The 2019 NHL Draft is complete, and the Rangers selected eight players who join their prospect pool. Truthfully, it’s too soon for me to give a finished, thorough analysis of how the Rangers did in Vancouver. Some of the players they drafted I am very familiar with. Others I had literally not even heard of prior to their selections. Over the next few days and weeks we’ll be doing our homework on all of these guys, and once July’s organizational prospect rankings get published we will have a more definitive analysis of these prospects.
That can’t stop us from looking at these prospects and analyzing the picks at a first glance.
First Round, 2nd Overall - Kaapo Kakko, Right Wing, TPS (Liiga)
Not much to analyze here, as this selection was effectively made the moment the lottery balls fell two months ago. The Rangers walking up on stage and announcing the pick to elated fans in New York might as well have looked like this:
If you want a scouting report of Kakko, please refer to our draft profile.
Second Round, 49th Overall - Matthew Robertson, Left Defense, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
Robertson is a player I’ve seen play quite often and I am fully prepared to grade right now. Not an exhilarating pick, but still a very good one. The term “big, shutdown defenseman” is often poison when it comes to discussing prospects (more on that later), but Robertson is one of the few for whom it’s a deserved and endearing label.
At 6’3 and 201 pounds, Robertson is not only big but physically mature. One of the qualities that separates him from the classic big, dopey defenseman is his feet. It’s not that he has spectacular straight line speed, but rather that he has mobile legs, meaning he can turn quickly and adjust his body on the fly to maintain proper positioning. His lateral movement is efficient, and he can turn quickly. Robertson’s long reach comes in handy and he is adept at getting his stick in to jam up puck carriers and create turnovers.
Here are just a couple of examples (First clip #22 in white, second clip #3 in white).
Another encouraging aspect of Robertson’s game is that he is a strong puck mover. No, he’s not going to lead rushes or send saucers across two zones to spring a breakaway. But he makes smart reads on the first pass from the defensive zone. He’s not a player who throws the puck away or loses the puck in his feet.
His offensive skills are best described as adequate. Chances are he won’t be a big point producer at the NHL level, but he does possess enough talent to keep the opposition honest and do a requisite job of making a positive impact. His passing is, again, efficient though unspectacular. He can make passes and keep plays alive. Once in a while he can put the puck in the net as well.
Robertson won’t make anyone giddy, but scouts and development personnel will go to bed comfortably every night knowing that he’s in the system. He’s as safe of a bet as one will find in the second round to carve out a long, respectable NHL career. A scout in Canada reached out to say that he thought the Rangers got great value at 49 and that Robertson reminds him of Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm. I think that’s a great comparison both stylistically as well as a best-case scenario for his development. Like Ekholm, Robertson is a true shutdown defenseman in the modern NHL.
Second Round, 58th Overall - Karl Henriksson, Center, Frolunda (SHL)
I had imagined that the Rangers would target a center with this pick because it is a major organizational need. Sure enough, Henriksson was their selection with the pick acquired from Tampa Bay in the McDonagh trade.
Henriksson is a crafty, playmaking center. He produced 36 assists in 45 games for Frolunda’s U20 team, which is very bountiful production for a player his age at that level. he’s very good at waiting out defenses and finding passing seams for his wingers to score from dangerous areas. Here are a few examples from my viewings.
There are a few minor concerns regarding Henriksson’s long-term outlook. First, he is 5’9 and we’ll have to see if he can overcome a lack of physical game if/when he makes the jump to North America. His skating is also good but not great for a player of his size.
The bigger question mark is about how much of his success was a result of his linemates. Lucas Raymond, projected to be a top-three pick in next year’s draft, was on his wing all season and quite often in international tournaments. There’s no doubting that Henriksson has plenty of ability in his own right, but what do his numbers look like without Raymond by his side?
I would not consider Henriksson a reach at all, but what I would say is that 58th overall is right on the edge of the upper bound for where I’d put his acceptable range. I ranked him as an early third-round pick. The Rangers took him at the very end of the second round. He addresses an organizational need and possesses plenty of upside.
Third Round, 68th Overall - Zac Jones, Left Defense, Tri-City Storm (USHL)
Jones is a player I’ve known about but I think I’ve only seen play once or twice, and that was while focusing primarily on a different player. For sure, I’ll need to watch some games in the coming weeks to get a better gauge on this selection.
