31-in-31: New York Rangers

by Brayden Olafson on July 20, 2019

Welcome to our annual 31-in-31 Summer Series here at DobberProspects! Every day in July we will be bringing you a complete breakdown of a team’s draft, notes from their development camp, and insights into their off-season moves so far. Following this up, the August 31-in-31 Series will dive into every team’s prospect depth charts with fantasy insights and implications for the upcoming seasons. Check in often, because we plan on filling your hockey withdrawal needs all summer long!

*****

For the third consecutive year, the New York Rangers found themselves drafting inside the top-10 of the NHL Entry Draft, although, this time with an easier selection than ever before. The organization has undergone a massive retool over the course of the last calendar year, none of which would have been likely if not for their acknowledgment of status and infamous letter to the fans in February of last year. 

Since trading Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for the seventh-overall selection at the 2017 Entry Draft, the Blueshirts have continued an aggressive stance on a changing of the guard. Some, if not most of the most promising young names in their current depth chart are there as a result of that aggressiveness – for example: 

K’Andre Miller & Ryan Lindgren -> Rick Nash

Nils Lundkvist, Libor Hajek, Brett Howden -> JT Miller & Ryan McDonagh

Joey Keane -> Nick Holden

On June 21, the Rangers’ continued that aggressive trend, making eight selections, which, on average, are considered great selections.

*****

2019 Draft Selections: 

Round 1,  2nd Overall  – Kappo Kakko, RW

With the second overall selection, the Rangers were lobbed one of the easiest selections in recent draft memory, which they knocked right out of the park. Kappo Kakko, the most recent Finn to make a name for himself on the world stage made an exceptional case in the months leading up to the draft, to replace Jack Hughes at the top of the draft podium. 

The relatively brawny winger carries a toolbox of outstanding skill, creativity, strength and skating ability, not to mention a positive attitude and a winning pedigree. It’s difficult to poke many holes in his game on a regular basis, which makes a consistent NHL career seem all the more likely. Whether or not the Rangers find a spot for him in their lineup this year isn’t even a question at this point. Rather, the question will be how much of a responsibility he has by Christmas time.

In the case of most youngsters making their way into the league, early success and confidence is often dependant on the skill and quality of the young players’ linemates. In Kakko’s case, however, being sheltered won’t become a trend. It seems more likely that he, as a rookie, becomes the type of player who is relied upon to carry the burden of slumping players, and fellow rookies alike. Don’t believe me – have a look:

 

Round 2, 49th Overall – Matthew Robertson, D

 

The Rangers did the best that they could to follow up the Kakko pick, and quite honestly, they did great. While the 2019 Entry Draft offered an exciting group players well into the second round, the Blueshirts stole a player, who, by all accounts was first-round worthy. 

Robertson is a tactical defenseman, in the sense that his every move is seeming, strategic. He’s neither a purely offensive, nor purely defensive defenseman, but simply a good one. On an Oil Kings team where it was easy to become overshadowed, Robertson earned every bit of his attention and truly was a major cog in the teams’ success, rather than a beneficiary of it. 

Among an already deep defensive pipeline, Robertson brings a balance of security and upside to a group where only a couple offers both. 

 

Round 2, 58th Overall – Karl Henriksson, C

Moving deeper into the second round, the Rangers make a savvy pick out of the Swedish U20 league in Karl Henriksson. Aside from his documented hockey accolades, Henriksson brings with him high praise from two of the top prospects in the 2020 Entry Draft – Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz. 

As a 15-year-old, Henriksson was in contention for the Swedish National Soccer team. His background as a high-level, multi-sport athlete speaks to his focus and motivation, something that will become a critical factor in his development. Next fall he’ll attempt to make the transition to the top-tier Swedish Hockey League where his finishing touch may come under scrutiny, however, his persistence and footspeed should be enough to keep him going. 

The Swede brings a touch of boom-bust aura to the Rangers’ book of selections, but on a tempered scale. Without any unforeseen incidents, it’s realistic that his development trajectory lands him in the NHL within a four-year window. From that point, however, the margin begins. All things considered, this seems like an excellent selection of a player who will likely be capable of playing up and down and NHL roster. 

 

Round 3,  68th Overall – Zachary Jones, D

As the paths of the draft begin to diverge in the third round, the Rangers make a selection from the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. The league’s rookie of the year, Zachary Jones is both offensively dynamic, and physically dynamic – in both cases, almost to a fault. As he evolves at UMass-Amherst over the next couple of years, expect those tendencies to a plateau to a point where he can focus on other aspects of his game. 

I’ve been a proponent of teams drafting college-bound projects in the later rounds, but the third round pushes that envelope. With Jones’ ceiling, the pick could easily pay off, but at this point in the draft, it seems like a gamble that wasn’t all that necessary. 

Using his energy efficiently will become a major stepping stone in his development. If he’s capable of rounding out the rough edges of his game, Jones could certainly become an impactful NHL (and fantasy) defenseman.

 

Round 4, 112th Overall – Hunter Skinner, D

The fourth round of the draft is where things started to get a little weird in terms of players targeted by the league as a whole. The Rangers, in particular, selected a player who didn’t have much of a presence in mock drafts or public scouting lists. 

