31 in 31 Series, July: New York Rangers
The window to win for the Rangers was wide open back in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015. The team went all-in on the veterans, Brad Richards, Marty St. Louis, Rick Nash, and it nearly worked. The greybeards took them all the way to the Stanley Cup Final but ultimately fell short. No one can fault the Rangers management for the effort, they had it in their grasp, but after every high there is an inevitable low. The money was spent, the effort was made, and in 2017-2018 with a disappointing 77 point finish the window of opportunity slammed firmly shut in NYC. Recognizing this, the Rangers signaled the rebuild with the trades of Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh, garnering two additional first-round picks for their keystone players.
Entering the draft in 2018 the Rangers obviously had a plan and threw caution to the wind gambling their highest picks on raw talent. Searching for franchise players outside the top five, the Rangers drafted a crafty young Russian who dazzled in the KHL playoffs and a forward-to-defense convert with just two years of experience. In passing on the safer choices at the draft table only time will tell if the risk was worth the reward.
Round 1 (9th overall) – Vitali Kravtsov, RW
A player that some analysts were calling the “steal of the draft”, Vitali Kravtsov oozes fantasy potential. While some think that the Rangers reached for Kravtsov here, it’s clear that the Rangers got their guy at number nine. Many are likening Kravtsov to Washington superstar Evgeny Kuznetzov and for good reason. No player at his age has scored in the KHL at the rate Kravtsov since Kuznetzov and no player has scored as many times in the KHL playoffs at his age since former DobberProspects darling Valeri Nichushkin. At 6-4, 186 lbs, he’s got the speed, the shot, the hands and the size to be a force in the NHL. Kravtsov will likely need some time to develop on the defensive side of the puck but he is already a dynamic scorer in Russia’s top league.
Round 1 (22nd overall) – K’Andre Miller, D
A forward until just two years ago K’Andre Miller was the eighth defenseman off the board in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Not bad for someone with minimal experience. It’s hard to find downsides to the imposing defender’s tool-set. Coming in at 6-4, 205 lbs, Miller is a big boy and he’s got room to fill out further. Miller is a strong two-way defender with an above average transition game. While a hulking young man, Miller also has high level skating and good top speed for his size. The young defender needs some time to adapt to his new position and needs to work on his shot from the point. With only two years experience and plenty of room to grow, Miller is definitely a prospect to keep an eye on.
Round 1 (28th overall) – Nils Lundkvist, D
Not just a familiar-sounding name in New York, Lundkvist is a very promising young Swedish defender who was leaned on heavily for the Lulea HF club this season in the SHL. Winner of the U20 Best Defenseman Award for the U20 SuperElit league with just a half season of work, Lundkvist signifies a much safer first round pick than the first two Rangers choices. Lundkvist has great mobility, is a strong playmaker, and was used heavily on the man advantage this year for his club. Lundkvist is a skilled offensive defender who would have been taken much higher if not for his relatively small frame (5-11, 173). Due to his stature, Lundkvist will need a few years to bulk up and work on his defensive game but projects as a second pairing defender who should see some time on the PP.
Round 2 (39th overall) – Olaf Lindbom, G
Surprise! Not only was Olaf Lindbom not expected to go in the second round, he wasn’t expected to go in the fourth round. NHL.com didn’t have Lindbom in their top ten goaltending prospects and DobberProspects writer Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) ranks him at 10th of available goaltenders. Despite this, Lindbom was first goalie off the board in a move that many considered to be a blunder. It’s not that Lindbom isn’t a good goaltender; it’s the value of the pick at this position that raises eyebrows.
Lindbom was small (6-1, 172) in comparison to other goalies who were rated higher in this draft. His rebound control is known to be very strong, however, he is also known to play deep in his net which is an interesting strategy for a smaller goaltender at the pro level. That being said, Lindbom entered the draft as a 17- year-old and should still fill out further. Lindbom has good reflexes and tracks the game exceptionally well and those skills do not go unnoticed. Lindbom was named best goaltender of the tournament at the U18 Worlds in 2018 and will surely play in the WJC this upcoming season. Lindbom joins an already stocked cupboard in New York and will have to really stand out over the next couple years to get playing time for the Rangers.
