“With the 28th pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, the New York Rangers select….” The name that will be at the end of that sentence on June 22nd has been discussed and debated at length by Rangers fans, and undoubtedly within the organization itself, since the season ended. There is one school of thought that believes the Rangers should use the pick to add more offense. On the other hand, there is a feeling that the Broadway Blueshirts might be leaning towards selecting a goaltender in the first round. Even though the Rangers are set in net for the time being, there a few good reasons why they should draft a goalie in the first round.
The Rangers are fortunate to have one of the best goalies in the NHL in Henrik Lundqvist. The Vezina and Hart Trophy nominee has been the Rangers’ MVP for each of the last six seasons. After playing seven years in the league, Lundqvist, who will turn 31 years old next March, is entering the second half of his career. Although Lundqvist should be playing in New York for the foreseeable future, the draft is where the Rangers can find a goaltender talented enough to be their goaltender of the future.
It has been a while since the Rangers have had a draft pick this low in the first round. The Atlantic Division Champions have the 28th pick in the draft, the lowest position they have had since they had the 26th pick (in a 26 team league) in the 1994 NHL Draft. Also, based on the reports that the Rangers have had “significant” trade talks with the Blue Jackets about Rick Nash, there is a realistic possibility that the 28th overall pick could be heading to Columbus rather than Broadway.
Assuming that the Rangers keep the pick, the best decision for them to make is to draft a goaltender. One reason is Lundqvist’s age. Although the longevity of other goalies around the league prove otherwise, most goalies exit their prime when they are around 35 years old. If this generalization holds true for Lundqvist, it means that the Rangers will have their MVP in his prime for the next four to five seasons, before his play begins to decline.
Another reason that the Rangers should select a goaltender is their position in the draft. The Rangers are a young team, with other prospects knocking on the door to play for the big club in 2012-13. However, the team is built to win now, so it is almost certain that any additions to help the current roster will come in the form of a trade or a free agent signing, and not the 28th overall pick. With the exception of the top selections in the draft, the majority of first round picks will return to their junior, college, or European teams next season. Therefore, since the player the Rangers select will be somebody who won’t be expected to make the Rangers for the next few seasons, the Blueshirts should use it on a goaltender who will be ready to play when Lundqvist is on the decline.
Developing a goaltender is one of the toughest tasks that an organization has to do. While playing defense is the hardest position in today’s NHL, making the transition from playing in junior to playing in the NHL as a goalie is the longest road. There are very few goalies who bypass the junior ranks and the American Hockey League after being drafted, so the development process is longer than for a forward or a defenseman. Lundqvist didn’t play his first game in the NHL until he was 23 years old. If the Rangers select a goalie in this year’s draft, he will be 23 years old when Lundqvist will be 35. By selecting a goaltender now, the Rangers will give him plenty of time to go through the ranks, and even learn from one of the best in the game, before he has to deal with the pressure of playing in New York and following in the footsteps of the great Rangers goalies who have played before him.
So, if the Rangers decide to select a goalie with the 28th pick, who do they have on the board to choose from? The two goalies that the Rangers would likely select are Malcolm Subban and Andrei Vasilevski. Malcolm Subban, the younger brother of the Montreal Canadiens’ P.K., is playing for the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League. In the minds of most people, Subban is the best goalie available in the draft, although a few mock drafts have him being selected late in the first round. With the 28th pick, the Rangers would have to hope that no team is looking for a goaltender until late in the first round.
This season at Belleville, Subban posted a 2.5o goals against average, and a .923 save percentage in 39 games. Although he has only been a goaltender for six years, his athleticism and poise in the net give him the ability to be a potential franchise goalie. In looking at scouts’ evaluations of Subban, he has drawn parallels to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Marc-Andre Fleury, and the Canadiens’ Carey Price.
Vasilevski has played for Russia on multiple occasions over the last three years. At 6’3”, he is big in the net, and has looked calm under pressure. Vasilevski’s name moved up the rankings during this year’s World Junior Championships. During the tournament, the Russian goalie recorded two shutouts, and led all goaltenders with a .953 save percentage as Russia won the Gold Medal.
The Rangers have enough young forwards and defensemen on the current roster and in their system that will make them a solid hockey club for the next decade. Now, the Rangers need to develop a goaltender for the day when Lundqvist is no longer protecting the net at MSG. And the process starts with the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.