he scored……………..

    • completely agree. Why can’t good judgement and common sense be used in these cases, theres no way, even if its the case, that the nano second of a skate blade lifting from the ice caused anything that would’t have happened in that hockey play.

      The Pens got beat by their play not that possible skate lifting…

      completely changed the first period.

      and the 2 penalties… really, a 5 – 3 for rough hockey play in the playoffs.

      • And then Jamie tells me that we don’t know hockey, and that the Pens don’t get all the calls…………….

        • To be fair, Walt, I’m pretty sure the rule book was significantly altered back in ’05. Specifically, they updated the conditions under which certain penalties can be called.

          One of the rules that changed, for example, was the definition for elbowing; you MAY now chuck an elbow into someone’s head if you’re wearing number 87. Other rules, including tripping and diving, were also updated in a similar manner.

          I hope this clears up any misunderstandings you may have had.

    • “One quick note, the first goal taken away from the Preds was BS. Again, the NHL wants to make certain that Cindy and company win the cup. That guy was on side when he scored……………..”

      Don’t forget the non-call on the pens first goal, where the refs didn’t toss that clown for that blatant elbow he threw at one of the preds (right before they scored on the 5 on 3).

      It’s sad to see such bush league caliber officiating in the finals….

      • There you go, I had no idea that Karlsson was that small??????????
        Do you see him growing another inch, probably not, so he has to get more muscle mass on his little frame!!!!!

      • 1 inch and 10 lbs.(and a lot of skill) can be the difference between Erik Karlsson & Matt Bodie.

        His H/W ratio is fine for a 17 yr old, should put on more muscle. That same ratio(cm-kg=100; below 100 suggests bigger, above suggests skinnier: Brannstrom at 98) suggests that he’s filling out rather than growing up.

  • a first round pick should be very close to stepping into the lineup that is why you draft them in the first round and if they get a RH dman they will have a logjam unless they are able to move the Staal and Girardi

    • In a great year, you might have 4-5 18 yr olds step into the league. For a defenceman to do it is rarer than hen’s teeth. Hedman, then Pronger?

      No logjam.

  • “At some point considered a top 10 defenseman, Hague has regressed to the 17-22 range in the draft. My only concern with Hague is that he is one of the oldest draft eligible first time players.”

    Interesting that your only concern follows something that I’d be very concerned with. 20 years ago I used to scout college football prospects for a website. At least in football, players who regress are those who tend to disappoint at the next level UNLESS there is a valid reason for the regression, such as injury, illness, family issue, etc. Playing tougher competition isn’t a valid reason for regression because the competition isn’t any easier at the next level and it is more proper to disregard play against the lesser competition. (Football analogy, you don’t spend much time evaluating games against 1AA, MAC, Sun Belt [or Big West when that was a FB conference] opponents. In those games you look for players who can play against the big boys.)

    • Hague hasn’t regressed, he’s slid in the rankings. He almost doubled his point totals his draft year, his ppg barely dipped during the playoffs(where they went to the league final.)

      A fine enough skater, but he can move the puck. Solid H/W ratio for 18. 2nd pair guy, a nice replacement for Graves when he gets too pricey.

  • I’m all for drafting a Dman, but I recall what one GM said years ago: “Don’t try and address short term needs at the draft, because a lot can change by the time a guy is ready for a full-time NHL job.”

    In fact, one can argue that the we-need-____-now strategy is what led to Hugh Jessiman and Dylan McIlrath. I say, go for the best option available, even if the said player isn’t a D.

      • I hate saying this, but when Tom Landry was the HC of the Cowgirls, that’s what they did so successfully!!!!!!!!!!!

    • I would say that McIlrath is more the example than Jessiman. McIlrath was clearly a pick for a short-term need, which turned out to be a disaster.

      Jessiman, while the butt joke for Ranger draft picks in a “can’t lose” draft, he did blow out his knee that totally derailed his career. That has to be considered as well.

  • I turned the channel after that BS call on the Nville goal. The NHL will continue to be small time with shit like that. If they have a angle that showed his blade off the ice they should’ve showed it. I gave it a chance now waiting for the NBA finals Thursday.

  • Foote’s 5v5 production is a little misleading. The top line took up all but 41 assists out of a potential 136. That’s why his +/- is so high relative to his output. Make the breakout pass and the boys took care of the rest.

  • I have a feeling that as we get closer to our pick, the phones start ringing, more conversations start happening and we never actually get to make that pick.

  • great summaries Josh!

    hopefully just pick the best guy available. NYR not drafting at a position where anyone will be expected to break the lineup and make a difference near term. organizational needs today are not the same as they will be two or three years down the road.

  • We can move down if a said D man is still available to us at 21 , and maybe get a 2ed or 3rd back with the other teams #1 we need bodies in Hartford

  • A few things about Brannstrom.

    Not crazy about the size. Yes, smaller player can do well in the league, even defencemen, but 5’10”? When you”re getting down there, you need to put up borderline obscene numbers, like Ryan Ellis did.

    His play in the SHL. Usually 17 yr olds are there to open the door for the boys coming off the ice and play if someone gets hurt/ejected. Brannstrom was getting 2nd pair assignments a lot of the time. With that usage, I would’ve expected better production.

    Doesn’t mean he’s a bad player, but a team like the Rangers can’t afford to whiff on 1st rounders. He’s got a solid frame for his height, but 2nd rounders are where you grab guys with one minus aspect of their game(and hope he grows 3″.)

    • Reen

      That’s why Hague, and Foote are more appealing to me. For goodness sake we need some size back there to clear the crease, which has been lacking for some time now!!!!!!!! Let’s see what they do, we all may be in for a surprise though????????????????

  • “Barring a sale of an unwanted contract to Vegas, it seems likely that the Rangers will hold a first round pick for the first time in five years.”

    Will the Rangers know what to do when it’s their turn?

  • Back to top button