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2018 New York Rangers Draft Grades

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NHL: NHL Draft Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

This marks the fourth year in a row I’ve started doing draft day grades. Like previous years, I will do a quick recap of how I look so far based on my grades last year.

Here are the 2015 grades.

Here are the 2016 grades.

Now let’s get to last year. Here’s the 2017 grades article for reference.

Lias Andersson (A-): I thought the Rangers passed on better players to grab Andersson and that it was a safe pick. A year later, his offense has surprised me, but I still think he’s a top-six center who is good in both ends and is still a very defensible pick at seven. I want to clarify that I like Andersson a lot, and there’s something to be said for getting a “sure-fire” NHL player at seven. But that can be true, while also admitting the Rangers passed on upside to get him.

Filip Chytil (A): I loved the Chytil “reach,” and he didn’t disappoint. Chytil put up three points in nine NHL games, and 31 points in 46 AHL games. For a true 18-year-old, those are fantastic numbers. He also went 2-2-4 in seven WJC games for the surprising Czechs, and went 1-1-2 in seven World Championship games this summer.

I liked: The selections of Calle Sjalin, Dominik Lakatos, and Patrik Virta. Virta, specifically, had an explosive post-draft year with 40 points in 58 Liiga games (a jump from 26 in 49 the year before). Sjalin had another solid season in Allsvenskan and never had a ton of offensive upside anyway. Lakatos, however, had one less point in nine more games, and only had two points in 10 playoff games. He was a late-round flier, but the Rangers drafted him because of a dominant playoffs in 2017 and it just didn’t translate. I got this one wrong.

I did not like: Brandon Crawley or Morgan Barron. Crawley had an OK season in the AHL last year, after an impressive preseason with the Rangers. I am still not convinced there’s an NHL guy here. Barron, however, I seem to have misjudged. His 18 points in 33 NCAA games with Cornell as a freshman was impressive, and there is plenty of room for him to grow. I’m really curious to see what he does next year.

So, for 2017, I’m giving myself a B+. Got the big ones right, missed a few smaller ones. Anyway, on to 2018 where I will be 100% correct on everything.

Selecting Vitali Kravtsov (F) in the 1st Round (9th overall) (Draft Coverage here) (BSB’s draft ranking here)

Grade: A

Analysis: I know why you’re here. You’re here because we all wanted Oliver Wahlstrom and he was on the board when the Rangers passed on him. You’re expecting to see a C, or an F, and you want me to scorch the earth. Hell, I even posted a photo of me holding my daughter so I couldn’t explode if the Rangers passed on Wahlstrom.

And then they did.

Before the draft started, Adam tried to explain that while the Rangers might not pick the players we want them to, that doesn't mean they’re bad players. Did I want Wahlstrom? Yes. Did I have Kravtsov as one of my sleeper picks in the first round? Yes, yes I did. So much so that a month and a half ago I said I would be fine with the Rangers taking him at nine (presuming Wahlstrom was off the board). Even if leaving him there (where the Islanders eventually took him) stings, the Rangers swung hard for talent. And there;s evidence to suggest Kravtsov might be one of the best players in this class.

There is a belief, and take from it what you will, that Wahlstrom’s historic season was helped, in part, to being part of the most talented USDP team the country has ever churned out. That he benefited from being the next guy after teams focused on next year’s 1st overall pick Jack Hughes. That might be people making excuses for how far he slid, but it’s something out there that at least has some logic behind it.

The Rangers made it clear that they always valued Kravtsov higher — admitting he was their second rated forward in the draft. While not a direct comparison, the Rangers have danced that dance before: In 2015 when Clark and company claimed Ryan Gropp was their sixth rated forward in the draft behind names like Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. And we all know how that turned out.

That said, this situation is quite a bit different. Kravtsov isn’t some second-round slider that had potential, the kid had legitimate game-breaking skills. A few months ago a source tipped me off to the Rangers’ heavy scouting and interest in Kravtsov. What he didn’t know (or didn’t tell me) was how high the Rangers were on him. I assumed the Rangers would try to trade into the early teens to grab him, but never made the connection he was that high on their list. And hey, let’s not pass up on the biggest part of this pick: The Rangers swung for elite-level talent.

