Thoughts on the Rangers 2022 draft

2022 Rangers Top 25 Under 25 / Rangers 2022 Draft Grades - Adam Sykora was the highlight of the Rangers 2022 Draft

The Rangers 2022 draft has come and gone, with the Rangers making six picks in the draft. There were some pretty mixed reviews on the picks, with many agreeing that the first two picks were great, but the rest of the draft was underwhelming at best, with some saying the Rangers threw the picks away. As per usual, I have some thoughts.

Note: I am not a prospect guy, and I don’t pretend to be. I defer opinions to others who do this much better than I do. If you’re looking for a full recap of each player, you’re in luck though. Will Wright will be writing up a recap this weekend, and we are going to post it early next week here. 

1. The overall draft strategy in the NHL should be best player available, based on the team’s draft board. Unless you’re getting a top pick, most of these kids take around 3 years to turn pro. This isn’t the NBA or the NFL where the draftees jump right into the lineup the year after they are drafted. This is one of the main reasons why drafting for positional or organizational need is a fool’s errand. The team needs may completely change by the time the kid you drafted for that need becomes NHL ready.

Best player available, and then use your assets to address current needs.

Case in point: Dylan McIlrath, a perceived team need of a big rugged defenseman, over Vladimir Tarasenko, who was the best player available (or Cam Fowler, whomever you want to put here).

2. In today’s NHL, skill trumps most other factors. There’s no problem with drafting a guy who has character and work ethic, much like the Adam Sykora pick, but Sykora is also very skilled and that was a great pick. The issue comes up when you draft for character and work ethic (and size) when the player doesn’t have any notable skill or offensive upside of note. Even Marc Staal put up good offensive numbers in the OHL, despite not having much offensive finish at the NHL level.

It’s because the skills that are needed to put up offense at a younger age translate to the NHL, even if the points don’t. Skating, puck handling, edge work, awareness, hockey IQ, etc. A player with those skills will have a better shot at becoming an NHL player as opposed to a big kid or a character kid that doesn’t have the other skills.

3. The Rangers 2022 draft started well, as Adam Sykora is the type of player that the Rangers like. He’s skilled, he has an engine that doesn’t quit, and he plays the type of game the Rangers like. He may not be a top of the lineup player when all is said and done, but the Rangers gave themselves a good opportunity to find a good player late in the second round. He was projected in the mid/upper 40’s by many, and the Rangers got him at #63. That’s value, and good skill value.

Sykora was also the youngest player in the draft.

4. The same can be said for Bryce McConnell-Barker. The Rangers 2022 draft, with just these two picks, followed a good approach of skill with character, instead of one or the other. The other good news is that since these kids weren’t first rounders, there’s a lot more patience surrounding them. There is no pressure to insert them into the lineup prematurely, which is where the Rangers have most of their problems. They can grow and, if they make it, get in the lineup when they are truly ready.

5. The Rangers have a bad history of being unable to develop top of the lineup players. Their most recent issues with developing players has come with their four top-ten picks. Lias Andersson was rushed, ditto Kaapo Kakko. Alexis Lafreniere wasn’t rushed, per se, but the Rangers definitely didn’t help themselves by bouncing him all over the lineup instead of putting him in a position to succeed. Vitali Kravtsov almost went the Andersson route, but that looks to be correcting itself.

This is a key point for both Sykora and McConnell-Barker. There is no rush for these kids. The Rangers do have a good amount of success with mid-round skill guys (Buchnevich, Stepan, Duclair, Graves, etc). If there’s a developmental strength aside from goalies, it’s this.

6. But this is also where the Rangers 2022 draft started to fall apart. Noah Laba (19 in August), Victor Mancini (20), and Zakary Karpa (20) are all overagers. The Rangers left skill on the board to go for this trio, which is not good process. I’m not going into specific players, I’ll let Will manage that, but this is a process concern. Mancini in particular is your typical Rangers pick that is all size and nothing else.

This is a concern because it is so rare that an overager becomes a legitimate NHL piece. This is why people think the Rangers threw picks away. Again, I’m no prospect guy, but the appeared to be a process flaw here.

7. That said, there’s a reason why the Rangers picked them. Focusing on Laba in particular, he’s committed to Colgate, so the Rangers have a while before they need to make a decision on him. He’s on the same path as Karpa, who was in the USHL before going the NCAA route. But if the Rangers 2022 draft approach was to take players who appeared more developed over those who had higher upside, especially later in the draft, then that bring up draft approach concerns.

8. The Rangers 2022 draft was the second under Chris Drury. There have been some solid picks, but there have been some picks that have fallen flat. If it helps, the patented “big kid that does nothing else” is a product of Glen Sather, and he, Jeff Gorton, and Drury have all made picks like this. Not one of them has panned out. What’s the definition of insanity again?

Regardless, the Rangers did put themselves in a position with their first two picks, and that’s what we should focus on. There’s cause for concern with the Rangers 2022 draft approach, but Sykora and McConnell-Barker were solid value picks.