For a couple months, I’ve been piggybacking off Elliotte Friedman and our own Brandon Cohen on this weekly thought post. While I’d usually do these ad-hoc, I liked the idea of consistency and a common theme. This week, let’s talk about the Rangers decisions to make with the #15 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft
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1. The Rangers did not get lucky in this year’s draft lottery, and stayed at the #15 pick this year. This was expected, as the Rangers only had a 1% chance of winning for a third year in a row. Also could you have imagined the carnage if the Rangers won again? I’m not a big conspiracy theorist, and I this didn’t happen, but I wouldn’t be shocked if we find out at some point the league “made sure” the Rangers didn’t win again. Remember, they changed the entire draft lottery rules because they won the Alexis Lafreniere lottery.
2. The good thing about the 2021 NHL Draft is that it had good talent. The rub is that there is no clear-cut #1 overall pick, and while there is good talent, it is between a pair of drafts (2020, 2022) that are loaded. So don’t mistake this draft to be “weak.” It is just not as strong as 2020 and 2022. There is talent, and if the Rangers pick in the first round, they will get a solid prospect. In speaking with Sam Stern, he compared this to the 2017 draft. The kids will develop and we will see a bunch of good players out of this draft. But on paper, it’s nothing overly special.
3. Another interesting tidbit from Sam was that this is a good year to trade down. The range of prospects that should be available in the mid-teens isn’t really a level above the kids that should be available in the 20s. Sam specifically mentioned Aatu Raty and Cole Sillinger at #15, who I mentioned in a quick primer last week. Aside from a few others, Sam recommended trading down. Getting back into the second round is certainly doable by trading down.
4. I am all aboard the trade down train, if the Rangers pick in the first round. The Blueshirts gave up a second round pick to free up Marc Staal’s cap hit. Given the talent that should be around in the second round, coupled with point #3 above, it might be good asset management to trade down. I like the idea of accumulating picks –dart throws– in this draft. This all depends on who slides and who is available at #15 of course.
5. All this said, I don’t think the Rangers will pick in the first round this year. It is no secret that the #15 pick is in play for the Rangers this year. While everyone is talking about Jack Eichel, and for good reason, there are other names the Rangers will be looking at. Calgary and possibly Elias Lindholm is an interesting target, as he is certainly more cost controlled. Alex Barkov is a pipe dream most likely. But while all eyes are on Eichel, rest assured the Rangers are looking at other options.
6. If the Rangers move the #15 pick, it will be for a center. I can’t imagine a scenario where the Rangers move that pick for a winger or a defenseman. The Rangers have amassed amazing depth at both positions, and most of that depth is cheap. The position of need is center, so if there is a plan to move the pick, it will be for a center and only a center. That isn’t so much a bold prediction as it is common sense.
7. There is some concern that the Rangers will revert to their old ways and trade picks and prospects for washed up veterans. The fears have subsided a bit after the culture shock of Dolan firing Jeff Gorton and John Davidson. Chris Drury doesn’t seem the type to be a puppet for Dolan. That said, we will learn an awful lot about him based on how he manages the #15 pick. Before the turnover in the front office, we knew this was the most important offseason in a while for the Rangers. The upheaval only exacerbates this. This offseason and next have the potential to make or break the Rangers as a potential perennial Stanley Cup contender for the next 5-10 years.