Since taking over the New York Rangers scouting department, Gordie Clark has replenished a previously depleted New York rangers farm system. Unlike the pre-lockout years, the Rangers now ice a team full of home grown talent, instead of overpaid mercenaries. The future success of the Rangers will be determined by how well Gordie Clark can draft, to keep the system stocked.
With the 15th overall pick the Rangers can go in many directions. One direction they shouldn’t go however, is selecting a defenseman. With one of the youngest top fours in the NHL, a sophomore slumped offensive defenseman in Michael Del Zotto, and the hard-hitting Dylan McIlrath hoping the crack the NHL roster soon, it is currently not a position of need. In fact, they have one of the brightest defensive futures in the entire league.
Center is the obvious position of need, but if the off-season is as successful as Rangers General Manager Glen Sather hopes, Head Coach John Tortorella will have an old friend filling that void in the upcoming season. Veteran center-man Brad Richards will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and the Rangers are expected to go hard after him if they find the cap space.
A goal-scoring winger is likely what the Rangers will covet come draft day, but unfortunately the first round is deep with centers and defenseman. The rangers will likely draft a center with the 15th overall pick, based on who will be available when it’s their turn to pick. Gordie Clark has explicably stated recently that he would like to trend towards drafting Canadian kids and stay away from Europeans, so expect a North American style player, unless there is someone Clark absolutely loves.
A name I expect to be high on the New York Rangers draft board is Prince Albert Raiders forward, Mark McNeill. With impressive size and strength, McNeill has turned a lot of heads this year, and is exactly the type of player Gordie Clark has said he would like to draft. McNeill plays a very good two-way game and shows a lot of grit. He isn’t afraid to drop the gloves and defend a teammate.
Standing at almost six feet and two inches tall, and a whopping 200 pounds, McNeill tallied a total of 32 goals and 49 assists while playing for a weak Prince Albert team that barely squeaked its way into the playoffs. In an interview with Yahoo! Sports writer Kelly Friesen, McNeill talked about his game, “I’m a power forward, a strong two-way centre and I like to be good at both ends of the rink.”
Mark Scheifele is another player Clark should have his eye with the 15th overall pick. His overall potential, is that of a top-line playmaking center, but he is a much safer pick than that. He posses great poise and intelligence for someone his age, has very good size.
He is the type of player sure to have a guaranteed impact; it is just a matter of how large that impact will be. Finishing with 53 assists last year, it’s important that Scheifele continues to work on his two-way game and not just try to increase his point totals. If he can continue to develop an already strong two-way game, he will be a nice pick for any team.
A wild card pick here is Russian Center Alexander Khokhlachev. Despite being one of the youngest players in the draft, Khokhlachev was able to put up similar point totals to many of the top guys in this draft. Finishing with 34 goals and 76 points was incredibly impressive when you consider his age at the time. Even more impressive has been his playoff performance. Khokhlachev has posted 20 points in 18 playoff games.
The obvious concerns with Khokhlachev are the same as they have been with any Russian Player. If he is not happy here, he can bolt to Russia, be in his native country and make a comparable salary. The team that drafts him will have then wasted their pick, like Nashville did with Alexander Radulov.
Khokhlachev has stated that the NHL is his priority unlike many other players of Russian descent. Because he is already playing in North America there is almost no concern of his signing a KHL contract. In an interview with Hockey’s Future writer Alessandro Seren Rosso Khokhlachev discussed this, “ to test yourself overseas is always interesting. Any player strives for the world’s best league, and today that’s the NHL.”
Despite carrying the Russian tag, Khokhlachev is a North American player. A lot of highly talented Russian Stars in the NHL have been criticized for floating and taking shifts off, but you don’t see that with Khokhlachev. He works hard and uses his body whenever he can.
Unfortunately for Khokhlachev, the one thing that may hold him back is his size. But if Gordie Clark wants to take a chance on the next potential Russian superstar, it is very likely Khokhlachev will be sitting there at with their first round pick.
Finally, a player the Rangers should consider taking a shot at in the second round is Swedish Center Victor Rask. Rask has fallen immensely over the last year, and is no longer considered a first round pick in most places. Despite being a consensus top five pick at the beginning of the year Rask really hurt his stock. Scouts were unimpressed by his lack of progression this year, and there are rumors of an attitude problem.
If the Rangers go for a safe pick in a guy like McNeill, or Scheifele in the first round, expect them to go boom or bust with at least one pick in the second. Guys like Victor Rask, or the small skilled Rocco Grimaldi are definitely worth taking a look at with a second round pick.
No matter who the New York Rangers call up on draft day, Ranger fans should know that they are in good hands with Gordie Clark running the show.
You Can Follow Patrick Kearns on Twitter @THWpkearns for prospects info and updates.