The New York Rangers have an interesting and challenging off-season that began the moment Chris Drury was hired as president and general manager of the organization. Drury cleared one huge hurdle in hiring Gerard Gallant as head coach. Now the fun begins regarding roster construction. The Rangers are loaded with skill and need to add some grunts to the mix. How does Drury attack the rest of the off-season?
He needs to hire a GM for the AHL Hartford Wolfpack, concentrate on the entry draft, keep in tune with potential trade possibilities, scour the free-agent market, and sign undrafted free agents, just to name a few. In part one we focus on the draft.
July 23rd and 24th are the days NHL fans wait in earnest for the entry draft. Due to Covid, this year’s draft is possibly the most wide-open draft. It also possesses the most questions of any draft. Prospects have had a rough go at it with some leagues not playing, others on a limited schedule, and some Canadian Junior players heading to Europe to play. Organizations and scouts were left to rely on notes from the 2019-2020 season and video scouting from this past season.
Barring any trades, the New York Rangers have the 15th overall selection and nine total picks. Their second-round pick belongs to the Carolina Hurricanes from the Adam Fox trade. They have two picks in round three and three picks in the fourth round, and one each in five through seven. The team can use these picks in order to add talent around their number one pick in 2020, Alexis Lafreniere, who is a generational talent.
The consensus from the draft community is this is a weak draft. I am in the minority and feel this is the year to horde picks and have as many kicks at the can as possible. The top-end talent may not be what it was in the past two years, but this is a deep, solid draft. Having multiple picks in the mid-rounds can net one or more future NHL players. There will be talented kids ripe to be picked in rounds two through four who had limited, or no games played this past season due to Covid restrictions.
The Rangers organization needs center depth. The big club needs centers who can win draws. They have a boatload of defensemen and enough talented, skilled wingers to allow them to focus on three players. If these players are not available, then they should trade down provided they have a taker. The Rangers’ focus should be on centers Matt Beniers (fat chance but stranger things have happened), Cole Sillinger, Mason McTavish, and Fyodor Svechkov.
If they are not available, they can trade back, add picks, and select from Zachary Bolduc, Francesco Pinelli, and Samuel Helenius. Most fans are familiar with Beniers, Sillinger, and McTavish but not Svechkov and the other three. He is six feet tall and 187 pounds, left-handed shot, and a complete player. After a strong showing in the MHL (Russian Junior League), he was promoted to the VHL and performed well against adults.
Svechkov is smart, has great vision, anticipates the play, skates well, and is a gifted playmaker. The only drawback to selecting Svechkov is the Russian Factor. Sometimes there are hurdles for an organization to clear in bringing a Russian player to North America. The Rangers do not have expectations to compete for a Stanley Cup in the near future so this is something that can persuade them to choose the player who can keep track of all of the players on the ice.
The Kitchener Rangers‘ top draft prospect is Francesco Pinelli. He measures in at six feet and 190 pounds. Pinelli is a left-handed center and a well-rounded player who is smart and competes hard. He plays in all situations, skates well, and is relentless on the forecheck. He plays both forward positions and most likely will be centering Kitchener next season. The 18-year-old needs more time to season at this level.
Zachary Bolduc of Rimouski Oceanic is a big body center with soft hands. He is 6’1″ and 174 pounds. He needs to fill out more and become more physical. He has a quick, accurate release, can play any forward position and any spot on the powerplay. He is versatile and has all the tools to be a top-notch center. He will man the pivot for Patrick Roy and the Québec Remparts next season.
Samuel Helenius is an intriguing player. Some have the hulking 6’6″ 200-pound lefty center projected to go in rounds two to four while others have him going in rounds one or two. He has a great skillset combined with smarts and a strong compete level. Samuel is physical and solid defensively despite his -16 plus/minus this past season. A strong two-way game boosts his appeal.
As a kid playing amongst men in the top Finish Pro League SM-Liiga, Helenius put up a respectable 14 points in 54 games. His game is more than point production as he does the little things that do not appear on the score sheet. Helenius is an interesting player to watch on draft weekend. Time will tell whether or not he ends up being drafted by the New York Rangers.
Should the Rangers trade or keep the pick?
Why trade back? As stated above, this draft has the most unknowns of any draft in history. Most draft-eligible players either played a limited number of games or no games. There will be tremendous value in rounds two through five where first-round talents may be found. Some projected first-rounders have fallen out of favor with draft pundits but organizations value and assess players differently.
Trading back depends on how the draft unfolds and moves made by other teams. For example, the Columbus Bluejackets may opt to move one of their three first-round picks to bolster their current lineup. That move may force organizations to make moves and jockey for position.
It is an intriguing scenario predicated on several factors: trades, a player or more selected earlier than expected, teams drafting need instead of best player available, and a player or more being passed over thus sliding back a few picks or a round. A few excellent value picks can be found in Manix Landry, Braeden Kressler, Drew Elliott, Trevor Wong, Ryder Korczak, Tyler Boucher, and countless others.
Trading back, accumulating more picks is one of several options for the Rangers. Having acquired top-end talent the past three drafts, afford them the luxury of homing in on need. GM Chris Drury is a smart man and will undoubtedly leave no stone unturned, has done his homework, and will do what he feels is best for the organization.
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