The Rangers made note of the fact that they see a lot of Evgeni Kuznetsov in Kravtsov after they made the selection. Curious, I went back to the raw numbers (alert that this isn’t an exact science, nor am I pretending it is).

As you can see, Kuznetsov absolutely dominated the U17 league, but he was a full year and a half to a year older than Kravtsov was when he dominated it (albeit to a lesser level). Kravtsov’s numbers in the KHL at 18 are in line with Kuznetsov, and Kravtsov’s 11 points in 16 KHL playoff games broke a record for points in the playoffs for a player under 20. That player? Kuznetsov who had nine points in 12 KHL playoff games ... but as a 20-year-old.

Adam and company will ultimately have a bigger review on why his ceiling is so high, but he has sniper potential, showed he belonged in a man’s league at 18-years-old, and is oozing with talent. This is not the Rangers laying up with Andersson (not a knock on him, just that it was a safer pick at the expense of upside), but this is the Rangers swinging for the fences on talent. Kravtsov had a few things that make teams shy away (the Russian Factor, that teenagers don’t put up big numbers in professional leagues, etc.) but this might turn out to be a hell of a player for the Rangers for years to come. No way to hate this selection.

Trading the 26th and 48th selection to Ottawa for the 22nd selection (Coverage here)

Grade: C

Analysis: This grade has nothing to do with the player the Rangers inevitably selected, but more to do with the value of a pick itself. The Rangers moved on from one of their two second round picks to move up four spots in the draft. For a team that’s in desperate need of elite talent, and with the fallers free falling down the draft board, I don’t love the move. According to The Athletic, the Anaheim Ducks were going to select Miller at 23, and therefore the Rangers moved up to get their guy. Had they stayed at 26 they would have still had their choice of a very good player, but according to Jeff Gorton he’s been on their radar for some time now.

Selecting K’Andre Miller (D) in the 1st Round (22nd overall) (Draft Coverage here) (BSB’s draft ranking here)

Grade: A-

Analysis: The Rangers passed on some falling talent (Dominik Bokk, mainly) to make this selection, but that said, this was the biggest boom or bust selection of the entire draft. We begged the Rangers to take swings for the fences with their first round picks, and that’s exactly what this pick was.

Miller is a forward-to-defenseman convert who has only played the position for two years. In terms of size, strength, and athleticism, there might not be a better player in the draft. He’s an exceptional skater, can move with quick, fluid strides, and he has a wonderfully long reach that he uses to make backtracking defensive plays he has no business making. Oh, he also has an incredibly high offensive ceiling. How does a guy with all those raw tools fall out of the top ten? Well, he’s very raw, and has yet to really put it all together. The Rangers annoyed a lot of late drafting teams by moving up to grab him, and if he can put it together he might be a steal at 22. It was reported Monday the Rangers had confirmed Anaheim was taking Miller with the 23rd overall pick, which is why Gorton felt the need to make the move.

Accoring to Mitch Brown’s tracking metrics, Miller was in the highest range of percentiles in the eight USA NTDP games tracked for U18’s.

More than just that, Miller’s primary point production in the league was historical. This is only the third year they’re tracked the TOI data, but Miller had the highest recorded primary points per 60 at even strength with 2.4. The next highest ever was Adam Fox at a 1.6. It is worth noting that Miller is also a product of the most talented developmental team this country has ever churned out, but he was a big part of that. If you’re going to bet on talent, bet on it like this. The below chart continues to show just how much offense Miller has produced, and produced at a young age. He’s up in that stratosphere almost by himself. (And look who he is with!)

Really the million dollar question, is will he put it all together? The big flaws in his game is the brilliance we’ve seen from him hasn’t been there all the time. Is that because he’s new to the position and he’ll figure it out with more experience? Or is this what he is? I do think time in the NCAA will do wonders for him.

