With seven selections in the first three rounds of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, the New York Rangers find themselves in uncharted territory. After making two first round selections in the past five drafts combined, the team is slated to welcome three players into their organization on Day 1 of the draft on Friday. While New York’s surplus of draft capital could allow them to simply add more fresh faces to the organization, it also grants them an unrivaled ability to move up and down the board as they please, as well as add more experienced players onto the team.
Although the Rangers are one of six teams (joined by Ottawa, Detroit, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia) with multiple selections in the first round, they are the only team scheduled to stride up to the podium three times. With seven teams currently slated to sit out the first night of the draft, having three selections could provide Jeff Gorton the ammo he needs to land an impact player that can help his team compete in the near future.
Of the seven teams without a first round pick, six of those squads opted to move their selection at the trading deadline for a better shot at earning a Stanley Cup title. The one team who did so prior was the Calgary Flames, who moved their 1st and 2nd round picks to the Islanders in a package to land defenseman Travis Hamonic.
In addition to that deal, the Flames sent a conditional 2019 second round selection to the Arizona Coyotes when they acquired goaltender Mike Smith. While trading so many picks in close proximity is generally risky, the Flames felt they had reason to take the risk. Having made the playoffs two of the past three seasons and bringing back their young core of players from last season, what could have gone wrong?
Well, pretty much everything as it turns out. The Flames were on the bubble of the playoffs for a majority of the season, but a seven game losing streak in March sealed their fate and plunged them into the lottery. As a result of missing the playoffs and not winning the lottery, the team conveyed the 12th and 43rd picks to the Islanders in exchange for Hamonic. In addition to that, the conditional 2019 pick owed to Arizona became a 2018 3rd due to missing the playoffs, which meant the Flames sent the 74th pick to the Coyotes to complete the Mike Smith deal. When the dust settled, the Flames were left without any picks in the top 100, and won’t make their first selection until #105.
On paper, it’s easy to see a fit between New York and Calgary as trading partners. With an extra pick in each of the first three rounds, Jeff Gorton shouldn’t have any issues swapping his surplus picks for more proven assets. Likewise, the Flames would probably like a mulligan on the trades that depleted their picks, but since that won’t be happening, finding a way to jump back into the upper portion of the draft would have to suffice. Flames’ GM Brad Treliving spoke about his predicament earlier in the week, and it sounds like he’s exploring his options:
“Would we like to get into the first round? Yeah,” Treliving said Friday. “I’d like a helicopter too.
”There’s a price. We’re not going to do something just so we can call a name on Friday. It takes a fairly good price to get in there. Are we trying to manufacture some more picks? Sure. We’re looking it.”
A lack of early selections has not changed the lead-up for the draft, Treliving said.
”Our scouting, our preparation and building our list is just like any other year,” he said. “You have to do that because things can change and you have to be prepared. The cost of getting into Round 1 is steep right now. It would take a real good young player to do that, and does that put you further ahead? As it sits, it doesn’t necessarily look like it will happen, but we’ll see.”
The most obvious candidate for the Rangers to target would also be the most expensive one. Dougie Hamilton would instantly become New York’s best defenseman if they made a play for him, but it would take a similar package to the one Calgary gave up in 2015 to acquire him. It cost Calgary the 15th, 45th, and 52nd picks to pry Hamilton away from Boston three years ago, so a package of the 9th, 39th, and 88th picks would be similar value-wise. Whether or not the Flames would be amicable to moving Hamilton for futures is another issue entirely, but the trade makes sense from a value perspective.
If the Flames aren’t looking to move out an elite skater like Hamilton, they have other pieces that could be worth looking into. The most obvious players to ask about are the glut of defensive prospects in their pipeline. Adam Fox, Rasmus Andersson, and Oliver Kylington are among the best defensive prospects in Calgary’s pipeline, and with an “established” top four of Hamonic, Hamilton, captain Mark Giordano, and TJ Brodie, the Flames could be looking to turn one of them into a pick that could fill a need elsewhere.
Kylington’s reputation has taken a bit of a hit since his days as a draft-eligible prospect, but he could still be worth a mid-round flyer. Adam Herman profiled him prior the 2015 Draft, and while he’s yet to live up to his status as a sneaky-good pick that shouldn’t have fell, the potential is still there for him to reach that level. Using New Jersey’s 2nd Round selection or the Rangers’ and Bruins’ third round picks to land Kylington could be a shrewd move on New York’s part.
Andersson and Fox differ from Kylington in that they weren’t as heralded leading up to their draft year, but both have made a name for themselves since being selected by Calgary. Andersson was taken six picks before Kylington in 2015, and has put up fantastic numbers for AHL Stockton since making the jump into professional hockey. Making the jump to the AHL at age 19 in 2016, Andersson has scored 61 points in 110 AHL games over parts of two seasons, and has earned two recalls and skated in 11 NHL games since then. The Rangers are also familiar with the Andersson family, as Rasmus is the younger brother of Calle Andersson (New York’s 4th Round pick in 2012) and the son of Peter Andersson (New York’s 4th Round pick in 1983).
Fox was selected in the 3rd Round of the 2016 draft, and has spent the last two seasons manning the blue line for the Harvard Crimson, scoring 68 points in 64 games. The Long Island native was also selected to represent the United States in the World Juniors each of the last two seasons, posting a goal and eight assists in 14 games as the USA earned gold in 2017 and bronze this past year. Fox will be returning to Harvard for his junior season during the 2018-19 campaign, and his future is up in the air beyond that. Both of these players could be worth New York’s 39th selection, or perhaps even one of the Blueshirts late 1st Round picks if they acquired an additional pick in 2019.
Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello have been linked to the Flames over the last few months, but a deal involving them is highly unlikely to remedy Calgary’s dearth of 2018 draft picks. Gorton could elect to construct a deal centered around one of the aforementioned defenseman in exchange for Hayes or Zuccarello, but a deal like that wouldn’t make any sense for New York.
With a surplus of draft capital unlike anything his predecessor ever had, Jeff Gorton is in a prime position to add quality assets to his organization later this week. With three first round selections, five in the top 50, and seven in the top 90, the Rangers will look like a very different team on by Saturday afternoon compared to today. It will be tough for him to outdo the splash he made at last year’s draft, but given how that turned out for New York, a number of smaller moves could be all the team needs to set themselves up favorably heading into free agency.