Draft Picks More Valuable Than Zuccarello

As the New York Rangers continue to rebuild, they need to take a hard look at the players on their roster who will not be viable when it comes time to compete again. Fan favorite Mats Zuccarello is at the top of that list. Although Zuccarello survived the Rangers trade deadline selloff this season, he can’t be part of their long-term plans.

The Norwegian will be 31-years old when the 2018-19 season begins and will be in the final year of his $4.5 million contract. If moving Ryan McDonagh with one year left on his deal made sense for the Rangers, then moving Zuccarello would seem even more obvious.

Ryan McDonagh Mats Zuccarello Rangers
Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers, Dec 27, 2017 (Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports)

It is likely that the team could pry away another late first-rounder in the upcoming 2018 NHL Entry Draft for the small but tenacious forward, even if they have to add one of their two second-round picks to make that happen. If they can swing that type of deal, they would end up with four first-round selections in the upcoming 2018 NHL Entry Draft.

Between selecting Brady Skjei with the 28th overall pick in 2012 and Filip Chytil with their own 21st overall pick in 2017, the Rangers had traded their first-round picks in four consecutive years. The moves were made in an attempt to get the Rangers over the Stanley Cup hump, a goal they were unable to reach. Draft picks, specifically in the first-round, are the hockey equivalent of lottery tickets and rebuilding teams need as many as they can get.

Draft Picks Are a Worthy Gamble

Many say that later first-round draft picks are a gamble and that their value is hard to quantify. Over the six-year span bookended by Skjei and Chytil, there is data to be gleaned as to the types of players the Rangers could have selected with another late first-round pick. This is, obviously, an imperfect method, as the Rangers might not have selected the players’ other general managers and scouts favored and New York’s draft position in each of those years was determined, in part, by the contributions made by the players acquired with them.

With that being said, though, here are the players that were selected with the draft picks the Rangers traded away:

2013 – Kerby Rychel 19th Overall

Kerby Rychel has the least NHL experience out of the three who have been drafted and have since cracked the NHL, but a big part of that can be attributed to his rocky relationship with the Columbus Blue Jackets — ultimately leading to a request to be traded.

Kerby Rychel
Kerby Rychel, now with the Montreal Canadiens (Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports)

Rychel found himself in another difficult situation with the Toronto Maple Leafs, this time because of their incredible depth at forward. Across two NHL seasons, the forward has produced 12 points in 37 games. Now with the Montreal Canadiens, he is likely to find himself with a better chance to stick in the NHL.

2014 – Josh Ho-Sang 28th Overall

Perhaps the most skilled out of these four picks, but also the one with the most baggage, Josh Ho-Sang has had decent production playing for the New York Islanders, putting up 22 points in 41 games. He’s good at carrying the puck, has speed and great offensive vision. His play away from the puck needs work but that is somewhat typical of young scoring forwards. The Rangers’ Pavel Buchnevich gets knocked for the same thing, but possesses similar natural abilities.

Josh Ho-Sang
Joshua Ho-Sang (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Ho-Sang has recently expressed frustration to the press about the Islanders’ failure to recall him as they evaluate their young players at the end of another frustrating season.

2015 – Anthony Beauvillier 28th Overall

Anthony Beauvillier cracked the Islanders’ lineup as an 18-year old and has played 132 NHL games, all before turning 21 in June. In those games, he has put up 53 points, including 17 goals in 66 games, so far this season.

Anthony Beauvillier New York Islanders
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

His game is dynamic, with the ability to pass as well as shoot. Like Ho-Sang, he has speed, skill and a good sense in the offensive zone. He has surpassed Ho-Sang in development with the Islanders, despite being selected a year later.

2016 – Dennis Cholowski 20th Overall

The most recently selected prospect in this group is the 20-year-old Dennis Cholowski, who played this season in the WHL for the Prince George Cougars and the Portland Winterhawks. The defenseman has put up impressive numbers in the WHL, scoring 66 points in 69 games, which puts him eighth among all league defenders. Cholowski is a promising part of the Detroit Red Wings’ rebuilding effort, similar to the one the Rangers find themselves in now.

Dennis Cholowski
Dennis Cholowski (Garrett James Photography)

Rangers Rebuilding Plan Needs to Continue

These are the types of players the Rangers need to further their rebuild. While none are currently projected to be superstars in the league, a franchise on the mend needs much more than that one great player. The Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres can attest to that. To acquire those supporting players without having to overpay in the Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) market, teams need to cast a wide net in acquiring all types of promising talent.

Zuccarello is a very good, but not great, hockey player. He is on pace for 55 points, which is just shy of the 59 and 61 points he put up in the previous two seasons. If the Rangers were further along in their rebuild or still competitive, moving him would make little sense.

Craig Anderson and Mats Zuccarello
Craig Anderson and Mats Zuccarello (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

The team needs to take a quick look into their crystal ball and consider that Zuccarello will be a UFA after next year, who will likely be moved as a rental before next season’s trade deadline. Re-signing him to a long-term deal when the team, barring some miracle, won’t be in the Stanley Cup hunt until he’s approaching his mid-30s, seems like a bad way to manage the team’s salary cap moving forward.

Rangers’ general manager Jeff Gorton has done a good job acquiring picks and prospects to help mold the team’s future. That job is far from done. He must continue to evaluate which of the Rangers’ current NHL players are unlikely to significantly help the team’s long-term future and move them for more lottery tickets in upcoming drafts. As the New York Lottery’s long-time slogan says, “Hey, you never know.”