The New York Rangers walked into the 2014 NHL Draft with five draft selections in their hand. None were in the first round and the first pick they had was 59th overall, just two selections away from the third round.
There was a lot of hope the Rangers would try and find a way into the first round. They didn't, however, and the biggest move they made in the 2014 draft was trading away Derek Dorsett for a third round selection via the Vancouver Canucks.
If you haven't done so yet, please take a look at Evan's story rounding up an assortment of links and stories on each player the Rangers drafted this past weekend. It's a good way to familiarize yourself with some of these players if you had never heard of them before.
Here's my take on the players the Rangers drafted and what the logic may have been behind these picks.
The Drafting Down Strategy:
I did want to talk about this before we got into anything else. I loved the way the Rangers maneuvered around this draft. On two separate occasions the Rangers traded down in this draft, collecting more picks in later rounds. In the third round the Rangers traded their pick (89th overall) for two selections in the fourth round (104th and 118th) and then in the fourth round the Rangers traded their pick (119th overall) for two selections in the fifth round (140th and 142nd).
Essentially, the Rangers targeted players they liked, risked whether or not they would still be on the board later on and then increased the net they threw into this pool of players. Especially in the later rounds, I'm a big fan of this strategy. The Rangers traded for three more draft picks than they would have had throughout the weekend, which is three more players who can make a difference down the line.
Taking Two Goaltenders:
It wasn't surprising at all to see the Rangers make a major play for goaltending in this year's draft. Last year (with Martin Biron's retirement and the injury to Cam Talbot in the Stanley Cup Final) the Rangers' lack of organizational depth at the goaltending position was exposed.
I was, however, very surprised the Rangers selected their first goaltender in the second round (with the first pick they had in the draft). George has done a ton of research (and shared with all of you) about why goaltenders don't need to be picked until the later rounds. Not only are good goaltenders usually available there, but the position can be such a crapshoot sometimes that it's not worth using an early pick, since the risk is very high.
So I was confused when the Rangers called Brandon Halverson's name (follow him on Twitter here). The consensus -- which will end up being a theme -- was tons of upside. Here are two people who know what they're talking about (including SB Nation's own Chris Dilks) on the pick:
Love the pick of Halverson in the second round. I think he was the second best goalie available behind Demko. Huge, huge upside.— Chris Dilks (@ChrisDilks) June 28, 2014
The Rangers' quest for replenishing their goaltending depth didn't end in the second round, though. The Rangers used their 4th round selection (118th overall) on Russian goaltender Igor Shesterkin as well.
Both times the Rangers selected a goaltender in this draft Gordie Clark said the team was picking the best player they had available. That's never a bad thing to do, especially when you don't have a pick through the first 58 selections. Shesterkin was definitely a player I don't think would have fallen much deeper than the fourth round, so the Rangers made the right move by snatching him up.
Shesterkin had a remarkably good season for MHL Spartak of the MHL. To put things in perspective: The MHL is basically the AHL of the KHL, if that makes any sense. Take a look at these numbers as he lead MHL Spartak to the MHL championship:
Basically, the Rangers addressed an organizational need this year. Yes, they dipped into the goalie pool a little early, but if Clark says they drafted the best player available there's nothing to say. In Clark we trust. Always. Furthermore, the Rangers now have three quality chips in their goaltending prospect pool. That's a much better plan then just gambling on one player.
The Boom Or Bust Pick:
The Rangers used the third round pick they acquired from Vancouver to select Keegan Iverson from Portland of the WHL. Here's a quick look at Iverson's path to professional hockey, thanks to our friends over at Hockey Wilderness. If you want to follow Iverson on Twitter, you can do so here.
Iverson is a player full of potential. Playing on a loaded Portland team, Iverson spent most of last year on the third line. His play earned him some power play opportunities and he finished the year with a career high in goals (22), assists (20), points (42) and games played (67).
Here's the thing: He posted very solid numbers playing on the third line, but the third line of a good team. He made enough of a mark with the team that he earned power play opportunities, and will see a much more increased overall role next year. It's impressive to see those kinds of numbers with mostly third line minutes, but next year will be an important test. He's a big kid who loves to go in front of the net and work in the dirty areas of the ice, which is something the Rangers need more of.
He can be a really, really nice pick in the third round of this draft. Next year's jump will be important in terms of where he is arcing as a player.
Here's a quick thought from one of the guys over at RMNB:
Keegan Iverson is one of my favourite prospects for this Draft. Really like it for #NYR.— Fedor Fedin (@FedFedRMNB) June 28, 2014
Looking For Offense From Defense:
The Rangers did not have a true puck-moving defenseman in the system coming into this draft. Well, they kind of do in Calle Andersson, but he's more of a two-way defenseman at this point. The last pick the Rangers made in the 2014 draft solved this problem.
Tyler Nanne -- out of Edina High School in Minnesota -- is a slick puck-moving defenseman with loads of offensive talent. The Rangers have gone the high school rout before (most notably drafting Chris Kreider right out of high school) and usually you can find some sleepers there because teams are worried about the lack of true competition.
