New York Rangers: NHL Draft Preview

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 23: (L-R) Glen Sather and Jeff Gorton of the New York Rangers attend the 2017 NHL Draft at the United Center on June 23, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

With the NHL Draft Lottery in the books, the New York Rangers shift their focus towards the upcoming draft. After not picking in the first round from 2013 through 2016, the Blueshirts selected Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil with the 7th and 21st picks respectively in 2017. New York will look to add to their improving prospect pipeline this June, as they possess three first-round picks, and a total of seven picks in the first three rounds, thanks to Jeff Gorton’s successful trade deadline.

Missing out on the consensus top three of Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov, and Filip Zadina, the lottery didn’t pan out as Ranger fans hoped. The odds favored the Blueshirts landing the 8th choice of the primary round, and gave them a 19% chance of picking in the top three. Unfortunately, New York dropped a spot, and New York will officially pick 9th overall. The Rangers’ other two first-round picks belong to the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning. With the B’s having been eliminated by the Bolts, their selection will officially be the 26th pick. Tampa Bay’s pick number is still undetermined, but it will fall somewhere between 27 and 31.

Although it was disappointing to see the Blueshirts come away with the 9th pick, they will still have the opportunity to nab an elite prospect with this selection. This year’s draft class features a plethora of Grade-A players and also has great depth. So, for the Rangers to execute this rebuild as quickly as they are hoping, they must make the most of all of their choices. Additionally, this year’s draft is looking increasingly similar to the recent NFL draft, in that there are many discrepancies between the rankings of different scouts. Outside of the consensus top three, there are many disagreements regarding how the rest of the draft will shake out. After hours of scouting, today I examine Jeff Gorton’s options with the 9th overall pick. 


Elite Defenseman:

The 2018 NHL Draft is stacked with elite defensive prospects. The list starts with Rasmus Dahlin, the undoubted first pick, who has been touted as a franchise-altering, generational talent. Even after the coveted Swede, there are plenty of other quality options. Here they are.

Tier 2: Adam Boqvist and Quinn Hughes

Following Dahlin in my defenseman rankings, are Quinn Hughes and Adam Boqvist. They make up the next tier of blueliners.

Quinn Hughes, the 18-year-old defenseman from Orlando, is in my opinion the second best d-man in this year’s draft. Hughes’ freshman season at Michigan University was a tremendous success, as he led the Wolverines to the Frozen Four and posted an impressive 29 points (5G and 24A) in 37 games. This highly-skilled offensive defenseman is known for his amazing skating ability, which is complemented by his great vision and stick-handling. At the same time, Hughes is far from a liability in his own zone. The only concerns about the lefty stem from his 5’10’’ 175-pound frame, which he makes up for with his other abilities. Despite the question marks, Hughes is a dynamic player and is a threat whenever he is on the ice. He should be a stud in the NHL.

Right behind Quinn Hughes is Sweden’s other smooth-skating, puck-mover – Adam Boqvist. Once considered a surefire top-five selection, Boqvist has slightly fallen in the rankings of many due to uncertainties about a lingering concussion that he is nursing. With his effortless skating, top-notch passing, and blistering shot, Boqvist’s offensive ability may be better than that of Hughes. He tallied 24 points (14G and 10A) in 25 games in the SuperElit league, Sweden’s top junior competition. Additionally, he notched 17 points (5G and 12A) in 19 contests of international play this year. The knock on Boqvist is his actual defense, and similar to Hughes, he stands at a mere 5’10’’, 170 pounds. There are definitely things to be concerned about, but the 17-year-old’s natural skills and creativity give him tons of potential. Boqvist has already received comparisons to fellow Swedish defenseman – Erik Karlsson.

For the Blueshirts, it’s unlikely that either of these two will still be available at nine, but it is possible. On the other hand, there is absolutely no chance that both of them will be on the board, so the Rangers won’t have to worry about choosing between the two. If I had my choice, I’m taking Hughes because of my worries about Boqvist’s injuries; however, I think it is far more realistic to think that Boqvist could still be on the board at nine rather than Hughes. If Gorton were to nab Boqvist, it would be an absolute steal, as he could serve as the cornerstone of the Rangers’ defense assuming he continues to progress.

Tier 3: Evan Bouchard and Noah Dobson

Next in my defenseman rankings are Noah Dobson and Evan Bouchard. They’re not quite as flashy and they don’t have as much upside as the aforementioned d-men, but both are solid contributors at both ends of the ice.

Bouchard certainly fits the bill of what the Jeff Gorton desires in a young defenseman. New York’s front office has stressed the importance of acquiring players that are “high-character guys” and good leaders, and Bouchard is just that. Serving as the captain of the London Knights of the OHL, Bouchard was described as a “tremendous leader” by Rob Simpson, the team’s general manager. Standing at 6’2’’ and weighing in at 188 pounds, Bouchard would also add some much-needed size to the Blueshirts’ blue-line. These natural attributes are accompanied by plenty of other skills. He defends well, and the 18-year-old is more than capable offensively, as he led all OHL defenseman in points this season with a whopping 87 of them (25G and 62A) in just 67 games. With 33 of his points coming on the man-advantage, Bouchard’s offensive success is partially a result of his abilities as a power-play quarterback. Lastly, he’s a righty, and we all know that right-handed defensemen are a hot commodity in the NHL. The Ontario native’s all-around skill set should translate well to the big leagues. He has the potential to be a top-pairing defenseman in a couple of years.

