A lot of the time what the playoffs mean as a writer is very different from what it means as a fan. As a fan, I'm thankful for an extended Rangers' playoff run for obvious reasons. As a writer, I'm thankful because it means I don't have to tear my hair out thinking of article ideas.
From a draft profile perspective, the Rangers dropped out of the playoffs at the ideal time. Flyers and Penguins writers, for instance, have been beating them to death for the five-to-six weeks and will continue to do so. Lightning and Blackhawks writers will have to cram them into a tight window once the Stanley Cup is won. The three weeks we have until the NHL Draft begins on June 26th gives enough time to cover a sufficient range of potential draftees without it becoming repetitive and boring.
As things stand, the Rangers will first pick either 60th or 61st overall in the second round; depending on whether Tampa Bay wins the Stanley Cup or not. After that, they select in the third, fourth, sixth, and seventh rounds. However, trades can, and likely will, happen. Maybe Sather turns Cam Talbot into a second-rounder, then uses his picks to move up into the top round. Maybe he surprises everyone and moves a prominent player on the team for a late first-round pick. Maybe a couple of projected first rounders unexpectedly drop. Things happen, and because of that I'm going to highlight a few players projected to go late in the first round. Just for the sake of leaving no (realistic) stone unturned.
Daniel Sprong, Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)
Position: Right Wing
Age: 18 Years Old
Height/Weight: 6'0, 192 lbs
2014-2015 Stats (including playoffs): 78 GP, 46 G, 53 A, 24 PIM, -29 +/-
NHL Central Scouting: 20th (NA Skaters)
International Scouting Services: 26th
Hockey Prospect (February): 28th
Craig Button (TSN): 38th
Corey Pronman (ESPN): 17th
Sprong is a player I first discovered when scouting Rangers' prospect Ryan Graves. At the time, Graves was playing with the Charlottetown Islanders, and Sprong was a rookie in the QMJHL. It's a very good sign if a player stands out to you while you're scouting a completely different one.
Sprong is just a pure offensive dynamo with the statistics that back that up. He likes to have to puck on his stick and carry through the neutral zone. He's very good at splitting the defense and evading defenders in such cases. He's got phenomenal vision and that plus his agility allows him to get into open areas of the ice and set the team's offense in motion. You'll see Sprong, wearing #11, doing that here.
As opposed to a player like Chris Kreider who is just a freight train through the neutral and offensive zones, Sprong relies on unpredictability and shiftiness in his skating to advance up the ice. He's also an incredible stickhandler in tight spots.
Finally, Sprong is a guy who can score goals in a number of ways. He'll use that speed and send a quick release past a goaltender...
...or he'll deke a goaltender out of his pants.
Sprong also has a strong shot. For all his speed and dekes, sometimes he can just roof one past goaltenders from the circles. Future Considerations ranked Sprong as the third-most deadly sniper of this draft; behind only some guys named Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.
What I like a lot about Sprong is that he's the kind of player who can create offense from thin air. Sprong's statistics would be good in any scenario, but what makes his 99 points in 78 games so special is how little talent he has surrounding him in Charlottetown. The only player on the roster drafted into the NHL is goaltender Mason MacDonald and the only other real notable talent is center Filip Chlapik, who was also 17 years old this season and is projected to be selected in the second round. According to CHL Stats, Sprong was fifth in the QMJHL in %TGC (percentage of team goals created). Of the four guys ahead of him, three are 19 or older. The other is Nik Ehlers, taken ninth overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 2014. In fact, no 17-year-old forward in the QMJHL, OHL, or QHL had a higher %TGC than Sprong; nobody was even close.
Essentially, Sprong is almost everything you want in an offensive winger. He's an top-end skater who moves well with the puck on his stick. He possesses an elite-level wrist shot but can also find open teammates and distribute the puck well. He's a creative player who can make plays by himself and force the opponents to game plan just for him. He's far from a big guy, but there's enough meat on his frame where it's not a concern.
The concerns with Sprong are more or less what you'd expect from an offensive winger who just turned 18. He needs to develop some consistency. He needs to become a more complete player and become more dependent on the defensive side. There were a lot of shifts where he'd be aggressive in forechecking, but once the puck exited the offensive zone he'd take his foot off the gas. His bread and butter is making offensive plays, and so it's understandable that he's going to be at his highest gear in those scenarios. Still, he has to become a bigger factor the other way to some degree. I also wonder how he'll respond when he eventually plays with superior talent around him. He's a guy who commands the puck. Will he elevate his game with better players around him with which to work? Or will he struggle with not being the automatic go-to guy for everything on offense?
Drafting Sprong is probably a long shot for the Rangers, but I don't think it's impossible. Every year it seems like one or two skilled players drop farther than anticipated for miscellaneous reasons; Pavel Buchnevich and Anthony Duclair are extreme examples. Should Sprong drop into the second round, I think he's a player you trade up to grab. Even in the latter part of the first round, I don't think it's impossible that the Rangers move a player to clear cap space while also adding a draft pick, and then can move into one of the selections in the 20s.
In any other draft year he's a top-15, potentially top-10 talent, and I won't be surprised if a year from now people are questioning why Sprong wasn't selected sooner than he will be. The departure of Duclair, right move or not, leaves Buchnevich as the only game-breaking forward in the Rangers' prospect pool. Sprong, though an unlikely acquisition, would fill in nicely.