The 2018-19 New York Rangers are a bad hockey team, no matter how you slice it.
According to Corsica the Rangers are 30th out of 31 teams in shot share, dead last in Corsi for per 60, 25th in expected goals share, and 26th out of all 31 teams in expected goals for per 60. However, the Rangers are sitting at 18-19-7 after Saturday afternoon’s game against the Islanders, which is good for 43 points in 44 games and 22nd overall in the standings. So, the standings don’t really reflect the underlying numbers, but it still doesn’t paint a pretty picture.
The thing is, we all knew the Rangers were going to be bad this year. In fact the team told the hockey world as much after sending out The Letter last February, and followed through by trading Rick Nash, J.T. Miller, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Grabner, and Nick Holden for a whole bunch of prospects and draft picks. They then went to Dallas for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and selected Vitali Kravtsov, Nils Lundkvist, and K’Andre Miller all in the first round, thus kicking off a big step in the rebuild.
As the Rangers plow towards this year’s trade deadline, management is likely looking to this year’s draft in Vancouver as they try and gather up even more draft picks while seeing where their own ends up. This is where the Blueshirts hit their first big snag, the shootout.
See, the Rangers record lies. 18-19-7 is incredibly misleading because the NHL likes to handle out arbitrary points for no real reason. When looking at the NHL standings, be sure to check out that little column marked “ROW,” or regulation and overtime wins. This column shows how many wins a team has minus how many shootout wins. The Rangers currently have 18 “wins” but only 13 ROW; that 5 win differential is the largest gap in the NHL right now with no team with more than a three win differential. It’s here where the Rangers might find a roadblock on their path to a top pick in June.
Everyone knows that in order to be good, you first have to be bad. So bad that the lottery balls bounce in your favor and you get the first overall draft pick to get that generational talent and build around that. The best way to be bad is to get as few points as possible and because of those pesky shootout wins the Rangers might find themselves, even with Selloff 2: Electric Boogalooo looming, just outside of the top two picks. This means missing out on both Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, the two consensus top picks and two franchise talents.
Hope may not be lost though, because the 2019 Draft is pretty deep and I want to take a look at three big options the Rangers may have a shot at.
There’s the old trueism that if you want to win you need to be strong down the middle; teams need to have good centers as the foundation to build a contender around and while not steadfastly true, it makes sense. Center is the most important position outside of goaltender and in Vancouver the Rangers will probably have the option of three really good centers to choose from; two from western Canada and another from Halifax.
Now before I go on, I want to make abundantly clear that this is just a brief look at these players as some names to keep on your radar as we head into the second half of the season. Adam, Tobias, and Alex will have much more in depth and nuanced analysis on these players and more as we get closer to the draft. With that being said, let’s dive in.
Kirby Dach 17 y/o, C, Saskatoon Blades (16-31-47 in 40 GP)
The first player I want to look at comes to us from the Saskatoon Blades. Standing at a whopping 6’4, 198lbs, Kirby Dach is a smooth skating, right handed center tearing up the WHL to the tune of 47 points in 40 games this year as a 17 year old. When looking at Evan Oppenheimer’s Betweenness metric, you can see that Dach plays a significant role in driving the Blades’s offense.
Saskatoon Blades betweenness— Evan Oppenheimer (@OppenheimerEvan) December 24, 2018
That's Kirby Dach's team. pic.twitter.com/2rRWTbfIKW
What makes Dach good is not just his size but it’s all the skill that oozes out of that big frame. Dach is a smooth skater, with light hands capable of maneuvering the puck in tight quarters. Any team, especially one that needs right handed shots like the Rangers, would love to snap him up.
Dylan Cozens 17 y/o, C/RW, Lethbridge Hurricanes (24-32-56 in 41 GP)
Staying in the WHL, the next player that really stands out is another big, right handed center. At 6’3 and 185lbs, Dylan Cozens is a big, big boy and while Dach might be the more natural center because of his playmaking skill and hands, Cozens seems to be a right handed Chris Kreider. A speedy power forward with a nifty release and scoring touch, Cozens might eventually end up on the wing as he’s been playing there as well as center with the Lethbridge Hurricanes this year. Also like Dach, Cozens is a 17 year old driving offense for his team.
Lethbridge Hurricanes betweenness— Evan Oppenheimer (@OppenheimerEvan) December 24, 2018
aka Dylan Cozens' team (and Logan Barlage's team ) pic.twitter.com/N3zYywXm4Z
I think a lot of Cozens’ value comes from his pure athletic gifts, whereas Dach has that extra level of play driving depth, but that doesn’t mean that picking the sharpshooting Hurricane would be a bad idea. The Rangers need all the young firepower they can get their hands on and Cozens fits that bill.
Raphael Lavoie 18 y/o, C/RW, Halifax Mooseheads (19-24-43 in 39 GP)
And now for something completely different; a big, right handed center. This time playing in the QMJHL!
Where Cozens is the goalscorer and Dach the cerebral playmaker, Raphael Lavoie is the slippery jack of all trades that weaves through defenders with the puck glued to his stick all while being 6’4 and 198lbs. That’s a tad absurd. Lavoie’s skill really pops off the screen and his high end puck skills gives him that extra time and space to make plays that defenders have no easy answers for.
These three players are just a small sample of the skill that could be available for the Rangers in the 5-10 slots on the draft board. There are also skilled defenders Bowen Byram and Philip Broberg readily available to pair with K’Andre Miller and Nils Lundkvist, and in between these are the uniquely skilled wingers Cole Caufield and Vasili Podkolzin. All of them will give the Rangers ample opportunities to add a lot of skill to their burgeoning farm system and should ease the pain of missing out on Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko if they aren’t bad enough to draft first or second overall.
Just make sure to tank for Anton Lundell and Alexis Lafreniere in 2020.