At the very least he should be projected to be a speedy, serviceable second pair defenseman. If he puts it all together the way the Rangers envision? Look out.

Selecting Nils Lundkvist (D) in the 1st Round (28th overall) (Draft Coverage here) (BSB’s draft ranking here) (Bonus Coverage Here)

Grade: A-

Analysis: Lundkvist is someone Tobias put on my radar months ago, and in his conversation with some European scouts there is a belief he has more two-way skills than 8th overall pick Adam Boqvist.

Both Miller and Lundkvist are savvy, analytical picks. The possession numbers for Lundkvist are fantastic, and he over-exceeded expectations at the SHL level as a 17-year-old. Those guys often aren’t hanging around at the 30th overall pick. Where Miller — and to a lesser extent Kravtsov — are bigger swings on talent, Lundkvist is the “safest” of the three picks. He has upside, don’t get me wrong, but he’s far more polished on both ends of the ice than many of the players taken in this draft. I will also add: being able to play in 28 SHL games as a 17-year-old is not an easy feat. And his five points in those games is incredibly impressive. There are certainly defenseman with more offensive upside than Lundkvist, but I’m not sure there’s a better two-way guy out there who wasn’t taken first overall.

Lundkvist is a very good selection at this point in the draft. Did the Rangers pass up on other players with a higher ceiling? At forward they did for sure, but all that said, there’s no reason to assume Lundkvist won’t be prowling the Rangers’ blue line soon enough.

Selecting Olof Lindbom (G) in the 2nd Round (39th overall) (Draft Coverage here)

Grade: F

Analysis: This grade has little to do with Lindbom himself, and more to do with two factors that the Rangers overlooked to make this pick. A pick that I believe ruined the second day of drafting as a whole.

1) Taking goalies with first or second round picks rarely work out. Especially when the trade market for goalies is so buyer friendly, and that you can get very good talent later in the draft. Henrik Lundqvist aside, the top goalie in the Rangers’ system (and maybe the NHL’s prospect pool at the position as a whole) is Igor Shestyorkin who was taken in the fourth round. The last goalie the Rangers took in the second round was Brandon Halverson, and that’s not exactly worked out either.

2) The Rangers left a slew of first round talent on the board to reach for a goalie who many teams didn’t even have as the best goalie in the draft (although obviously the Rangers’ rankings were different). They also took him about two rounds too early.

The Rangers passed on Bode Wilde, Jake Wise, Ryan McLeod, and Akil Thomas — all of whom ranked in Blueshirt Banter’s top-31 prospect rankings. Couple this with the team’s eventual decision to load up on defense (more on that later) and you have a pick of wasted value at the place it happened.

That said, Benoit Allaire was “thrilled” with the selection which is good, but, we’ve done that dance, too. If my memory serves me right, Allaire said the same thing about Halverson, and he personally vouched for Antoine Lafleur in the second round of the 2007 draft. Yes, Allaire is a genius who legitimately deserves to make whatever calls he wants, but with the projects the Rangers have done with other team’s draft picks/their late picks, you don’t need to waste a 2nd round pick.

The thing is, Lindbom seems to follow a particular (and potentially concerning) pattern in Rangers’ reach picks the past few years: A good playoff or big tournament performance. Lakatos was taken in 2017 because of a dominant playoffs. Andersson’s playoff surge in the SHL was a big reason why he was so high on their list last year. Kravtsov’s playoff numbers are more impressive, but same thing there.

Lindbom had a dominant WJC U18 performance with a 1.66 GAA and .949 SV% in six games. But in the SuperElit league in Sweden he posted a 3.10 GAA and a .897 SV% — and followed that up with a 5.61 GAA and .823 SV% in three playoff games. It’s hard to be a 17-year-old goalie even in the younger SuperElit, but those numbers don’t even come close to jumping off the page enough to be taken in the second round. From everyone who has ranked goalies this year he seems to be one of the four legitimate goalie prospects in the class, which is some positive vibes around the selection. Everyone I’ve spoken to have nice things to say about him, at the very least, with the added caveat that he was taken far too high.

