The easy part is complete. Jeff Gorton and his coworkers made their way to the stage and spoke Kaapo Kakko’s name into the microphone successfully. Quite frankly, the Rangers could forfeit their remaining picks, pack up their bags, head home to New York, and still come away big winners. Barring the absurd, Kakko will become a hell of a player for the Rangers, and that alone will be enough to define the team’s 2019 NHL Draft.
Still, the Rangers do have seven picks remaining, including two second-round picks. There’s an opportunity here to add to their riches.
Teams stray from consensus every year, but in the first round there appeared to be practically no consensus to speak of. As such, there are some intriguing, talented players left for rounds two through seven. Here is a look at some of them.
Bobby Brink, Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)
Had life not gotten in the way of our prospect rankings, Brink would have been 15th on our list. However, his drop is not particularly unexpected and are due to more classic tropes. He’s only 5’8 and 165 pounds. His skating stride is clunky and somewhat ineffective. He doesn’t possess many tangible physical traits and altogether isn’t pretty to watch on the ice.
Arguably the most important chapter in Moneyball concerns Billy Beane’s fighting with his scouts about what it means to be a good prospect. For many of his scouts, they looked for visual cues. A pretty swing. Great size. Elegant baserunning. A’s GM Beane did not care for those things. He wanted to know how a player would help his team win. Not how they looked while doing it.
Thus, Brink would fit nicely in Beane’s philosophies. Brink is an incredibly effective player. The reads he makes in-game are phenomenal. He anticipates the play so well, and he therefore creates turnovers, finds himself in scoring positions, and is such a gifted passer. Last season, he scored 35 goals and added 33 assists in 43 USHL games, and based on scoring numbers alone he would be a surefire top-15 selection. The objective is to outscore the opposition, and among draft-eligible prospects Brink is ranks high in effectiveness. He should be a target for the Rangers with one of their second-round picks, though he may very well get scooped up before they have a chance.
Samuel Fagemo, Frolunda (SHL)
A favorite of Tobias, Fagemo is an overager who went undrafted last season. He made NHL teams regret that decision after lighting the Swedish Elite League on fire as an 18-year-old, registering 14 goals and 11 assists in 42 games for Frolunda. At face value, these numbers should have put him in the first round. He would have made our top-31.
The concern surrounding Fagemo is doubt about whether this past season was legitimate or a flash in the pan. Though he was on NHL radars for the 2018 draft, his numbers in Swedish juniors were merely okay. His production at the international level has been minimal. An on-ice shooting percentage of 12.6% isn’t outlandish, but likely fortunate. What’s more, Fagemo frequently played on a line with Ryan Lasch, who led the SHL in points by a wide margin. Can his sudden jump in production be explained by an elite playmaking linemate?
There are enough questions to make Fagemo’s fall understandable, if not justified. However, that uncertainty could be a gift to whichever team snags him in round two or three. If his production repeats, then he’s a potential first-line talent.
Nicholas Robertson, Peterborough Petes (OHL)
An intriguing combination of skill and spunk. He’s only 5’9 and 160 pounds, but he plays bigger than his size. He works hard every shift. He’s a nuisance for puck carriers as he’s always hounding them and he’ll surprisingly put a player or two on their behinds.
He does have upside, though. He has a great release and piles up his share of goals. Robertson can beat goaltenders clean from distance. With 27 goals in 54 games, he was fourth among OHL skaters in goals-per-game (the top-three were all drafted in the first round). He can be a creative stickhandler at times and make plays for his teammates. His tracking stats are eye-opening as well.
A scout told me there is an isolated concern with Robertson’s game (not his size itself nor any character issues) but wouldn’t elaborate. After watching more games, I would guess that he was likely referring to Robertson’s skating. His stride is a bit disheveled and he the fleetness and explosiveness one would hope for from a guy of his diminutive stature.
Robertson is an interesting prospect because he provides potential as well as a decent safety net. If it all clicks, Robertson could be a middle-six scoring forward who influences the game off the puck. If the offense doesn’t fully develop, he could still find a spot as a depth forward. He’ll almost certainly find a home in round two.
Nils Hoglander, Rogle (SHL)
Hoglander is a player whom Alex Nunn has been talking about for multiple years now, and understandably so. He sticks out immediately in viewings because he brings that “Wow!” factor. His puck skills are tremendous. He’s a player you want to have the puck on his stick because he can create in a number of ways. He’s a proficient stickhandler who will beat defenders 1v1 and change the angle to create lanes. He’s an exceptional passer who can make difficult plays; passes through traffic and over sticks to teammates in dangerous positions. I don’t doubt teams will question his impact on the defensive side because of his size and timidity, but I think he can make up for that some with skating and reads. I saw him make some nice plays off the puck at the U18 World Championship.
Size aside - Hoglander is 5’9 on a good day - teams have likely been scared off by the lack of a physical component to his game. For sure, he is a bit of a perimeter player. The Swedish league and ice size play into his strengths, and that will be less true in North America. Still, this is a highly skilled player who plays with integrity and can be coached. He is one of the few players available who provides realistic first line upside.
Domenick Fensore, USNTDP (USHL)
Take a look at which kind of mid-round defensemen beat the odds and make the NHL and you might come away with some players similar to Domenick Fensore. He’s only 5’7 and 150-155 pounds, but his attributes are exciting. He’s such a good skater; not only in terms of raw speed, but his quickness while holding the puck. He’s a great puck carrier who zips through the neutral zone and creates zone entries. He’s a smart passer who can spring teammates with stretch passes. The size and defensive problems that arise from it are hurting his draft stock, and not even necessarily unjustifiably. He would be an interesing project pick to make in rounds 4-7, though. With some time, development, and maybe a bit of genetic luck, Fensore could be a defenseman who makes the long journey with it for an NHL team.
Jack Malone, Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)
I’ve seen Malone play only a couple of times and he looked fine but unspectacular in those viewings. He has some offensive instincts, and was a good playmaker at the USHL level, registering 40 assists in 57 games.
My putting him on this list is not a personal endorsement so much as speculation. I was tipped off that Malone is a player the Rangers brought in for an interview. Now, it’s important to note that the Rangers, like any team, will have interviewed dozens upon dozens of players, and the vast majority will not be selected with one of the team’s eight picks in this draft. The fact that Malone was one of many is far from an omen. Still, maybe he is a player the Rangers target in the later rounds.
This is a list of six interesting players left on the board, but there are of course many more. Should the Rangers pick other players, it does not mean that they were poor decisions. The Rangers have built a hell of a young core already, and they now have a chance to supplement that with depth as well and perhaps a gamble or two on upside.
One thing I would bet on, though, is the Rangers targeting a center or two. Chytil, Howden, and Andersson give them a nice group at the NHL level, but with those guys graduating they are absolutely barren at lower levels.