In a wide open draft year, the only common consensus among those in the know, is Buffalo selecting defenseman Rasmus Dahlin with the No. 1 overall pick on June 22 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Once you get to Carolina in the two spot, it’s anyone’s guess as to who gets their name called; and when.
As any hockey fan — or executive — knows, the draft is a crapshoot. So we’re conditioned to expect the unexpected.
For the New York Rangers, this year’s NHL Entry Draft is a conundrum.
The Boys in Blue have three first-round picks — 9, 26 (from Boston) and 28 (from Tampa) — but, per recent remarks from GM Jeff Gorton, they’re not expected to keep all three.
First and foremost, the Blueshirts need to solidify their defense. But they also need a dynamic goal-scorer; something they’ve lacked since Jaromir Jagr last donned a Rangers’ sweater.
Thankfully, with Henrik Lundqvist still manning the pipes and prospects such as Alexandar Georgiev, Igor Shestyorkin, Adam Huska and Brandon Halverson fighting their way through the pipeline, the Blueshirts appear set in net for years to come.
With a new head coach, David Quinn in place, it’s a safe assumption the team’s high-command will lean on his collegiate knowledge when considering the draft strategy.
Bill Pidto and Steve Valiquette go over new Rangers head coach David Quinn's resume and discuss why the 51-year-old will prove to be a success on Broadway.
And there’s no better fit for the Blueshirts, than Brady Tkachuk — a left-winger from Boston University who spent his collegiate career playing for Quinn.
There’s just one problem, Tkachuk is so highly thought of by NHL executives that it’s unlikely he falls to the No. 9 spot.
However, the Rangers could pull one of the oh-so-common draft day surprises and move up in an attempt to get their man.
Realistically, the highest the Blueshirts could trade up would be to the fifth spot; currently occupied by Arizona.
After all, there’s a history there. Just look at the 2017 NHL Draft, when New York flipped Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to the Coyotes for Tony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick (used to take Lias Andersson).
Unfortunately, even that may not be enough, as several hockey prognosticators have Tkachuk going to either Montreal (third) or Ottawa (fourth).
So, besides, Tkachuk, who are the most viable options for the Blueshirts?
If the Rangers choose to put defense first, there are two names getting a lot of attention as potential matches: Evan Bouchard (London Knights) and Noah Dobson (Acadie-Bathurst).
Measuring in at 6-foot-2, 192 lbs. The 18-year-old Oakville, Ontario native is known for having a high hockey IQ. His smooth skating and ability to join the rush without getting hemmed in the offensive zone make him a compelling two-way defenseman.
His right-handed shot can use some work in terms of accuracy and strength but he more than makes up for it with his deft passing skills.
In each of his three seasons with the OHL’s London Knights, Bouchard led the league in points by a defenseman. His totals of 17, 44 and 87 showed his immense growth. And the scary part is, he’s still developing.
On defense, Bouchard showcases a knack for closing off passing lanes and always having superb positioning. His athletic build will serve him well as he progresses through the minors and he should reach the NHL relatively quick.
This 6-foot-3, 179 lbs. d-man is less of a polished prospect than Bouchard, but he’s no less gifted. The 18-year-old Summerside, Prince Edward Island native, spent the last two years playing for the Acadie-Bathurst Titans of the QMJHL and drew rave reviews from multiple scouts.
With 69 points in 67 games, Dobson was no slouch on offense. And he registered an impressive 13 points in 20 playoff games; playing a critical role in helping to secure the CHL Memorial Cup Championship and QMJHL Championship this past season.
Although his points totals are impressive, he’s stronger on defense than he is on offense.
Dobson’s positioning is top-rate and allows him to seal off opponents before they can do any damage.
Overall, Dobson is more of a project than Bouchard, but the Blueshirts would still be thrilled to call his name come draft night.
Now, if the Rangers choose to go the offensive route, they have another two solid choices: Oliver Wahlstrom (US National Development Team) and Serron Noel (Oshawa Generals).
Both Wahlstrom and Noel play right-wing and weigh in at 205 lbs. But that’s where the comparisons end. Noel measures in at 6-foot-5 and is a prototypical power forward. By comparison, Wahlstrom is a slight 6-foot-1 and more of a speedy sniper.
What do you get when you mix a cannon and the energizer bunny? Answer: you get the 17-year-old Yarmouth, Maine native, Oliver Wahlstrom.
With 94 points in 62 games this past season for the US National Development Team, Wahlstrom earned high marks from everybody who watched him play. His wizardry stickhandling the puck and willingness to go to the “dirty areas” make him near impossible for opponents to contain.
His instinct is something that can’t be taught and will be key to his swift ascent to the NHL. Granted he’s going to have a stopover at Boston College, so he may develop a bit of a friendly rivalry with David Quinn before long.
This 17-year-old Guelph, Ontario native is shaped in the mold of Milan Lucic and Patrick Maroon: a big bodied, power-skating forward who’s willing to go to the front of the net to score goals.
With 53 points in 62 games for the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, Noel isn’t as dynamic a player as Wahlstrom. But sometimes, it’s better to be steady instead of dynamic. With the NHL populated by numerous top-flight netminders, it’s important to have big-bodied players willing to put their bodies on the line in order to get pucks into the opponent’s nets.
For the sake of familiarity — and getting the best available player — the Blueshirts should trade up to acquire Tkachuk.
There’s a limit to how much the Rangers should be willing to give up though.
In the event there’s no trade to be had, their best bet is to select Bouchard.
While none of these prospective draft picks are “NHL-ready,” Bouchard has the most potential to make his way through the Rangers’ system quickly. And, if everything goes smoothly, Bouchard could make his NHL debut sometime during the 2019-2020 season.