NHL Draft: Rangers' biggest needs, top prospects

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After reaching the Eastern Conference finals, the New York Rangers are in a very good position to contend for the Stanley Cup for a long time. (Getty Images)
After reaching the Eastern Conference finals, the New York Rangers are in a very good position to contend for the Stanley Cup for a long time. (Getty Images)

With the New York Rangers experiencing the playoff success they had this season, you’d think they’re a team on the wrong side of the prospect pool. That, however, is not true. New York’s system looks strong particularly given the youth they have on the blueline, and their depth in net. Up front, the team will look for significant steps from Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere next season, who are both seeing themselves outplayed by picks that followed them in their respective drafts. New York doesn’t have a lot to work with at the upcoming draft, featuring no first round pick, and only four total selections. There will be no immediate impact player, but New York has demonstrated better development of picks recently, which means we should not count out their mid round selections.

Top Prospects

Brennan Othmann, F - He was an absolute force for the Flint Firebirds of the OHL this season. Othmann drives play backing off defenders with his pace of entry and then utilizes his release to freeze netminders. The 16th overall pick in 2021 scored 50 goals and 97 points in 66 games as Flint’s captain this year. While New York won’t want to rush their prospect and he’s almost certainly destined for another season in the OHL due to his age, Othmann has little to prove at that level and could easily surprise people in training camp. He’s meticulous in working out the details of his game and is constantly working to improve. Those are signs of a true professional.

Vitali Kravtsov, F - New York’s relationship with Vitali Kravtsov needs mediation. Or perhaps the true sign of wisdom is to know when something isn’t going to work and to move on. For the Rangers, that would involve a trade sending the former 9th overall pick to a new home. There will be plenty of suitors. The Rangers’ asking price for Kravtsov, however, needs to remain realistic. He is skilled, he can score and he would bring size to the wing of any NHL team. The problem is, he’s unproven in North America and has had more success, including this season, in the KHL than the NHL or AHL. Still, New York struggled to get over the hump this year and gave up assets in the effort, so looking for another young player who will come in and compete is an option worth exploring.

Matthew Robertson, D - Likely a year away from NHL readiness, Robertson is a towering 6’4” blueliner who moves fluidly. Despite that fact, he had a learning curve in the AHL this season and needs to assert himself with his frame. Robertson will get more time to ply his trade in Hartford this season as other young blueliners make the step to the NHL. When he is ready, the real question will be if there’s room on New York’s roster. It’s an issue he’ll need to force through continued development, which will also include building back the offense he had in junior and translating it to the professional game. Someone on New York’s blueline will eventually become trade bait, and given his timeline, Robertson could be the candidate.

One To Watch

Beyond New York’s “top” prospects awaits another tier of players with legitimate NHL potential. Will Cuylle is one of those players. He was a second round pick, so his status is not a surprise, but the 6’4” Cuylle, who spent the pandemic season with the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack, had a spectacular final OHL season. He captained the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires scoring 43 goals and 80 points in 59 games. He uses his body to get into scoring positions, and when the puck arrives, his quick release and powerful shot do the rest. Beyond Cuylle is potential goalie of the future Dylan Garand and coveted NCAA signing Bobby Trivigno. Trivigno was a standout for UMass this season, joining the AHL when his season ended. Expectations should be realistic for the 5’8” forward who projects as a potential third line player.

Ready To Step In

The 68th selection in the 2019 NHL Draft, Zac Jones has played 22 NHL games since leaving the NCAA early at the end of last season. Still only 21, Jones looks to have the poise and puckhandling ability to take the next step. He makes a good first pass, and is continuing to learn how to defend using his 5’10'' frame. Adam Fox and K’Andre Miller provide any young blueliner with insulation from top opponents in making the step. Jones should spend the bulk of the season in the NHL next year, but it would not be surprising to see him experience a few stints in the AHL to give him top pairing minutes. Given the other young names on New York’s blueline - Ryan Lindgren, Nils Lundkvist, Braden Schneider, Libor Hajek - there’s no reason to rush Jones, but there’s also no reason to hold him back.

Needs At The Draft

The Rangers’ blueline is stocked for the foreseeable future with the likes of K’Andre Miller and Adam Fox patrolling the back end, and in net, New York’s NHL duo of Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev are both only 26. While forward is the short term need, New York does have a group of NHL ready, or nearly ready forwards who could step in. Still, the NHL cupboard of offensive leaders are all passing 30, and ensuring waves of forward depth remain available is necessary. Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko taking large steps forward next season would make a major difference in how this depth is viewed. Picks are in short supply for the Rangers, so they’ll look to find value later, perhaps by exploring NCAA committed or European picks to allow them the necessary time to develop.

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