The New York Rangers have a slew of picks in the upcoming 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Three in the first round, two in each of the second and third rounds and then one each in rounds four, five and six. Those ten picks represent lottery tickets where the franchise’s future depends on their scouting, sure, but it also depends on a whole lot of luck.
That’s the dirty little secret of professional sports scouting. In every draft year, there are sleeper picks who become All-Stars and consensus selections that never work out. That is why at the 205th overall selection, both superstar netminder Henrik Lundqvist (2000) and never an NHLer Teemu Jaaskelainen (2001) were taken in consecutive years. It is also why back in 2006 Jonathan Toews (3rd), Nicklas Backstrom (4th) and Phil Kessel (5th) were selected after Erik Johnson (1st) and Jordan Staal (2nd).
But what would perfect luck for the Rangers look like? Let’s take a stroll through history for a moment and examine who the best players picked were at each position the Rangers will be selecting at for the upcoming draft. To keep things relevant, we’ll limit this to the past 20 years of drafting. First, though, we need to figure out where the team will be picking.
Where Do the Rangers Pick?
As the 2017-18 Stanley Cup Playoffs continue, the Rangers’ selection order in the draft has come into focus. While it is still unclear whether the team will select 29th, 30th or 31st with their pick acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning in the deal that sent Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller down to Rangers South, all of their other selections are now known. Management is likely rooting for the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup giving them the worst possible 1st round selection — the 31st overall pick — in this year’s draft. That is because a Cup win by the Lightning would trigger a condition of that trade which would convert the additional second-round pick in 2019 heading to the Rangers to a first-round pick that same year.
With the Lightning still just one of five teams remaining with a chance at the Cup, we will use the middle pick, 30th overall, for our examination. That gives the Rangers the 9th, 26th, 30th, 39th, 48th, 70th, 88th, 101st, 132nd and 163rd picks in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
Without further ado, let’s see who the best past players at each position the Rangers can draft at have been.
With the 163rd Pick, the Rangers are Proud to Select Brad Richardson
Brad Richardson is hardly a household name, but what did you expect from the 163rd pick in the draft? Richardson also has his name etched on the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings. Do you? He has appeared in 683 regular season contests while putting up 204 points. He is a prototypical bottom-six forward. He can play any forward position, brings energy and is solid defensively. Where the vast majority of players selected this late in the draft never even get a sniff of the NHL game, Richardson has managed to hang around for over a decade.
With the 132nd Pick, the Rangers Select Darren Helm
Like Richardson, Darren Helm is a bottom six forward who stuck around at least 10 years in the NHL. Helm is a hard-working, speedy winger who plays a smart two-way game. In 568 regular season games across a career spent with the Detroit Red Wings, Helm has produced 210 points. Also like Richardson, Helm won a Stanley Cup as a rookie in 2007-08. After playing just seven games in the regular season, he stuck with the Red Wings for 18 playoff games as they defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Finals.
With the 101st Pick, the Rangers Select Jared Boll
If you are detecting a theme with these later picks, you wouldn’t be wrong. Jared Boll is another depth forward who managed to stick in the NHL for 579 games but produced just 66 points. Boll is an agitator and enforcer with almost 1,300 career penalty minutes. He’s the ultimate team player, decent enough defensively to play a fourth-line role and always willing to stand up for his teammates. He played most of his career for the Columbus Blue Jackets, although he played a handful of games over the past two seasons with the Anaheim Ducks.
With the 88th Pick, the Rangers Select Kurt Sauer
This is the juicy “Nick Holden Pick” acquired when the defender was sent to the Boston Bruins leading up to the trade deadline. Many Rangers fans will be happy not having Holden on the first pair, and they’ll have to be.
While Kurt Sauer played in 357 career NHL games and was a solid defenseman, he was forced to retire from the NHL due to concussion issues. That may seem like a familiar Rangers story, as Kurt’s younger brother Michael was a promising defenseman for the franchise who also had his career cut short because of a concussion. Regardless, Holden won’t be on the top pair for the Rangers. Let’s move on.
