Whether it was “Embrace the tank!”, “Tank-A-thon!”, “#LoseForHughes” or “#PlayLikeCrappoForKaapo” the vast majority of the New York Rangers’ fan base have been all-in on the rebuild since Jeff Gorton and Company sent the letter out in February of 2018. Since then, they have focused on the future by making a number of moves to boost the young talent in their system, proactively executed via deadline trades, where they acquired 21-year-old Yegor Rykov from the Devils, 19-year-old Libor Hajek from the Lightning and 21-year-old Ryan Lindgren from the Bruins. After taking top Russian forward Vitali Kravtsov at ninth overall, they bolstered their prospect pool going into the 2018-2019 season by using six of their nine picks to acquire defensemen.
As the 2018-2019 season rolled on, the fan base was hit with an unfavorable, yet unavoidable, reality. A beloved fan favorite, and pending UFA, Mats Zuccarello was likely to be traded. In an effort to keep the rebuild moving forward, on February 23rd, Zuccarello was traded to Dallas for a 2019 second round pick (#49) and a 2020 conditional third-round pick (that becomes a 2020 first if Zuccarello re-signs in Dallas). A few days later, they moved Kevin Hayes, another pending UFA, to Winnipeg for a 2019 first round pick (#20) and left wing Brendan Lemieux. To close out their trading for the season, they also brought in a top young defenseman from Carolina named Adam Fox. Boosting draft capital and adding young talent, all while freeing up roster space, is key to keeping the rebuild’s forward momentum.
Entering this season, the New York Rangers have 5 RFA’s that need to either be signed, traded, or let go. Out of Pavel Buchnevich, Brendan Lemieux, Neal Pionk, Tony DeAngelo and Fredrik Claesson, I see three getting re-signed (Buchnevich, Lemieux & DeAngelo), one getting traded (Pionk), and one getting let go (Claesson). If they are able to get all three signed and keep the total around $7.5 million for all three, that leaves $11.5 million of cap space to go after the top free agent on the market, Artemi Panarin. It’s been rumored that the New York Rangers are high on Panarin’s list of possible destinations, and I know New York would welcome him with open arms! An elite winger coming off a year where he posted 28 goals and 59 assists for a career high of 87 points, he has had success everywhere he’s played. He has the talent and skill to make the players around him perform better. Sounds like an optimal signing for a rebuilding team set to have one of the top players from the draft join them this summer.
Fast Forward To Today
The New York Rangers are sitting very pretty with the #2 and #20 picks in the first round. It’s almost a certainty that they will be landing a bonafide young stud in either Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko with the second pick in the draft. We can speculate leading up to the draft about which direction they will take with their other picks, but in the end, I do think they will go forward heavy in this year’s draft. I expect to see names like Arthur Kaliyev, Pavel Dorofeyev, Nils Höglander, Brett Leason and Samuel Poulin to be targeted for that 20th overall pick. But since we’re here to speculate and fire off hot takes, I think they could look to package the 20th overall along with another piece to get back into, or just outside of, the top 10. Obviously, it depends on how the draft goes, but if the opportunity should arise, there are two names I’d be looking at:
1) Cole Caufield
Cole Caufield is a dynamic goal scorer. Putting up 72 goals and 100 points in 64 games with the USDP last year along with 14 goals and 18 points in seven games at the World Juniors. You can find his profile from Elite Prospects here.
Alex Newhook is more of a playmaker, coming off of a 38 goal/64 assist/102 point campaign in 53 games. I think his success could be overlooked, as he was playing on the Victoria Grizzlies in the BCHL, and that would prove beneficial for the Rangers. You can find his profile from Elite Prospects here.
If that scenario doesn’t play out, they should turn their focus to the 2020 NHL Draft. From all accounts, next year’s draft could be the best draft class in NHL history. I’ve seen reports that there are five kids that would be first overall in any other draft and 20 players with top 10 talent. If they can move Chris Kreider, Vlad Namestnikov and/or Jimmy Vesey for draft picks and mid-level prospects, I think they’d be insane not to. I know this is a big if… but if the New York Rangers can land two top 15 picks in next years draft, you could say that this rebuild is almost complete. They stockpiled a bunch of elite young talent, couple that with some young veteran leadership, and a top young goaltender in Igor Shesterkin and the future would be very bright!