Round 3 (70th overall) – Jacob Ragnarsson, D
A solid pick at 70th overall, Jacob Ragnarsson had a good year for Almtuna IS of Allsvenskan where he posted a respectable 13 points and 24 penalty minutes in 47 games. Ragnarsson projects as a steady defender with some, albeit limited, offensive upside. That being said, Ragnarsson is a responsible defender for his age and should be a safe bet to join the Rangers within the next few seasons. The fantasy upside for Ragnarsson is limited, he’s not offensive enough to rack up points and he’s not big enough to rack up hits or penalty minutes. He will have more value for the Rangers as a second or third pairing defender than he will on your fantasy squad.
Round 3 (88th overall) – Joey Keane, D
Passed on in the 2017 NHL Draft, Joey Keane broke out in a big time way in 2017-2018 for the Barrie Colts. In his first year with the Colts, Keane scored one goal, 18 assists, and was a minus-28. In his second year Keane amassed an impressive 12 goals, 32 assists and led the league in defenseman plus/minus as a plus-45. Keane is a smooth skater and is a defensively responsible right-handed shot. Once a top prospect for the U.S. NTDP it seems as though Keane was just late to bloom. Keane represents a low risk, high potential reward for the Rangers who were clearly looking to bolster their defense in 2018.
Round 4 (101st overall) – Nico Gross, D
There’s nothing really stand out about Gross’ game. He’s an unremarkable defender who played below average hockey for the Oshawa Generals this season. His advanced statistics weren’t good his possession numbers were low and his defensive stats weren’t strong. Gross showed a lot of promise playing for his home country of Switzerland but has had an exceptionally difficult time transitioning that success to the North American ice surface. It remains to be seen whether or not Gross will adapt to the North American style of play or if his poor numbers this year will be what we can expect from the Swiss defender. Gross is not fantasy relevant at this time.
Round 5 (132nd overall) – Lauri Pajuniemi, RW
Pajuniemi is an average sized right winger who had a reasonable season playing for TPS of the Finnish Liiga. The young Finn has good speed and average size but neither is stand-out. Pajuniemi has always been a pass first player, likes to set up on the half-wall and projects to be a playmaker at the pro-level. Pajuniemi will likely stay with TPS next season and will look to play for the Finnish WJC team over the holidays. Pajuniemi could become a decent middle-six winger but has no real fantasy relevance at this time.
Round 6 (163rd overall) – Simon Kjellberg, D
Kjellberg’s biggest asset is his size. At 18 years old the young Swede already stands at 6-3, 190 lbs. For Rogle BK J20 of the SuperElit league Kjellberg managed nine points in 43 games to go along with a minus-12 rating. Kjellberg will need to make some big strides to make it to the NHL and is a long-shot to do so.
Round 7 (216th overall) – Riley Hughes, RW
One of the youngest players drafted, Riley Hughes played most of 2017-2018 for St. Sebastian’s USHS-Prep team where he scored 21 goals and 15 assists in 30 games. Hughes has shown some promise and will get a chance to hone his skills at Northeastern University for the 2018-2019 season. Hughes isn’t far along in his development but will get a good opportunity at Northeastern with that team losing several of their key players to graduation.
Development Camp Notes
A full list of the Rangers development camp invites can be found here:
Of note, all ten draft picks from 2018 were invited to participate in camp. As well, several players were invited to participate in the development camp this season, most notably, Josh Teves, Mason Bergh and Brogan Rafferty. All three university level players are a long shot to be offered a contract by the Rangers, however, it should be noted that Rafferty’s right-handed shot makes him an intriguing asset for a system that is light on RHD.
The signing of both Ville Meskanen from Ilves Tampere and Michael Lindqvist from Farjestad BK has the biggest impact on the Rangers depth chart so far this offseason. Meskanen is a talented Finnish goal scorer and at 22 years old is ready to jump right into the Rangers line-up. Likewise, Lindqvist had a standout campaign for Farjestad BK scoring 20 goals in just 33 games played. At 23 Lindqvist is also ready to make the jump to the NHL depending on how he performs in training camp. The addition of Meskanen and Lindqvist will likely delay the arrival of players already in the system such as Filip Chytil and Ty Ronning, this however allows them further time to develop as they should.
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