Hopefully the Rangers saw something here much the same way they did with Shestyorkin, but he would have been available in the third round at 70, and if he wasn’t then you take the next goalie on your board. Or you don’t take one at all, the system is stocked as it is.

Selecting Jacob Ragnarsson (D) in the 3rd Round (70th overall) (Draft Coverage here)

Grade: C

Analysis: Ragnarsson is a bit of a reach for me at 70, but he’s a perfectly respectable pick where he was taken in a vacuum. He had a solid 18-year-old season in Allsvenskan in Sweden, and showed really nice growth from the year before. I’m not as high on Ragnarsson’s offense as some people are, but I do think there’s a steady defenseman here.

The issue here, as it was for most of day two, is the Rangers continued to pass on sliding talent to grab the specific player they wanted. Gorton said after the draft the Rangers used day two for “value,” which is fine. This pick oozes “value” as it’s a lower upside player who is far less boom or bust — and thus has a “better” shot of becoming an NHL player. At least that’s the hypothesis behind it.

Selecting Joey Keane (D) in the 3rd Round (88th overall) (Draft Coverage here)

Grade: B

Analysis: Keane is an interesting selection at 88 — one I knee-jerk did not like at the time. He’s an overage (barely) who put up respectable numbers in the OHL (44 points in 62 games) and had an enormous growth year from the year before (where he only amassed 19 points in 67 games). he projects as more of a two-way defenseman, but his underlying numbers were some of the best in the OHL according to Mitch Brown’s tracking analytics.

If Keane is one of those late bloomers who finds himself as he fills out, that’s a steal for the Rangers. All that said, I’m not sure there’s more than a solid two-way guy here at best. Here’s to being proven wrong, though!

Selecting Nico Gross (D) in the 4th Round (101st overall) (Draft Coverage here)

Grade: D

Analysis: The Rangers were reported to have had interest in Gross a few weeks before the draft, and it makes as little sense now as it did then. Gross is a Swiss defenseman who transitioned from his home country to the OHL this year, and ... it was not good.

In Switzerland Gross showed flashes of a prolific offensive defenseman. In their U17 league he had 17 points in 21 games, and then just 2 points in 20 Elite Jr. A games (which, to be fair, was a U20 league where he was just 16). Last year he recorded 9 assists in NLB (the second tier of Swiss hockey) he had 9 assists in 33 games. Respectable numbers for a, then, 17 year-old.

It was this year in the OHL where things came into focus. Despite playing against men as a teenage, he didn’t take advantage of playing again peers his age — with just 14 points in 58 games. It’s not all about the offense, of course. But, uh ...

Is there something to be said for him coming over to North America and making a very difficult transition? Yes, of course. But this feels like another reach pick that left higher-upside players on the board.

Selecting Lauri Pajuniemi (F) in the 5th Round (132nd overall) (Draft Coverage here)

Grade: B

Analysis: Pajuniemi was only the second forward taken at this point in the draft, but at least here the Rangers swung within the ballpark for skill.

From FinnProspects:

Pajuniemi played on the second line and first power play unit for TPS U20. He likes to have the puck on his stick and has good puck control in tight spaces. He can hang onto the puck and create offense. He moved the puck well in the second period, making simple, short passes that were tape-to-tape. He played at a fairly high pace and showed an ability to handle the puck at varying speeds. Had good edge work, agility and quickness.

Pajuniemi probably doesn’t have a top-six upside, but he could top out at a solid third liner — which is all you can really ask of a fifth round pick. His junior numbers are spectacular, and his seven points in 32 Liiga games is nothing to scoff at for an 18-year-old. Furthermore, his four points in nine Liiga games probably piqued Clark’s interest.

