Of the 28 players currently listed on the New York Rangers' roster, 10 are former Blueshirts' draft selections, and two (Ryan McDonagh and Tim Erixon) were obtained by the team through trade prior to the beginning their professional careers. One additional player, Dan Girardi, was signed as a free agent after a year of playing with the Rangers' AHL affiliate. Thirteen of the 28 players on New York's current roster are therefore homegrown, making the NHL Draft the primary source of NHL players for the team.
Top 10 Prospects:
With the addition of Brad Richards in the summer of 2011, the Rangers finally had the first line center that the team had been seeking since the 2009 signing of Marian Gaborik. The question then became who would skate on Richards and Gaborik's left wing. Early combinations did not work, and until rookie Carl Hagelin was inserted into the position, the line did not demonstrate real chemistry. Hagelin, a playmaking winger, did an excellent job and the line produced, but long-term, a scoring first-line left winger needs to be either developed or obtained. Although there is a possibility that top prospect Chris Kreider would be able to fill that slot, with the depth of their prospect stable, the Rangers likely will seek a free agent to play alongside Richards and Gaborik during the 2012-13 season.
The Rangers have a very young, strong corps on the blue line, anchored by defensive specialists Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, as well as two-way blueliner Ryan McDonagh. McDonagh took a great leap in development this past season and was the standout among the group. But concussions plagued the Rangers' defense, as Staal, who was out with a concussion for close to half the season, was just regaining his old form in the playoffs, and Michael Sauer, who had an excellent start to the season, went down in early December 2011 and never returned. The young offensive defenseman, Michael Del Zotto, had an excellent rebound season during 2011-12, however, he may not grow into the NHL power play quarterback the Rangers had hoped for.
Finally, the Rangers struggled with an effective defensive third pairing for most of the season. This was in part due to the injury to Sauer and the failure of Tim Erixon to be NHL- ready, but New York needs at least one more solid defenseman to be deep enough to suffer injuries and not have a great fall-off in play.
The Rangers have a strong core of high skill forwards in their system. In contrast to just a few years ago, when the organization was full of potential third and fourth line NHLers, there are at least five potentially top six prospects in the system. In addition, there remain a good number of potential defensive forwards within the Rangers' stable.
New York also has a couple of prospects who project to be tough defensive defensemen. Dylan McIlrath, who is set to begin his professional career this coming fall, is expected to be a crease clearing, tough as nails, blueliner who is likely one year away from being NHL-ready. Sam Noreau, a 2011 late round selection, who is still working on his game and is three to four years from being NHL- ready, however he has the potential to be an NHL tough guy.
The biggest weakness in the Rangers' system is the lack of any potential "number one" NHL netminder. Although Henrik Lundqvist could be between the pipes for New York for the next 10 years, it is just as possible that he could not. Injuries, career decisions, nothing is a certainty, and not to have any potential elite goaltender in the system is a big weakness.
New York also does not have a potential offensive defenseman/power play quarterback in the system. With the graduation of Del Zotto and the trade of Bobby Sanguinetti (CAR), the cupboard is bare. Erixon does have some offensive ability, but does not project to be a true offensive blueliner.
Although the Rangers usually take the best player available when they are drafting, in 2010, the team chose McIlrath 10th overall, based upon their need for a potentially very powerful defensive defenseman. The team has selected at least one player from Europe in each of the last six years, and although the Rangers are not afraid to use an early round selection for a European player, most of the European selections are mid-to-late-round picks. Other than the fact that there have only been two goaltenders taken in last 39 selections (since 2006), the Rangers have chosen skaters with a wide range of positions in the first and second rounds.
New York likes to make draft selections (in the last six years, the team has never had fewer than six picks) and often adds picks at the draft. With only four selections in 2012 (numbered 28, 59, 89, 119 overall), expect trade activity at the draft and just before.
The 28th position in the draft is not the Rangers' usual place in the draft. It is no secret that New York is trying to package this pick along with prospects/roster players to obtain a high end first line skater to play alongside Richards and Gaborik. However, if the pick is not traded, what will be left in the draft are many good high risk/high reward players. Among those with the potential to be elite, is Andrey Vasilevskiy, a goaltender who was extremely impressive in the 2012 WJCs. Big, agile, with an excellent performance at the NHL Combine, Vasilevskiy is expected to continue playing in Russia for at least two more seasons. He is likely to be four to five years away from being ready to play in the NHL, at which point, he should be ready to step into a back-up role. Everything being equal, this should coincide with the point in time when the Rangers will need him.