Here are his stats:
Nanne's numbers speak volumes about his potential. He's verbally committed to Ohio State and will definitely be a prospect to keep an eye on. Personally, I love this pick, especially where he was taken. There's almost no risk associated and from what I'm hearing he has the potential to really surprise people. He's a smaller body, which will be something to watch, but he has all the potential in the world to make that not matter. Follow Nanne on Twitter here.
One of the most interesting picks the Rangers made was their selection of Ryan Mantha with the 104th overall pick in the draft (fourth round). Mantha has really good size (6'4" along with a 225 lbs frame) and poise with the puck you can't teach. By all accounts he's a good skater who doesn't skate as well as he can -- which is much different than not being able to skate well. Despite that, he's still pretty mobile and is very good moving the puck up the ice, which is an area the Rangers certainly need help with.
Offensively there is some upside here, but nothing to run home about. He has a booming shot from the point and can move the puck well in terms of outlet passes or breakout passes. For what it's worth, Craig Button (TSN) ranked him the 60th best prospect in the draft. You can follow Mantha on Twitter here.
The Great Unknown:
When the Rangers called Richard Nejezchleb's name he must have been ecstatic. Twice passed over in the draft, Nejezchleb's play this year made sure that wouldn't happen again.
Here's the risk with Nejezchleb: Injuries derailed two seasons of his career in juniors, which is why he was looked over twice. In Lou We Trust did a great recap on him, so let's take a look at that:
Regarding what happened in 2012-13, this March 2, 2013 article by Rob Henderson at the Wheat Kings' official website has the details.In the beginning of that season, he missed time due to a shoulder injury. Later, it was a hand injury from an accident involving a teammate's skate on the bench. Brandon was pretty bad so by the time Nejezchleb returned, all the team had left to play for was pride. However, the team improved in the following season, Nejezchleb didn't get injured, and so Nejezchleb got some postseason action after his first full season in juniors. His 32 goals are particularly notable as he led Brandon in that category in the 2013-14 season. From an international standpoint, Nejezchleb did represent the Czech Republic at the U-18 level when he was with Slavia Praha. That ended when he jumped to the WHL, which is a bit curious, but no matter now.
This past year he really took a jump forward, scoring 32 goals and 25 assists for 57 points in 66 games. In the playoffs he notched five goals and four assists for nine points in nine games. He turned 20 at the end of last season, and the talk is he will play an overage season in the WHL next year.
He's a player with tons of risk but a lot of reward. Nejezchleb was ranked the 95th overall prospect by Button and our own Arctic Ice Hockey had him as their 60th best prospect. From that story:
Yet another twice passed over player, perhaps speaking the relative weakness of this draft. However, the Czech Wheat Kings winger has a very intriguing package. Big rangy winger has a really good shot and fantastic offensive hockey sense. He knows where to be to score goals, though he does not have great feet though in both agility and speed. He struggles with consistency as well. A huge project, but has good upside after his breakout year with 32 goals in 66 games this year.
From Unknown To NHL Prospect:
Daniel Walcott's story about his trip to the 2014 NHL Draft is fantastic. Yahoo tells the story in this article. From that story:
The defenceman was playing for Lindenwood University close to St. Louis in the American Collegiate Hockey Association - a small college loop unaffiliated with the NCAA. He was playing against older, more mature players, but his talents went largely unnoticed ...
The native of Ile Perrot, Que., managed to earn a spot on the Quebec Major Junior League's Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. The team had lost two of their most reliable defencemen and was looking for a steady player to fill the role on the blue line. It was the break the 19-year-old had been hoping would materialize.
As a rookie in the QMJHL, the 5-foot-11, 168-pound defenceman scored 10 goals and added 29 assists in 67 games.
This is a very interesting pick for sure, and a player who has true potential to turn into a player the Rangers have wanted for a long time. As a rookie -- albeit an older one -- Walcott posted impressive numbers in the QMJHL. Most prospects take a significant jump in their sophomore season in juniors, since they've adjusted to the size, pace and atmosphere of the leagues after their rookie seasons. It remains to be seen if Walcott will do such since he was older coming into his rookie year.
Keep in mind the QMJHL is a higher scoring league, but Walcott's numbers as a rookie are impressive. If he can continue to bring his game to another level next year, this might be a pick we remember.
I know most of these reviews were positive, but keep in mind the risks each player holds. Remember, these guys were available in the later rounds because of the risks each player carries with them. That is not to say this wasn't good work by Sather, Clark and the rest of the organization. While it's impossible to judge a draft in the weeks after it happens, from the surface the Rangers did everything they wanted to do.
They stocked up on goaltenders, drafted for size and loaded up on talent and upside. That's not a bad plan.
Thoughts on this, guys? Who was your favorite player taken. We'll get an opportunity to see most of these prospects in the Rangers prospect camp.