The New York Rangers have one of the most memorable prospect pools in team history because of general manager Jeff Gorton’s willingness to sell veteran assets. Ever since the letter sent to the fans in Feb. 2018, the Blueshirts have stockpiled a considerable number of talented prospects and draft picks. The Rangers’ rebuild is only two seasons in and it all started at the Feb. 2018 trade deadline, with the departure of veterans such as Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash, Michael Grabner and J.T. Miller. Those trades brought forth a bundle of budding youngsters and multiple high draft selections. With that being said, let’s take a look at the development of the Rangers’ promising talent taken in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
Vitali Kravtsov (1st Round, 9th Overall)
When the Rangers selected Vitali Kravtsov as early as they did, and passed over players like Oliver Wahlstrom, Rangers fans were already questioning the draft choice. Fast forward to Dec. 2019 and the Kravtsov pick still looks a little cloudy. In 2018, he was a teenager playing and getting ice time in the Kontinental Hockey League, which is a feat of its own.
After performing exceptionally during that season, Kravtsov and the Rangers’ front office envisioned a transition to North America for the creative winger. The now 20-year-old was signed his entry-level contract with the Rangers and had a short stint with the American Hockey League’s Hartford Wolf Pack. He totaled just one assist in five games played for the Wolf Pack, while also picking up a healthy scratch as well.
The winger then exercised his European Assignment Clause and returned to the KHL, before deciding to return to North America recently. Kravtsov is back with the Hartford Wolf Pack and it remains to be seen how much his game has grown or declined. However, a late-season call-up for the youngster is certainly a possible situation later in the season.
K’Andre Miller (1st Round, 22nd Overall)
With their second of three first-round picks in 2018, the Rangers selected K’Andre Miller, a sophomore defenseman for the Wisconsin Badgers’ men’s hockey team. At the time, this selection was seen as more of a long-term choice, as he was a converted forward-to-defenseman and had an overabundance of raw physical talent.
That raw talent that Gorton and the Rangers saw at the draft came to fruition in Miller’s freshman season at Wisconsin. The 6-foot-4, freakishly athletic defenseman totaled an astounding 22 points in 26 games as a freshman, which earned him a spot on the Big Ten’s all-rookie team. Headed into the 2019 season at Wisconsin, he received a unanimous selection to the preseason All-Big Ten first team.
Miller has started his sophomore season for the Badgers in a positive light, with six goals and five assists in 17 games played. Without a doubt, he is one of the franchise’s blue-chip prospects and he still has plenty of room to grow. It’ll be an exciting time to watch him develop over the next few seasons and he even has a solid chance to fight for a roster spot come next season if he decides to forgo his final two years at the college level.
Nils Lundkvist (1st Round, 28th Overall)
Aside from Miller, Nils Lundkvist may be one of the most complete defensive prospects the Rangers have selected in the draft. The team picked Lundkvist late in the opening round with their third of three first-round picks. At the draft, he was ranked No. 14 on NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of international skaters that were eligible. The 5-foot-11 defenseman doesn’t necessarily have the size, but his precision and possession with the puck certainly make his presence on the ice known.
Competing in the SHL in Sweden this season, the 19-year-old already has 17 points in 24 games played. For a young defenseman in the Swedish Hockey League like Lundkvist, these numbers couldn’t be much better than they are now. He also currently averages 20:29 of ice time per contest, meaning he’s receiving all of the time he needs to properly develop his game.
Lundkvist might be one of the most promising prospects the Rangers have had in a long time, and his development overseas is turning heads in the Blueshirts’ organization.
The Rangers have recently found themselves in turmoil with 2017 first-round selection Lias Andersson, as the gritty centerman has been suspended by the Rangers after he failed to report to his AHL assignment. The Rangers have seen solid development out of their first-rounders of the critical 2018 draft and hope that each of their impending paths towards the Rangers’ roster in a few seasons is a smooth one.