Make no mistakes about one thing: The Rangers’ rebuild is not over. In fact, upon the news that the Rangers won the second-overall selection for the 2019 Draft, a scout immediately sent a message saying he felt the Rangers would be better off with one more season of struggles. After all, the 2020 Draft is absolutely loaded.
It’s not enough that Washington has Alex Ovechkin. They need Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and John Carlson too. We can go up-and-down the list of recent Cup winners and current contenders and it’s the same situation for all. This is not basketball, and one superstar is not enough to get you anywhere.
The point here isn’t to be a buzzkill. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Excluding the remote possibility (and yes, it’s remote) that the Rangers go way off the board with their second-overall selection, they will be landing one of Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko. There will be plenty of time to debate the merits of both, and we will.
In the big picture, the difference is probably not particularly consequential. Neither are in the mold of former generational talents like Mario Lemieux or Connor McDavid, but these are high-level prospects who will immediately come into the NHL and, after a few years, earn superstar status. Maybe not Lemieux or McDavid, but quite possibly, if not likely, in a class with studs like John Tavares, David Pastrnak, and Backstrom. The Rangers woke up yesterday with zero guaranteed foundational pieces on the roster. Frankly, there are zero in the organization altogether. They went to sleep with all but a virtual promise of scooping one up on June 21st. Every Cup-winning franchise in the Salary Cap era had first obtained a few cornerstone pieces on whom they could rely for a 10-15 year span. Now, the Rangers will almost assuredly be adding one of their own.
And yes, while all eyes are on that lottery pick, Artemi Panarin absolutely has to be in the periphery. Back in February we obligated the Rangers to proceed with caution as they attempted to “expedite” a rebuild. Though there are still elements of that which hold true, last night’s news obviously changes things. Panarin, alongside whomever the Rangers take with their top draft pick, can absolutely serve as the faces of an elite offense. Add the strong possibility that Filip Chytil, Vitali Kravtsov, Mika Zibanejad, and Pavel Buchnevich will offer some long-term punch as well, and the Rangers would quickly have some offensive depth. Not a finished product, but certainly one representing a pretty good rough draft of a high-caliber top-six in a few seasons.
Again, this does not signal the end of the rebuilding process. For one, it’s misguided to count chickens before they hatch. Hughes or Kakko aside, the impact of previously mentioned players for the Rangers is largely hypothetical. There’s still the need to add forward depth. The defense needs a massive overhaul. Goaltending is a major question mark.
But while this does not alone make the Rangers a contender, it is certainly a step they could never have skipped in that pursuit. There will be problems to solve and holes to fill in the coming years before the Rangers will have the ability to bring the parade back to downtown Manhattan. Let’s leave those worries for another time. For now, a celebration of a massive hurdle leaped is warranted. Rome was not built in a day, but the Rangers might have just landed their own Pantheon.