Selected, again, out of the USHL, Hunter Skinner is a forward turned defenseman who sees himself as an offensive type defenseman, despite a stat line that says otherwise. Skinner’s athleticism is marketed as one of his biggest strengths, in addition to a strong work ethic and positive attitude. While Skinner was drafted out of the USHL, his future lies in the OHL, rather than the NCAA. He’ll suit up for the perennial OHL contender, London Knights next fall, giving Ranger fans deeper context to his “offensive” ability. 

Despite being an “off-the-board” selection, Skinner seems to have his development front and center. There could be a giant sleeping below the surface in his case, but for now, it’s too early to draw a conclusive verdict on his professional future.

 

Round 5, 130th Overall – Leevi Aaltonen, RW

As is typical moving into the later rounds of the draft, the importance of development becomes substantially greater. The selection of Leevi Aaltonen will provide yet another opportunity for a case study of young Euro skill transitioning to the professional North American ranks – that is to say, if he makes it that far. Aaltonen is a fiery forward with an exceptional first few strides that allow him to blow past defenders before they know what hit them. His transitional skill is unquestionably elite and was enough to earn him a spot in the fifth round. 

Aside from his speed, however, the young Finn plays a slightly timid perimeter game. This isn’t a player who projects to make a physical impact in the NHL – in fact, it remains to be seen if he is capable of demanding open ice at the top Finnish level. 

An enormous amount of faith in Aaltonen’s future will teeter upon his success as a rookie and sophomore in the Liiga. There is a great amount of skill in his game that would be a shame to go untapped. He’s likely a player who the Rangers will leave to develop in Finland until such time he has earned an entry-level contract with professional results.

 

Round 6,  161th Overall – Adam Edstrom, C 

Taking a half-step back from the offensively focused, and skilled gambles that the Rangers took in rounds three through five, Adam Edstrom hits the draft board, bringing a flavor of security with him. The 6-6 forward leaves little room for interpretation in his game – what you see is what you get. Unlike many young players of his stature, the 18-year-old skates quite well. He puts the puck in the net, not only by the merit of his size but legitimate skill as well. While that skill pales in comparison to some of the earlier Ranger selections, the whole package does not. Edstrom gave the impression at development camp that there is less refinement needed in his game than many of the other players in attendance. His combination of size, skill and determination seems to be the makings of a reliable bottom-six winger. 

A future in North America, however, will not come without at least a year of further development in Scandinavia. Edstrom will likely kick off his first full SHL campaign with Rögle this fall, giving a broader look into the level of skill he possesses. He’s by no means a sure-thing, but for the sixth round, the Rangers did well in acquiring a player who could make an impact under the current regime.

 

Round 7,  205th Overall – Eric Ciccolini, RW

The oscillating value of OJHL forward Eric Ciccolini consummated with a seventh-round selection by the Rangers. The University of Michigan commit had, throughout his draft campaign, been projected as high as the second round, but in the end, was not worthy. 

Against a league of lower-tiered competition, Ciccolini appeared fleet-footed, skilled and dangerous around the net – he was also guilty of regularly cheating offensively. There’s a great package of skill in Ciccolini’s offensive game, but projecting an NHL future for him is difficult. With the risk of sounding like a broken record, the development of his two-way game will be paramount in creating much more than the sliver of opportunity he’s received by being drafted. 

 

*****

DEVELOPMENT CAMP

 

The Rangers held their annual Player Development Camp from June 24th through to June 29th at Chelsea Piers in Stamford Connecticut. The camp was largely dominated Kappo Kakko and players outside of the 2019 draft class including Adam Fox, K’andre Miller, Igor Shesterkin and Vitali Kravtsov. The Rangers currently possess one of the strongest pipelines in the NHL which made every scrimmage and drill all the more competitive. 

 

Bill Pidto and Alan Hahn from MSG Network spoke with Rangers’ Head Coach, David Quinn regarding the camp and the team’s pipeline as a whole.

 

 

Here are some highlights from the camp:

 

Igor Shesterkin with the save of the week

 

 

 

Defenseman, Nils Lundkvist

 

 

 

Vitali Kravtsov > Morgan Barron

 

 

 

The complete camp roster is below:

 

 

 

*****

OFF-SEASON MOVES

Over the course of the last year, the Rangers have put an enormous focus on improving their internal development, and relationship with the Hartford Wolfpack. Many of their offseason moves, thus far, reflect that intent.

The big fish of the entire league, Artemi Panarin, chose Manhattan as his home for the next seven years. As consequences go, Panarin plays the left-wing which will fill a hole that none of the teams’ top prospects would have. His $11.6 million cap hit will likely burden the team through the course of extending any and all of their current top prospects past their ELC’s, which could put them in a similar situation to where Toronto currently finds themselves. 

 

Re-signed:

None

 

Incoming:

Artemi Panarin

Jacob Trouba

Danny O’Regan

Greg McKegg 

Adam Fox

 

Outgoing:

Jimmy Vesey

Neal Pionk

*** 

@olaf1393