The 2018 Draft has come and passed. In the first real draft of the rebuild, the Rangers have supplemented the 2017 first rounders that were able to debut on Broadway this spring with three more first rounders. Over the last couple of years, I have noticed a few strategies, or trends with the Rangers in their selection of prospects. First, I feel like they acquire positions in bunches. When we had no goaltenders in the system the Rangers went on a run in three drafts and were able to select goaltenders to revamp the prospect pool along with adding a few undrafted.
The 2017 draft seemed to revolve around building through the middle as the Rangers selected Chytil, Andersson and even Barron to give them centers with varying levels of offensive potential to blend with a fairly young group of top-dix centers in Zibanejad and Hayes. During the deadline the Rangers built upon that center depth by getting Howden but they also seemed to focus on getting defensemen that can play a puck moving game. Rykov, Lindgren, and Hajek provided the Rangers a group of defensemen that all seem like they can be quality pros at the same time.
In this 2018 draft we see a continuation of this as in the 10 selections that were made, 6 defensemen were chosen. If I were a betting man, I would expect the Rangers to select some more wingers in next year’s draft or get some wing prospects in the highly anticipated trades.
The Rangers also tend to draft an overage every draft. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, D+1, D+2 players have extra “data” so you can project what they become. In the 2018 draft, the Rangers selected 2 overage players. This was one of the most critical moments of the rebuilding Rangers, they came out with some high ceiling prospects but they also at least in my opinion made some questionable selections as well. At the end of the day, these 10 young guys are now hopefully future Rangers and we hope for their success. In this review of the draft I hope to give as much information as I can about some of these players and what we can try to expect.
Round 1 Pick 9, Vitali Kravtsov RW
Let us start with the big gun. Kravtsov joins this new core of Rangers forwards and gives us a winger with size that just oozes skill and plays with speed. One of the things that Gordie Clarke mentioned when interviewed about Kravtsov was that his head is through the roof. I highly suggest looking at any of his games or highlights so you can see for yourselves how fast he is able to not only make quick decisions but also to make a scoring chance out of nothing.
Kravtsov is a beautiful skater that is able to use his strong and long legs to burst into open lanes. He is seemingly a zone entry and puck possession machine against grown men in the KHL at 18 years old. The effectiveness of his play style likely only improves as he himself grows into a pro body. The control Kravtsov has of the puck in the offensive zone is also something to behold as seen in games his hands keep up with his skating allowing him to break out of a tight situation to generate a scoring chance.
Kravtsov should also make Rangers fans happy in his willingness to go to the net and with those quick hands he is actually a threat in the blue paint. Overall he is a complete offensive weapon that due to the way he seemingly knows where everyone will be is a threat as both a goal scorer and playmaker. I think it is fair to expect a potential top line winger out of Kravtsov that can be evenly split in terms of goals and assists. I personally believe this is why Gordie mentioned him as the 2nd best forward in the draft. I don’t necessarily agree with that however, seeing how creative he is and how he has multiple ways of putting the puck in the net, you have to be attracted to that. Having multiple points of attack makes it all that much harder for an opposing team to adjust to you.
The Rangers are clearly trying to build a team that plays with speed and tries to possess the puck and they have taken a chance on a kid that has the speed, the skill, and the size to be a threat in multiple facets of the game. I also don’t necessarily believe he is as one dimensional as maybe implied during the draft.
Defensively, he isn’t physical but at the same time I find it hard to be as a winger teenager in the KHL. He has the same intelligence in the offensive zone as he has defensively but looks to defend with his stick and intercept potential passes more than potentially closing a guy off along the boards. While you’d obviously like a player to be great at everything, I think that as he gets stronger we may see more of a physical edge to his game in this regard. Regarding NHL readiness, I feel that similar to Chytil he is so darn close due to how he played against pros, and with the KHL being a better league than the Czech league it is safe that Kravtsov should be a player by the 2019-2020 season.
It seems as if Kravtsov only has 1 year left on the deal allowing him to come over at the same time as the Rangers other top 10 prospects Igor Shestyorkin, and Yegor Rykov but there were also some reports that said he may be able to opt out and sign his ELC. Honestly, with Kravtsov being pegged to be a top 6 player on his KHL team, I wouldn’t mind him playing in the KHL this season against top competition. On the other hand, being able to play with potential teammates like Brett Howden and acclimate himself and his game to the smaller ice may be valuable as well. At the end of the day I truly believe we got ourselves a top line winger, he may not win the Art Ross but we should all be excited for his skill.
Round 1 Pick 22, K’Andre Miller LD
Athleticism. That is all you have to say about K’Andre Miller. The huge left handed defenseman in my opinion can be one of the crown jewels of the soon to be new era Rangers. On the ice, Miller has only recently started to play defense but I will soon show you how much aptitude Miller has for defense. To put it simply, a guy as big as Miller should not be able to move as agile as he does.
After trading McDonagh and starting to build the defense prospect pool back up, the Rangers really needed a guy whom they think can be their minute eating reliable two way defenseman. With his combination of skating and size, Miller can close the gap on players in just the right time. While incredibly strong, Miller is so good with his stick in knocking pucks off players that it almost feels like he creates an area with a “you shall not pass” sign. If somehow the player gets around his stick Miller immediately closes him along the boards.