Here is what I can say. By all accounts, Jones is an incredibly cerebral defenseman and his point production is plentiful. He racked up a ton of assists with 45 in 56 games. If he was three inches taller a team probably grabs him in the second round. I terms of the numbers as well as consensus, 68th overall seems like an acceptable spot to grab the talented, puck-moving defenseman.
Fourth Round, 112th Overall - Hunter Skinner, Right Defense, Lincoln Stars (USHL)
The optics on this pick aren’t great, as Skinner did not appear to be on anyone’ radar altogether for this draft, let alone in the fourth round. He is a 6’3 defenseman with mediocre point production; just five goals and 19 assists in 52 games for both Muskegon and Lincoln in the USHL.
That being said, it would be unfair to both Skinner and the Rangers’ scouting staff to make total judgment on this pick without even getting a look at one shift or hearing a decent scouting report. I’ll take a look in the next few weeks and report on my findings, but one major defense of his abilities could be that Lincoln were a dreadful team last year, winning just 12 of 56 games.
While numbers matter a great deal, so does the tape. Again, I call this an incomplete, knee-jerk analysis for a reason. I was initially not a fan of the Rangers’ selection of Morgan Barron in the sixth round in 2017, but after watching a few games my opinion flipped and he became my favorite pick of the draft. It sure seems like Skinner fits the profile of the classic big, physical defenseman that just cannot excel in the modern NHL, but let’s wait until we have more information to truly make a judgment here.
Fifth Round, 130th Overall - Leevi Aaltonen, Left Wing, KalPa (Liiga)
Aaltonen is the kind of project that teams should be looking for towards the end of the draft. He’s 5’9 but can skate like the wind. His straight-line speed is electric and from a standstill he can accelerate through the neutral zone like few can. He possesses offensive skill and uses his speed to create transition opportunities. I’m not sure he has enough ability to create much offensive from controlled possessions, though. Michael Grabner and Carl Hagelin have proven that wingers who can provide secondary scoring with their speed can bring a whole different dynamic to a team. At this point in the draft, I like the bet on Aaltonen’s skating and offensive senses.
Sixth Round, 161st Overall - Adam Edstrom, Forward, Mora (SHL)
I had no idea who Edstrom was prior to this selection, and so it’s tough to judge. At 6’6 and 207 pounds, there’s always a concern that the team got entranced by his size despite a lack of skill. However, his numbers do look respectable, at least. He scored 11 goals in 20 games for Mora’s U20 team. He’s slotted at both center and wing. He did earn 15 SHL games last year, though it was in an incredibly limited role averaging about three minutes per game.
This is a player we’re going to need to do a lot more research on before we can really evaluate the selection, but at face value it seems that Edstrom is a project who isn’t far off from the top Swedish League and could provide some upside as a bottom-six NHL forward. Not my favorite pick the team has ever made, but it doesn’t look like a throwaway pick, either. Again, I refer to Morgan Barron and how quickly an opinion can change with some research and context. TBD on this selection.
UPDATE: Alex Nunn knows about Edstrom and weighed in:
“Definitely a project, but I like it for a sixth-rounder. Huge kid who actually skates very well and can score.”
Seventh Round, 205th Overall - Eric Ciccolini, Right Wing, Toronto Jr. Canadiens (OJHL)
Another pick I liked given the position. I haven’t seen Ciccolini play, but he appears to be a skilled offensive winger. He was voted the OJHL (Canadian B junior league)’s top prospect after producing 27 goals and 35 assists in 48 games. From my reading, it appears there may be holes in his game away from the puck. He’s under 6 feet and just 160 pounds. This is a long-term play for the rangers. Ciccolini will be headed to the University of Michigan next season and will need multiple years in the NCAA to bulk up and round out his game. However, late-round picks are a longshot to begin with, so what risk is there in taking a guy with offensive upside like Ciccolini? This is another player I’ll need to watch video on and take notes, but from a bird’s eye view he seems like a worthwhile gamble this late in the draft.
Overall, this appeared to be a well thought out draft from the Rangers. Thy didn’t try anything particularly clever as they may have done in a few past drafts, instead getting perfectly fair value with most of their selections. Kakko will define this draft for the next 15 years, but it sure wouldn’t hurt if a couple of other players could make a difference for the Rangers down the line as well.