What are the Rangers' areas of need going into the draft? The simple answer is: everything besides goaltender. No first-round picks, just two second-round picks, and the departures of Anthony Duclair plus Aleksi Saarela over the last four seasons have pretty much wiped the prospect pool of any high-end talent or depth. The one area they have shored up is the net.
That being said, the depth chart on defense is particularly alarming. With Brady Skjei presumably graduated, Ryan Graves is the only prospect in the entire system with a reasonable expectation of becoming an NHLer. The only player who resembles a puck mover in any way is Tyler Nanne, who is an underdog prospect and nowhere close to ready to even turn pro. The Rangers don't have the luxury of getting cute with their picks, but in an ideal world they'll come away with an offensive defenseman with one of their first picks. Today's profile concerns one player who could address that need.
Kale Clague, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Position: Left Defense
Birthday: June 5th, 1998 (18 years old)
Height/Weight: 6'0, 177 lbs
2015-2016 Stats (Including Playoffs): 92 GP, 12 G, 45 A, 62 PIM, +30
NHL Central Scouting: 27th (North American Skaters)
Corey Pronman ESPN): 22nd
Future Considerations: 39th
Hockey Prospect: 45th
Craig Button (TSN): 55th
Klague fits what I'd like to believe is the modern version of an offensive defenseman. That is to say, it's not implicitly only about goals and assists, but also what he does to generate possession in the offensive end. He is excellent at starting the rush out of the defensive end and has a good instinct for when to lay the puck off to an in-stride wing or to carry it through the neutral zone himself. He only dumps the puck when absolutely necessary. Yes, once in a while he'll force a pass when it isn't there and it becomes an ugly turnover. That's a cost of business. In the offensive zone, he is very capable of participating in a high-paced setup. The Wheat Kings move the puck quite often, and he's a component of that. He walks the blue line well with the puck, which sets up shooting lanes for his teammates. He checks all the boxes when it comes to skating. Good acceleration, a quality straight-line speed, and fantastic agility. He has a good enough shot to score some goals, but he's definitely more of a playmaker.
Defensively, he's fine but unspectacular. He keeps a good gap when defending the rush. The skating ability can diffuse a lot of potential problems. He wins races to the dump-ins and can then maneuver his way out of tight spots. He also backchecks well and can prevent rush chances with his speed (he is #10 in the following clip).
So what are the concerns? He had a Jekyll-and-Hyde pre-draft season. He registered just one goal and seven assists in his first 31 games, and didn't score his second goal until his 42nd game. He did produce 35 points in the remaining 40 games, but understandably that is concerning. It goes well beyond normal hot-and-cold stretches. Clague is a responsible defenseman but he probably isn't the one you particularly want dealing with the opposition's best player. He'll need to add some muscle, but also ensure it's not at the expense of his speed. There has been a history of injuries.
There is also a big dose of unknown with Clague. Ivan Provorov was probably the best defenseman in Canadian juniors, and since he is left-handed Clague was stuck in his shadow. Next year, Provorov will turn pro. It could unearth the best of Clague, since he'll earn more minutes against better competition, and in particular first-unit power play time. Or, it could expose that he has been propped up by easier minutes on an absolutely stacked team. This past season he was a really good second-pairing defenseman on a loaded roster. Next season, he will be Brandon's unequivocal number-one defenseman.
In a way, the uncertainty concerning Clague could be to the Rangers' advantage. Gordie Clark has made it a habit of scooping players with falling stock due to imperfect pre-draft seasons: Anthony Duclair, Pavel Buchnevich, and Aleksi Saarela are all recent examples. The other thing Clark likes is players who can battle through some personal adversity and rally for a strong second half of the season. And, of course, the Rangers desperately need to add a puck moving defenseman to the arsenal. Clague will be available in the second round and, should the Rangers make a trade that gets them in the top-60, would add legitimate talent to an area of need.