The 2017 NHL Draft has come and gone, with the Rangers making seven picks. They picked just one North American player, with the rest coming from the various European leagues. That’s a bit of a deviation from prior drafts, and likely has to do with the lack of North American talent in this draft. The Rangers also went heavy with the over-agers (20+ year olds), another deviation from the norm. But if there’s one person who has earned the trust of the fans, it’s Gordie Clark. So let’s recap.
First Round (#7) Lias Andersson
Lias Andersson is a really interesting pick. At one end of the spectrum it may be upsetting because he likely doesn’t have that really high potential that we may have wanted after trading Derek Stepan, but he is the kind of player that I think everyone who loves hockey will love him on the Rangers. He does everything well and is known as a super intelligent 200 foot player with a quick release on his shot.
The thing about him that needs to be pointed out is how he is an solid puck possession center. he not only gets the puck because of his intelligence –being able to read plays– but he also is so good at protecting the puck with his body. The other great thing about him is that he played against grown men as a 2nd line center for HV71’s championship team. Hey when a kid is 18 years old and is a 2nd line center playing against former NHLers, that is usually a good sign. When he goes ahead and produces as well as he did that is even better.
When we see a draftee, we love to compare him to other draftees and NHLers. That poses a big problem as comparing players of varying ages and leagues is an inaccurate science and very subjective. For that reason Garret Hohl made SEAL adjustments which factors accounts for all these variables to give a true objective ranking. Based on this tool, Andersson ranks 12th in the entire league (note: not just the draft, the full league), so maybe there is more potential to this player than we are expecting. That would be a pretty good thing to hope for, especially given the talent the Rangers left on the board. I compare him to Mikeal Backlund and Alex Steen, just a really responsible two way guy who also can add offense while controlling the puck possession.
First Round (#21) – Filip Chytil
My only problem with Chytil is that I really wanted Kailer Yamamoto or Klim Kostin, but I can’t hold that against him, especially what kind of prospect he is. Chytil is one of the youngest players in the draft, just 10 days away from the 2018 draft, where he possibly could have been a top pick. Chytil, similar to Andersson, is a puck possession center. He loves when the puck is on his stick and doesn’t give it up to the other team. If he doesn’t see anything he will skate back regroup.
Chytil uses his speed to his advantage and his quick hands to be a really good playmaker. My favorite thing about how he sets plays up is his patience, whether it is entering the zone, or the in zone and on the offensive. He is patient and draws players to him so he can immediately thread the needle to an open teammate for a great chance. Similar to Andersson, Chytil knows how to use his frame to protect the puck, but I would like to see him drive the net more. Also he, like Andersson, played against grown men this season as a 17 year old, scoring 8 points in the Czech league. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s impressive as a kid.
When Chytil played for the U-18s, he recorded 13 points in 19 games for the Czechs, definitely signaling some serious offensive potential. Chytil works hard and definitely isn’t a slouch defensively, which seems to be a theme for the Rangers. In Chytil and Andersson they got a pair of strong centers that are extremely responsible and play pro type hockey more than just trying to dangle through everyone.
Chytil needs to work on his shot. There is no question that the accuracy can be improved. His game compares to Alex Galchenyuk, but if he ends up a winger a lot of people compare him to Ondrej Palat because of his puck protection abilities. I also have a feeling that he may grow a bit, but he’s 17 years old. That’s a given.
Fourth Round (#123) – Brandon Crawley
I personally am not a fan of this pick at all, but prospect guru Corey Pronman considers him a sleeper. The Rangers had the opportunity to draft a lot of dynamic forwards like Igor Shvyryov, but settled on the already 20-year-old defenseman Crawley. I just find the pick really odd because honestly I wasn’t expecting him to be drafted at all, but the Rangers clearly see something in him.
Crawley is definitely seen as more of a defensive defenseman. With all of that said, at 20 you would expect even defensive defensemen to put points up, especially on great teams like the London Knights who always score a lot. But Crawley just didn’t do that. He can skate with the puck but prefers to play more of a physical game. I do wonder what the Rangers plan on doing with Crawley. Physically he is developed at 6’2, 203 pounds, and he has played top pair minutes in London. Is there really a point for Crawley to go back to the OHL? It doesn’t look like he will be doing anything offensively, so I wonder if the Rangers plan on just signing him to an AHL deal and let him play in the ECHL/AHL.
Fifth Round (#145) – Calle Sjalin
Sjalin is a pick that I am sure the European Rangers fans would like to keep an eye on over the next few years. He is definitely many years away because he needs to develop physically, but he is one of the youngest players in the draft, similar to Chytil. He just made the cut by 15 days. Sjalin is considered a reliable two way defenseman that uses his skating to be a transitional defenseman. He constantly looks like one of the steadier defensemen when he plays for the U-18 team.
