Happy Draft Day, BSB faithful! After a long and arduous run since the announcement of the re-build/tool/et al, all eyes are on the NHL Draft. This is the first year in a long, long time that the decisions made by the organization will have such a profound effect on the future of the team. Sure, we have all cared about the selections made in the past, but most of the focus was on trades and improving the team to contend for the Cup. There are several layers that make this particular Draft one of the most intriguing events in recent years. Let’s take a look at what is at stake this evening…
First, one of the deepest Drafts we have seen in a while happens to coincide with a surprisingly public declaration of rebuilding by the organization. A frustrated fan base watched with baited breath as rental players and franchise cornerstones alike were sold off for futures in anticipation of this event. The Rangers own three first round picks this year and five in the top 48. They have fresh new assets from which to deal and a ton of cap space, to boot. There are endless options and while the organization has made it clear a change was necessary, we don’t have a great idea of how that will manifest itself.
One of the more interesting aspects to this Draft is the evolution of publicly available (and digestible) information about amateur players. With analysts such as our own Josh Khaflin, Corey Pronman, AJ Nunn and others providing incredible insight and information about this year’s crop of young players, most fans are much more informed (and opinionated!) than in seasons past. This helps ratchet up the anticipation and will certainly double down on the criticisms if the organization drops the ball on this opportunity.
Additionally, we have a truly wide open top 10 in this Draft. Due to the aforementioned depth, there is no question there will be a potentially game changing player available to the Rangers at #9, but no one can really agree on who that will be. Outside of Rasmus Dahlin, there is no consensus on the pecking order of the rest of the field. Brady Tkachuk and Jesperi Kotkaniemi have wreaked havoc on the most recent mock drafts and the smoke surrounding the possible trades of the numbers 2, 3 and 10 picks have done a number on the reliability of sources throughout the league.
Now, make no mistake, I am pro-chaos. NHL GM’s have proven time and time again to possess a level of poor judgment rarely seen in pro sports. Marc Bergevin, Pierre Dorion and Peter Chiarelli, in particular. Ironically enough, they hold the 3, 4 and 10 picks in this Draft. It could get fun. It could be trades, it could be off the board picks. Either way, I think injecting that little extra sense of unpredictability makes this whole thing undoubtedly more captivating.
As for the Rangers, I am most interested to see how their amorphous organizational strategy manifests itself. The difficulty is analyzing these results is that they are often non-linear. They are opportunity based and vary at the whims of their front office counterparts. The organization could very well be planning on a pretty complete rebuild, but all of a sudden an opportunity falls into their laps and the plans change. Unfortunately, we rarely, if ever, are given the context to certain decisions or the other opportunities that were passed up. Hopefully, whatever the team decides to do will help usher in a clear state of things and the level of competitiveness we can expect in the near term. It would be a mistake to have jumbled mess of objectives resulting in mediocrity.
That isn’t to say that you can’t have a blend of different types of players/contracts/ages, etc., and still have a clear vision. As many people in the media and fan circles have pointed out, cap space can be used as an asset. The biggest theme I want to see from the front office is efficient and value driven asset management. The Rangers are sitting on a lot of assets right now; many of which are not ingredients to the next contending team. Leveraging these players and picks appropriately to infuse the type of talent the organization needs to begin to shape a contender is critical.
There are several moving parts to this concept that will be fascinating to follow. The Rangers have a ton of center depth, but outside of Filip Chytil, none really project to be that elite centerman that all Cup winners tend to be built around. I believe Mika Zibanejad is a statistical 1C, but I think we would all feel better if he was in the 2C position. The Rangers have some dead weight on defense between Marc Staal and Brendan Smith. Is a young RD a priority to pair with Brady Skjei or Kevin Shattenkirk? What about all the RFA’s? Does Kevin Hayes really carry enough value to headline a package for a top 5 pick or Dougie Hamilton?
The future of the veterans is in play, as well. Larry Brooks indicated that he expects Mats Zuccarello to remain with the team next season. However, if he was the ask for another top 10 pick, are the Rangers really saying no? Would a contender in need of power play help look to pluck Shattenkirk? In the event that the best course of action truly takes the NHL roster down to the studs, does Henrik Lundqvist change his mind about seeing out a tough couple years?
That is ultimately the craziest thing. Pretty much every moving part imaginable is in play for the Rangers. This Draft (and the trades, signings, etc., that surround it) could chart the course of this franchise for the next decade. Last year, the Rangers went off the board with the #7 pick to acquire a (comparatively) safe selection in Lias Andersson while they swung for the fences with Chytil. I don’t necessarily see the organization going down that road again. There are 8-10 players in this Draft that would be top 5 players in most others. I would be blown away if the Rangers really went off the board at 9.
At the end of this evening, the Rangers’ organizational path should be much clearer than at any point this season. There are going to be varying opinions on the appropriate depths of the rebuild, but I’m really just hoping to see a clear and executable organizational vision that will make me feel like the team has a timeline and should be able to ramp back to competitiveness in relatively short order. It’s going to be a fun night.
Keep it locked right here to BSB for Draft analysis and coverage. Dave will be posting a Draft Open Thread later today, and we will try to update all the goings on as quickly as possible to keep everyone informed. In the meantime, feel free to vent your pre-Draft anxiety here with your Draft wish-lists, trade scenarios, organizational visions, etc. Enjoy the Draft everyone!