With the 70th Pick, the Rangers Select Brandon Prust
A name Rangers’ fans will be more familiar with is Brandon Prust. Appearing in 486 NHL regular season games and producing 115 points, Prust was among the better hybrid enforcers in the league who could actually play the game well. A solid penalty killer, Prust joined the Rangers along with Olli Jokinen as part of a trade that sent Christopher Higgins and Ales Kotalik to the Calgary Flames back in 2010. He became a fan favorite for his workmanlike play, hard hits, tireless energy along the boards and willingness to stand up for teammates.
With the 48th Pick, the Rangers Select Who Now?
The 48th selection the Rangers acquired from the New Jersey Devils as part of the trade that sent Michael Grabner to their cross-town rivals appears to be a dead spot in the draft history of the past 20 years. Of the six players selected in that spot to play T least one NHL game (hello Curstin Hamilton), none cracked two full seasons of NHL games or scored over 45 points total. We’ll take Jonathan Girard and his 150 games and 44 points, but maybe the team should look to trade this pick as it appears to be cursed. Not every lottery ticket can be a winner, after all. Moving on…
With the 39th Pick, the Rangers Select Alex DeBrincat
Sometimes you have to gamble, and while Alex DeBrincat has played in just one NHL season for the Chicago Blackhawks, he did play in every game, scoring 28 goals and adding 24 assists for 52 points this season. While there are a couple other players who have had solid NHL careers at this draft spot, notably defenseman John Erskine and forward Jakob Silfverberg, DeBrincat has a much higher ceiling. The small forward has a dynamic skill set and is a pure goal scorer, yet doesn’t shy away from the tough areas of the ice.
With the 30th, Pick the Rangers Select Rickard Rakell
If the Rangers manage to grab a player of Rickard Rakell’s quality with the pick they received as part of the return for trading their captain to Tampa, the trade will be a complete success regardless of how the other prospects they acquired pan out. Rakell looks to have a bright future for the Anaheim Ducks.
Over 313 NHL games, the forward has 198 points and has improved his production by over ten points each season since he became an NHL regular back in 2014-15. That is the kind of growth a team hopes for with offensive players and Rakell’s 69-point campaign last season was less of a breakout and more about his consistent offensive growth. What’s more, Rakell is an all-around player who doesn’t neglect the defensive side of the game.
With the 26th Pick, the Rangers Select Evgeny Kuznetsov
While both Martin Havlat and David Perron have had solid NHL careers, our money’s on Evgeny Kuznetsov with the pick the Rangers received in the deal that sent Rick Nash to the Boston Bruins. The talented young Russian forward has had two seasons where he was at or just under a point per game.
He recently scored the series-clinching overtime goal that sent the Washington Capitals to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time in 20 years. At 25, the dynamic forward will only get better. He’s the type of forward a team like the Blueshirts can build around.
With the 9th Pick, the Rangers are Proud to Select Nikolaj Ehlers
Nikolaj Ehlers is not a household name in the NHL yet but he will be. At just 22, Ehlers has already had two 60-point seasons for the Winnipeg Jets following a strong 38-point rookie campaign. His goal scoring has improved each season, from 15, 25 to 29 goals in 2017-18. The product of Denmark has elite offensive skills and is a threat creating plays for his linemates or scoring himself. He is exactly the kind of young offensive talent every team hopes for when selecting outside of the top few spots in the draft.
The Rangers’ Future Could be Bright
These are obviously the best of the best at each draft position the Rangers get to select in the upcoming draft. The chances that they will choose a haul of players close to those listed above is almost non-existent. The chances they have, specifically in the first two rounds, to add a game-changer is close to the flip of a coin. Even a single player equivalent to the final four selections above, DeBrincat, Rakell, Kuznetsov or Ehlers, would drastically improve the Rangers’ fortunes and add a significant boost to their rebuilding efforts.
Father, writer, photographer and lifelong New York Rangers fan. I have been covering the Rangers for the past year and a half and am a long-time veteran of team forums. I stand firmly against the Oxford comma.