He does need to work on his physical play along the boards and improve on his shot, but he seems like one of those stereotypical calm puck moving defensemen who you rarely see make a mistake (typical Swede – so good and so smooth). He will be playing for Leksands, which is a better league than his current one. In the last 30 years, Sjalin ranks 14th in points by U-18 Swedish defensemen, with similar points per game to another two way defenseman that we know: Anton Stralman. He also produced better than another well known two way defenseman Alex Edler, so there is potential with this pick.
Sixth Round (#157) – Dominik Lakatos
Lakatos is another interesting pick given his age. He is a 20 year old, so an overager similar to Crawley. The thing with Lakatos is that he was a player who really came into his own at the end of the year. Lakatos won the rookie of the year award in the Czech Extraliga, but before that he was probably one of the dominant forwards for Liberec. His regular season stats were respectable with 22 points in 41 games, but then he absolutely exploded with 13 points in 16 games in the playoffs. That was good for third in the playoffs and tops on his team.
Lakatos is a player that is coached by Filip Pesan, someone who the Rangers have been reported to have a significant interest in as a coaching staff addition. Pesan is a new age coach who puts an emphasis on analytics, and will be a member of the Rangers development camp in the next coming days. I wonder if Lakatos is a player that signifies Pesan’s eventual addition.
Update: I spoke with someone who works on Lakatos’ team, and he had this to say about the agitator:
“”He is really good and he improved his game a lot in last season. He became one of the best player for Liberec (and we aren’t a bad team – 1st in regular season, 2nd in play-offs). Smooth hands, has a strong net drive, tries to do something extra in 1-on-1 situations (which looks superb when he’s successful and creates heart attacks for coaches when not), but apart from that he likes to create plays from behind the net, was one of the playmakers in PP2 (kinda like Foligno spot in PP of CBJ). Lakatos should have been one of the key players for CZ in WJC2017 unfortunately he missed the event because of an injury in practice game. Can’t disclose his precise stats numbers but he would get a lot of love from analytical community: good possession numbers, solid in zone entries etc.”
Sixth Round (#174) – Morgan Barron
Barron is an interesting pick. There really is no other way to define him other than a long term project. Barron is a big kid who can skate really well but the knock on him is that he played for a Canadian prep school, which doesn’t have exactly a good reputation of a competitive league. Barron was the captain of his team and while he did pretty well point wise, you would like a player to utterly dominate a league if it isn’t that strong.
Long term, Barron is poised to go to Cornell University, so we will likely be seeing him taking three or four years to develop. Some bad news though, he played 5 games in the USHL and scored 0 points and was a -3 after scoring 50 points in 46 games while playing in the prep school league. It is a small sample size but I do wonder how he would do with a D1 school in Cornell when he had a little difficulty in 5 games while in the USHL.
Seventh Round (#207) – Patrik Virta
Another overage pick by the Rangers –suggesting that they were going for NHL ready or close to pro ready prospects in this draft– Virta is similar to Lakatos in the sense that he is a winger who showed his stuff in the playoffs this year. Liiga is one of the leagues in Europe that actually publicly has newer stats, and Virta had a Corsi For % of 59.7% last year (8th in the league, 2nd on his team). Virta is a possession driving forward and had done so even throughout the playoffs. His CF% actually increases when the game is tied to over 60%, and I wonder if the Rangers are planning on bringing him over soon. Virta’s best asset is his speed and accurate shot, but he is a small forward that can play both the center and wing. He will be a teammate of last year’s draft pick Tarmo Reunanen.
While I am upset some of the guys I was interested in didn’t get picked, the Rangers did well by adding another 6th round pick with the San Jose trade. I really wanted guys like Minulin, who were falling, and the Russians that the Sharks took in the 6th and 7th rounds, but with many of the picks actually going undrafted, I wonder if there were more issues that teams saw. Overall, it seemed like after the first round the Rangers went for nearly pro ready prospects or players who have already shown success in pro leagues. Honestly, you can even add our two first rounders to the group as well.
Barron and Sjalin are picks that are likely ways away from the NHL, Barron definitely at least four years while Sjalin might be a little quicker. The Rangers did not add a right handed defenseman, and I find that a little odd. They obviously think highly of Neal Pionk and Anthony Deangelo, who should be manning the right side. Honestly outside of Minulin and Smart, there weren’t many right handed defensemen available for the Rangers. The good news is they are still available as development camp invites.
Lakatos and Virta are players who seem to be not only big time playoff performers but also possession driving forwards. I think that is really interesting as Andersson and Chytil are also possession driving centers, so the Rangers are definitely putting emphasis on speed and keeping the puck on their stick. I would’ve really liked some more boom or bust type players, but in a draft that is seen as weak, the Rangers played it safe and got guys who have played pro level.
Crawley is player I am still confused about for the reasons I mentioned, but I plan on asking Pronman what made him such a sleeper for him.
The Rangers deviated from their prior draft strategy this year, drafting more Euros and more overage guys. It could be because of the lack of talent in the draft. Or maybe they saw more in these guys than others.