Selecting Simon Kjellberg (D) in the 6th Round (163rd overall) (Draft Coverage here)

Grade: F

Analysis: By every conceivable metric, Kjellberg was very lucky to be drafted. He was left off the Central Scouting top European draft lists, falling from 74 in the midterm rank to not making the top 130 at all. Most every major draft ranking system had Kjellberg in the early 200’s if he was on their listing at all. He’s a big-bodied, 17-year-old who had nine points in 43 SuperElit games and then three points in three playoff games. He wasn’t invited to any international duties this year, and his numbers across the board really aren’t impressive. Projecting him to be a mid-pair AHL defenseman (not a typo) if everything goes right feels generous.

I really don’t want you to think I’m going all in on an 18-year-old. This isn’t about him, this is about the Rangers. An NHL scout who works for an NHL team watched Kjellberg a lot this year and called him a “wasted pick.”

I do wonder if his father being a scout on the Rangers had anything to do with him being picked here, when actual talents like Liam Kirk, Nikolai Kovalenko, and others were still on the board.

Selecting Riley Hughes (F) in the 7th Round (216th overall) (Draft Coverage here)

Grade: A

Analysis: The trade into the 7th round to grab a sleeper is something the Rangers have done before, and it’s a win win option. You can always flip your way into another 7th, and the Rangers actually drafted for talent here.

In 30 games at St. Sebastian’s School of the USHS-Prep league he had 21 goals and 36 points in 30 games. He’ll be plying his trade at Northeastern this year, and has all the tools to turn into a nice NHLer. These are the types of players you should be reaching for in the NHL draft.

****

Now I’m going to do something a little different, and grade a few non-player or pick moves from the draft.

Picking for “value” in the second day of the draft

Grade: F

Analysis: You’re not going to get many superstars in the later rounds, but since 2013 the Rangers have gotten the likes of Pavel Buchnevich, Anthony Duclair, Sean Day, Aleksi Saarela and Robin Kovacs in the third round. All of those players were high-upside players who are either on NHL rosters right now or will be fighting for a spot this year. The exception there is Kovacs, but that’s a completely different situation that involved a tragic off ice issue. The Rangers reaching for “value” in a year where they had four (then three due to the trade to move up to get Miller) picks in the second and third round isn’t a great strategy. Especially with a system devoid of high end talent.

The Rangers made “safe” picks the second day of the draft, and in some instances they took lower upside players who have even a questionable NHL projection. Of the six non-goalie players selected by Gorton on the second day of the draft, maybe three of them have an NHL future if everything goes right. That’s not great drafting. Value is in the eye of the beholder, and the Rangers have watched these guys a lot more than I have, but most every prospect expert believes the Rangers did a hell of a lot of reaching Saturday. That’s not value.

Continuing to overload the defensive pipeline

Grade: D

Analysis: This grade isn’t so much about the strategy as it is about what they took. There is something to be said about taking as much defense as you can, as they take longer to develop and are often more valuable. But the Rangers didn’t even stock up on highly touted defenseman. Gross and Kjellberg would be very lucky to be decent AHL players if everything goes right. Gross, at the very least, has a hockey backround that could prove me wrong, but his draft year analytics were atrocious. There is no defense of the Kjellberg selection.

Keane might have some upside, and Ragnarsson could be a two-way guy if things go his way. My really issue here — and hence the grade — is the Rangers passed on Wilde (an expected top-20 pick) to grab a goalie at 39. If you wanted defense that bad, it’s a hard look to pass on him at that spot. And if the Rangers do take Wilde there, I think you can give a huge pass on the rest of their afternoon. But they didn’t, and now we’re here.

Swinging for talent

Grade: B

Analysis: This grade is fully based on the first round evening out whatever happened on Saturday. If there’s anything to be said about the Rangers’ draft, it’s that they didn’t screw up Friday. And with three picks in the first round, that was critical.

The Rangers made two enormous swings on elite talent with their 9th and 22nd picks, and their pick at 28 was a swing on talent as well. If the Rangers were going to mess up, better it be Saturday than Friday.