Potential Rangers draft targets in the first round
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

We are just over a week away from the 2024 NHL Draft, a personal top 5 event on the hockey calendar. The mock drafts are rolling in and fans have started to decide which players they want to be future Rangers. The Blueshirts have shirked their 2010s trend of trading first-round picks, using mid-round picks at the deadline instead. This means we can look at potential Rangers draft targets in the first round, pick #30, this year.

Today, we look at potential Rangers draft targets on the blue line. The last time the Rangers selected a defenseman with their first pick was in 2016 when they selected Sean Day. Replenishing the defensive prospect pool is key with the current Rangers group moving from entry-level deals to bridge and long-term extensions.

Cole Hutson – LHD – USA NTDP (USHL) – 5’10”

I do not know how it is possible, but a second Hutson brother is set to slip out of the first round. Cole is the most productive defenseman in NTDP history. He dominated the U18 Worlds as a 16-year-old, scoring 12 points in 7 games and winning a gold medal. He followed that up with a point-per-game season and 13 points in 7 games en route to a Silver medal at this year’s worlds.

Cole is taller than Lane and is a better skater. While he is not a strong player, he noticeably focused on his defensive play this season to the point where I don’t buy it being an issue and he plays the game very hard. Offensively, Hutson is one the most skilled and intelligent defensemen in the draft. Cole looks set to take over as the top defenseman at Boston University next season, and I expect him to make the teams that pass on him look extremely foolish. He is not a perfect prospect, but Cole Hutson would bring traits the Rangers’ blue line lacks outside of Adam Fox.

Adam Kleber – RHD – Tri-City Storm (USHL) – 6’5″

Kleber is a 6’5″ right-handed defenseman who skates well for his size and added an offensive dimension to his game this season. He more than tripled his USHL production from last season. The consensus style comparison for him seems to be Ryan Graves, and while that is not an overly exciting archetype, his shutdown style can provide value.

Pick 30 might be a little bit too high for Kleber, and Drury has shown he likes to go for high-upside players with his first pick. But he does fit the mold of the current defensive group.

EJ Emery – RHD – USA NTDP (USHL) – 6’3″

After a strong end to the season and a good combine, it seems likely that Emery will not be available here despite most public rankings placing him in the Rangers’ range. Emery is a member of the U18’s three towers on defense, and while Logan Hensler (2025 eligible) will certainly be the highest pick of the three when all is said and done, EJ Emery has separated himself as the top draft-eligible defenseman from the NTDP.

Emery’s profile is one that Rangers fans will be familiar with, as he is not dissimilar as a prospect to K’Andre Miller. He is an extremely athletic, smooth-skating defenseman who can make stops at the NHL level. Emery has questions about the level of offense he will bring as he moves up the hockey food chain, but he finished the season strong and I can see him developing more on that front.

Dominik Badinka – RHD – Malmo Redhawks (SHL) – 6’3″

Badinka is a player with pretty much no weaknesses and minimal downside. He is tall and built well, he can skate well and move the puck, and his defensive game is extremely mature. He was trusted with significant minutes for an 18-year-old in the SHL, and while his production does not stand out, 4 points in 33 games is impressive nevertheless.

Based on the NHL scout feedback from his EliteProspects scouting report, I think NHL teams might be higher on him than the general public, which makes sense given his role in a well-scouted league. With Badinka at pick 30, the Rangers would likely be securing their second pair RHD behind Fox for the foreseeable future.

Charlie Elick – RHD – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) – 6’3″

Elick’s profile as a strong-skating, hard-hitting, offensively limited right-shot defenseman from Western Canada is one that Rangers fans will be very familiar with. And yes, he is often compared to Braden Schneider. EliteProspects rates Elick as the second-best transition defender and shutdown defenseman in the draft. His underlying numbers look strong, including his transition and zone-exit statistics, indicating that a little more offense could be coming next season.

You probably aren’t drafting your future powerplay QB in Elick, but he would form a nice 2/3 punch with Schneider on the right side once Trouba is gone.

There are other defensemen the Rangers could target at this pick, but the variance in this draft makes it very hard to narrow down. These five players represent a group that I feel represents the Ranger’s defenseman profile. Some other names to look out for include Henry Mews, Ben Danford, Leo Sahlin Wallenius, and Jesse Pulkinnen. Next up, I will look at some of the centers that might be available!

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