Much of this can be shown graphically through the tracking project made by Mitchell Brown attached below. Miller according to Mitchell, was the most complete defenseman in his data set of North American players tracked and is at the top of the data set in preventing a controlled zone entry against. At his size and speed that will only get better as he gets older in the NCAA I believe we can expect this to translate to the pros. He locks up the neutral zone for his team and that is something we desperately need not only in the prospect pool but also in New York.
His offensive stats may not show it yet but his shot and scoring chance production as seen by the Mitchell Brown visual, is among the best in the data set suggesting that the offense and points will only be added to this already stout neutral zone defenseman. This can also simply be predicted by watching him play, his long strides push him through the opposing defense and when someone this big is coming at you this fast it tends to force people to back up a little bit resulting in a zone entry.
Miller is also one of the stronger players in the draft, this can sort of be seen by the tests done at the scouting combine, he was the top ranked tested prospect in both left hand and right hand grip while also being top 5 in the long jump and vertical jump. If Miller’s offense comes along with his clear defensive aptitude we will have a great player. Over the course of the season looking at my season trend visual we can see that Miller actually improved offensively over the course of the season (NOTE: the NHLe NHL likelihood should only be applied to forwards as the percentages were taken when looking at only drafted NHL forwards).
Seeing how strong he is defensively while only playing defense for 2 years gets me really excited after he spends some time in the University of Wisconsin. Should it all come together, I think there is a chance the Rangers selected a possible top pair defenseman. I was upset about how much it cost to move up, but Miller was really the last guy that seemed like he has the tools to become a top pair defenseman. I think he has the natural skill to be top 4 guy but should he develop like we all hope, the Rangers have this huge piece of their core set.
It should also be worth mentioning that Miller seems like a quality human being off the ice as well. This organization is trying to build something that not only makes us happy to watch on the ice but proud of as well. This is partly why I absolutely love Lias Andersson after what he did with the silver medal. That never lose mentality gets me excited about the kind of game hopefully this new era Rangers will bring night in and night out. K’Andre stressed how he wants to help the community after he was drafted and it is something that can potentially help shape the identity that this management wants to build. He looks like a determined young player on and off the ice, I feel confident he will make the Rangers management and fans proud.
Round 1 Pick 28, Nils Lundkvist RD
When making mock drafts, I felt that it was almost a guarantee that Nils would be going to the Rangers. He checks all the boxes. A right-handed, smooth skating defenseman who at a very young age is also playing against pros in one of the better leagues in the world. One of the things that should be mentioned about Nils is he, similar to K’Andre, was one of the higher ranked players in the scouting combine and he seemed to make his mark in the jumping tests.
This somewhat smaller defenseman was able to show off his explosiveness among his draft eligible peers, which only added context to the numerous displays of explosive skating that enamored those who have watched him play. Nils displays that perfect two way defenseman game that is effective at both carrying pucks and threading the needle for passes. When the puck is on his stick, especially when he picks it up at his blue line, he has the innate ability to slow down the game before setting up a 5 man attack through the neutral zone and given how good he is at both skating with the puck and passing, the more options he gives the team the more likely they would be successful at the transition to offense.
In a similar sense to Miller, if Lundkvist isn’t the one holding the puck on the transition, he likes to overload the defense by jumping into the play and acting as a 4th forward. Both he and Miller being such good skaters allows them to take these kinds of risks as it seems that this kind of willingness to jump into the offense is something that David Quinn would like. In zone, Lundkvist does possess a hard one-timer, but is more of a playmaker. He has shown ability to be a quality puck mover in the SHL and this season it will be interesting to see if he will get more PP time, which can give him more time and opportunity to use the one timer that people saw in the Swedish junior league.
This is part of what is going to make him an effective pro. He is so smooth on his skates and so quick to make decisions that it will almost be like seeing a rover in the offensive zone. With the puck he likes to draw players to him and make a quick pass to the weak side and he likes to move around by going lower towards the slot in order to open up a play for himself similar to how Zibanejad does it when he is manning the point on the powerplay.
Lundkvist still has to develop defensively, he is not necessarily bad at it since he tends to keep his stick in the right places drawing the opposition towards the boards but he definitely needs to gain some muscle that would allow him to be able to truly shutdown the grown men he is playing against. He is by no means scared to use the body, it is just that at the current stage of his development he is more effective at defending with his stick, which should be expected.
While he is a 1st round pick and certainly with 1st round talent, we should be patient with Lundkvist. His offensive and transition ability is there. We need him to begin to fill out allowing him to be a good defenseman against the rush. That is likely the goal for this season. He did very well in his 28 game stints in the SHL in all aspects of his game but with more responsibility we can hope for a bit more offense and hope he continues to polish up his stellar transition play.
After this season, he will likely have to spend a little bit in Hartford as he gets used to the smaller surface. I think his game should be able to translate to the smaller surface as it does revolve more around quick decisions and he has the skating ability to evade fore checkers along the boards. Overall I see Nils Lundkvist as a defenseman who leads the 2nd pair. The #3 transition defenseman that can pretty much slot with anyone due to his ability to own the ice and the puck, the Rangers are building a team that is headlined by speed, Lundkvist speed goes beyond his skating ability, his quick decision making is what separates him from a lot of players and will make him a good Ranger.
Stay tuned for Part Two of this, coming up this afternoon.