Next I have Noah Dobson, the right-handed defenseman and alternate captain of Acadie-Bathurst of the QMJHL. The 18-year-old Canadian racked up 69 points (17G and 52A) in 67 matches this year, good enough for third in the league among blueliners. At a towering 6’3’’ 180 pounds without skates, Dobson had ideal size, and he doesn’t let that inhibit his skating. Furthermore, Dobson is defensively reliable, while boasting a powerful shot and good vision. Similarly to Bouchard, Dobson is a power-play producer, notching 29 of his points on the man-advantage. His 11 power-play goals led all defenseman in that category. Dobson’s two-way talent and NHL readiness make him a very intriguing prospect. 

As you can probably see, Bouchard and Dobson are very similar in terms of their traits and skill sets. Although practical, I think it’s improbable that both defensemen are available to New York with the ninth pick. On the off chance that they are both still up for grabs, I’d take Bouchard. I love his offense, and I think his ceiling is a bit higher than Dobson’s. At the same time, I’m confident that Dobson will be obtainable at nine, and I’m far less certain that the same goes for Bouchard. If the Rangers do miss out on Bouchard, Dobson is quite the consolation prize. If for some reason both are off the board, that likely means that Adam Boqvist or Quinn Hughes is untaken.


The Ideal Selection:

The defenseman have stolen the spotlight thus far, yet there is no shortage of valuable forwards in this year’s draft. Andrei Svechnikov and Filip Zadina will probably round out the top-three picks, and Brady Tkachuk could be selected right after them at four. None of them will be available by the time Jeff Gorton steps up to the podium, so I analyzed a forward that could be still on the board – Oliver Wahlstrom.

You may recognize that name… here’s why:

That was a video of Oliver Wahlstrom that went viral when he was nine-years-old. He’s now 17, and he’s still scoring goals.

In my opinion, the ideal selection for the Broadway Blueshirts is Oliver Wahlstrom, as he would offer the Rangers something they haven’t had and have been searching for since Jaromir Jagr – a true sniper. Wahlstrom, the 6’1’’, 205-pound right-handed winger from Maine, put up gaudy numbers this past season. In the USHL, Wahlstrom tallied 45 points (22G and 23A) in 26 games, and for the NTDP he posted 94 points (48G and 46A) in 62 tilts. At the conclusion of his campaign, he added 9 points (7G and 2A) in 7 games for Team USA at the U18s. Wahlstrom is the full package offensively, as he has an ability to score wherever and whenever. He’s got a potent shot, a quick release, great hands in front of the net, size, good skating ability, defensive awareness, and he’s an underrated passer. Moreover, the American has a great work ethic and understanding of the game, which can’t be overlooked. As Team USA’s alternate captain, Wahlstrom brings leadership as well. He will take his talents to either Boston College or Michigan University next season.

Since the Rangers began restocking their defense at the trade deadline by adding Libor Hajek, Ryan Lindgren, and Yegor Rykov, a pure goal scoring winger is perhaps the team’s greatest need. They are hard to come by, so there is no excuse for passing up on Wahlstrom if there is an opportunity to acquire him. Fortunately for Jeff Gorton, I don’t think Wahlstrom falling to the Blueshirts is out of the realm of possibility; however, the Rangers would definitely need some luck for it to happen. Wahlstrom’s rare combination of the physique of a power forward and the skills of a playmaker and a sniper, make him a blue-chip prospect with superstar upside. In my eyes, he would be a perfect fit on Broadway.

If the Rangers are set on taking a forward and Wahlstrom if off the board, I could definitely see them choosing Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

Kotkaniemi, a Finnish winger, put himself in pretty good company with his success this year (see above). He’s got great size and playmaking ability, while he’s also very good defensively. Kotkaniemi has rapidly ascended up the rankings of many and could find his way into the top-ten.


My Top-Ten Overall Rankings:

  1. Rasmus Dahlin
  2. Andrei Svechnikov
  3. Filip Zadina
  4. Oliver Wahlstrom
  5. Quinn Hughes
  6. Adam Boqvist
  7. Evan Bouchard
  8. Brady Tkachuk
  9. Noah Dobson
  10. Jesperi Kotkaniemi

Conclusion:

The only other draft possibility that I haven’t touched on yet is trading up. Jeff Gorton did express some interest in moving up in the draft order when the Rangers received the ninth pick. Moving into the top three seems far-fetched, as this is a rarity in the NHL and the Blueshirts would have to pay a premium. I could see Jeff Gorton looking to swap with the Arizona Coyotes; therefore trading up for the fifth pick. With this selection, the Rangers would be guaranteed one of Wahlstrom, Hughes, or Boqvist. My thoughts on this deal would really depend on the price. If the Blueshirts were able to move up by dealing some assortment of Mats Zuccarello, Jimmy Vesey, Ryan Spooner, and Vlad Namestnikov along with the ninth pick, then I’m all for it. However, if it were to cost Jeff Gorton other early-round draft picks in this year’s draft, then I’d be opposed to it. I don’t think there is any logic in moving up to pick six, seven, or eight prior to draft day. Besides, the Rangers can still add an elite talent at nine. Nikolaj Ehlers, Jacob Trouba, Mikhail Sergachev, Bo Horvat, and Dougie Hamilton were all picked ninth in recent drafts.

Regardless of where the Blueshirts pick, they will look to build upon the drafting success they have had as of late. Key roster players such as Chris Kreider, Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal, Brady Skjei, and Pavel Buchnevich were all Rangers draft picks, as was J.T. Miller. Additionally, last year’s first rounders, Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, look to be core pieces of the future. The team’s only recent major draft failure came back in 2010, that being the infamous Dylan McIlrath debacle. With the ninth pick, Jeff Gorton can’t afford a McIlrath-esque mistake, and he will be hoping that whoever he selects has the same impact that the Rangers’ 9th overall pick from 1986 had on the franchise – Brian Leetch.

**Special thanks to my good friend and fellow Rangers fan, Andrew, for his help with this article!

(All stats and info via HockeyDB and Elite Prospects)

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