The New York Rangers recent long run through the 2014 postseason took many surprise. A solid team, well coached to highlight its strengths, New York's playoff success was a group effort. The team's top marquee player, Rick Nash, was not very effective during the playoffs, however, the team's speed and signature defense caused opponents quite a bit of trouble.
The shift in the Rangers' playing style from a lunchpail team to one of skill was molded by a change in drafting strategy, begun for the most part in the mid 2000s. New York now drafts with an emphasis on skating speed. Thus, when Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin developed sufficiently to join the NHL roster, team speed rose dramatically. When a strong fitness regimen was also added, the combination of speed and stamina made the team very dangerous.
The question that team has to look at going forward is whether there is enough strength in the current prospect pool to continue moving toward winning the Stanley Cup. Although several of the top prospects have the potential to be high-end offensive or defensive players, all are far from sure things. In addition, the Rangers traded away their first round selections this year and next year to obtain Martin St. Louis. As a result, they do not have a pick until the second to last pick in the second round of the draft.
Such moves makes it very difficult to replenish a prospect pool from within, leaving the scouting staff to choose many more boom or bust prospects than would otherwise be necessary. It remains to be seen how this will affect the Rangers' chances at the Stanley Cup three to four years down the road.
Top 10 prospects:
1. Danny Kristo, RW
2. J.T. Miller, C
3. Jesper Fast, RW
4. Anthony Duclair, LW
5. Pavel Buchnevich, LW
6. Dylan McIlrath, D
7. Brady Skjei, D
8. Conor Allen, D
9. Oscar Lindberg, C
10. Ryan Haggerty, RW
The Rangers been very successful developing forwards over the last few years – five of the current top nine are home grown. With Kreider, who continues to develop on the NHL roster, and Derek Stepan, two thirds of the first line went through the Rangers' organization.
Assuming the team can re-sign the Pouliot-Brassard-Zuccarello line and leave it intact, there is the basis for a real top six. However, the Rangers will need to shore up their center position on the third and fourth lines. J.T. Miller will get a look at center on the third line and Oscar Lindberg will get a chance to show in training camp whether or not he is ready for a fourth line role. But, the position is weak and Rangers have to be thinking that they may want to either sign a UFA or trade for another center.
New York also will have to look at their defense. Assuming that John Moore is re-signed, there are only five blueliners that are under contract. There is no question that the Rangers would like Anton Stralman to return, but the team has severe constraints as to what they will be able to pay him, so Stralman's return is in doubt. Expect Dylan McIlrath to make the team, but they still have a space along the blue line. The Rangers do have Conor Allen, who the team liked very much when he was called up last season, as well as Mat Bodie, who was recently signed as a free agent and will get a look in camp, but it is also possible that a veteran free agent defenseman may be signed.
The Rangers are once again very strong on defense. Although there is no elite offensive blue line prospect in the organization, several of the top defensive prospects, Allen and Bodie, have some offensive upside. In addition, Brady Skjei and Ryan Graves are excellent more defensive blueliners. And then there is McIlrath, who remains a work in progress. He can be mean and tough, but big questions remain about whether he will come anywhere near the expectation of being a clear-the-crease Zdeno Chara type defenseman.
The system is also very strong on the left side. 2013 Draftees Pavel Buchnevich, Anthony Duclair, and Adam Tambellini all have high upside; although all of them are higher risk than the team's defensive prospects, the organization is strongly stocked on left wing.
The biggest weakness of the organization is at center. Although the team intends to take a look at Miller at this position next fall, it does appear that he is most effective on the wing. None of the other current prospects at center are expected to play a top-six role in the organization.
In addition, the team is very weak in goaltending prospects. Although it is true that the Rangers seem set with Henrik Lundquist as the number one between the pipes and Cam Talbot as backup, Talbot will be a UFA after next season and may decide not to stay in New York. Neither Jason Missiaen nor Scott Stajcer appear to have a future in New York, and the newly signed Mackenzie Skapski is not likely to be the answer to the future backup or number one netminder needs.
Since Gordie Clark started running the Rangers draft in 2006, New York has usually selected players that have either dropped in the draft because of some perceived drawback or a player who has been somehow overlooked. There is no particular junior program from which the early round selections come. However, speed and size appear to be consistently desired among the top picks. (Since Clark started running the draft, the shortest first pick was Michael Del Zotto ,who is now with Nashville, at 6'0", 193 pounds)
Later round selections have tended to be very big, tough defensemen or forwards who are hoped to become tough guys in the NHL.
Finally, at least one European player has been selected in each draft since Clark has taken over.
Entering the 2014 draft, the Rangers hold four selections: the 59th overall pick (2nd round), the 89th selection (3rd round), 119th selection (4th round), and the 122nd pick (5th round).
New York traded away its first round selection to Tampa Bay as part of the transaction that sent Ryan Callahan to the Lightning and brought St. Louis to the Rangers.
The 122nd selection (early in the fifth round) was obtained from Florida in a July 20th, 2012 trade that sent Casey Wellman to the Panthers. The Rangers gave up their own fifth round selection (number 149) to San Jose as part of the April 2, 2013 trade that brought Ryan Clowe to New York.
The 209th selection, in the seventh round, was sent to Los Angeles as part of the January 4th, 2014 trade that brought Dan Carcillo to the Rangers.
Due to the nature of this particular draft, it should be possible to get a highly regarded prospect toward the end of the second round. Later picks will be more boom or bust players or overlooked prospects, just the type of players the Rangers have coveted in the recent past.