As more time elapses following the phenomenal news that the Rangers will be drafting second overall, we are able to take a step back and evaluate exactly what that means for the Blueshirts. Whether it’s Kaapo Kakko (most likely) or Jack Hughes (only if the Devils are risk takers), the Rangers will be getting a franchise altering prospect. It makes you wonder if, and how, Jeff Gorton’s plans may change.
What likely changes
1. Before the Rangers moved up, they were set to draft #6 overall. With the signing of Jake Elmer earlier, it was a strong possibility that the Rangers were targeting Elmer’s teammate Dylan Cozens. Cozens is somewhere between #3-#7 in the prospect rankings, depending on who you ask, but he is a clear and steep step down from Kakko or Hughes. Suffice it to say, the Rangers will not be targeting Cozens anymore.
2. Larry Brooks mentioned that the Rangers are likely targeting Artemi Panarin and a return for Kevin Hayes. This, of course, came before the Rangers were set to grab an elite talent capable of playing next season. With Kappo sliding into the lineup right away, it is likely the Rangers pick one or the other of Panarin/Hayes, and use the remainder of their $20 million in cap space elsewhere.
3. Which brings me to the blue line. Yes, I keep pining on Erik Karlsson. He makes the team instantly better, and there is no denying that. His type of defenseman ages well. Think Dan Boyle, pre-Rangers, who was in the Norris discussion until he came to New York and couldn’t skate anymore. The concern with Karlsson is the type of deal he will command combined with whether or not his body can hold up. He has foot injury issues. But he almost single-handedly beat the Rangers in the playoffs in 2016 on one foot. If it’s a seven year deal, it could turn ugly in the latter half of the deal. But is the risk worth taking if it gives the Rangers that much more of a chance at a Stanley Cup in the Henrik Lundqvist era?
4. With or without Karlsson, the Rangers still have massive issues on the blue line. Is Jeff Gorton more willing to trade from his glut of wingers to address this? Is he more willing to use his other guaranteed 1st rounder from Winnipeg to address this immediately? Does it make him more likely to send a mid-round pick to Carolina for the pleasure of having Adam Fox one year earlier than intended? This goes back to point #3, if it makes the Rangers more likely to win a Cup in the Lundqvist era, I can’t see Gorton passing on that opportunity. The Blueshirts have made five first round picks the last two years, and now have the #2 overall. That likely creates a need to address the hole in the middle of the canoe that is the Rangers.
What doesn’t change
1. Sticking with the draft picks, the Rangers have at least two 1st rounders right now, and may get two more depending on how Dallas and Tampa do. Even if the Rangers hit on one or both, they were always likely to use these picks and the Winnipeg picks to accelerate the rebuild. What that means, exactly, has yet to be seen. But I’m sure we will see soon enough.
2. The glut of middle/bottom six forwards is certainly a good problem to have. It gives the Rangers depth, and there’s nothing wrong with a 4th line consisting of these middle/bottom six guys like Jimmy Vesey, Vlad Namestnikov, and Ryan Strome. Kakko or not, if Gorton is looking for a shrewd way to upgrade the blue line, then one of this trio was likely to be the odd-man out. There are questions about Kreider, but I’m of the belief that if the Blueshirts were going to move him, they would have done so already, much like they did with Ryan McDonagh.
3. Whatever happened with the lottery, the goaltending situation was likely never going to change. Henrik Lundqvist and Alex Georgiev will more than likely be the tandem in net. Igor Shestyorkin, quoted recently stating that it would be foolish of him to demand an NHL spot and a KHL-out clause in his contract, will likely be in Hartford.
4. Coaching changes likely weren’t going to happen, although they should (see: Ruff, Lindy), and this isn’t going to change anything. Expect the same coaching staff, for better or for worse.