NHL Draft Preview: Are There Plums for Rangers?

Is there a Brian Leetch out there who’s draft-able for the Rangers in Dallas?

Wishful thinking, of course, but the answer actually could be in the affirmative because the Vegas Golden Knights have taught us that nothing is impossible in the NHL anymore.

History has proven it’s possible to find a Draft diamond buried way, way down among the sheltering palms; one who could turn a franchise into a winner.

[Read: 5 Best Rangers Longshot Draft Picks]

After all, Henrik Lundqvist is Exhibit A when it comes to long-shot draft picks turning into future Hall of Famers.

Back in June 2000, Lundqvist might have been Joe Nobody — findable only with an electron microscope — in the 205th position when Glen Sather opted for the Sweet Swede.

Almost overnight, Henrik metamorphosed from mystery man to major league marvel; good enough to bump Kevin Weekes out of the crease and into a backup role.

Slated to pick in the ninth slot on June 22, the Blueshirts will return for “doubles,” and “triples” since they also own the 26th (courtesy of the Rick Nash deal with Boston), and 28th via moving Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to Tampa Bay.

“It’s an exciting time for us to add pieces and we will have an exciting team and this is just the beginning,” noted general manager Jeff Gorton despite the team losing a spot after the lottery.

“We’ll have a target group of five players we’ll look at real close and then we will see what happens and see if any teams have interest in letting us move up.”

With the Lundqvist happy harvest in mind, Gorton potentially could extract a winner from the lower numbers — (39,48,70,88,101,132,163)

THE FOLLOWING IS THE MAVEN’S EDUCATED GUESS AS HOW THE BLUESHIRTS WILL SELECT:

1. WITH NINTH PICK: (3 possible choices:)

OLIVER WAHLSTROM: Right Wing, USA National Development Program. Big, heavy player who can score goals. He had a solid year, scoring 22 goals and tallying 23 assists in 60 games with the US-NDTP. He’s slated to be a freshman at Boston College in the upcoming season. The Rangers need a pure scorer and this 6’1″, 205-pounder can be that guy.

EVAN BOUCHARD: Defense, London Knights, OHL. Speaking of the next Leetch, this could be the guy. He’s one of the top offensive defensemen in the Canadian Hockey league and magician-like when quarterbacking the power play. With 25 goals and 87 points in 67 OHL contests, Bouchard could be the defenseman to replace McDonagh or even compliment Brady Skjei or — for that matter — Libor Hajek, the prospect obtained from the Lightning.

GUELPH, ON – JANUARY 25: Evan Bouchard #2 of Team Cherry fires a pass against Team Orr in the 2018 Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects game at the Sleeman Centre on January 25, 2018, in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Team Cherry defeated Team Orr 7-4. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

SERRON NOEL: Right Wing, Oshawa Generals, OHL. At 6’5″, 209 lbs, Noel already has the body to be a power forward at the next level. Had 28 goals and 53 points in 62 games at the OHL level this season, and six points in five games at the U18 World Championships with Canada. One scout compared Noel to Blake Wheeler. Which is not bad at all.

WHAT OTHER EXPERTS HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THE RANGERS PICKS

THE HOCKEY NEWS

NOAH DOBSON: Defense — Starred for Acadie-Bathurst, also was selected in the ninth spot by international scouting services. One scout puts it this way: “Noah keeps climbing every time I see him. He’s not even close to his ceiling yet.” Another scout adds, “I love him. His puck retrieval is good and he skates well. He’ll even be better when he adds some pounds.”

THE ATHLETIC

JESPERI KOTKANIEMI: Center — Played for Assat-Liiga. The Athletic‘s NHL Prospects writer Corey Pronman states: “While the Rangers picked two centers in the first round last summer in (Lias) Andersson and (Filip) Chytil, Kotkaniemi shoots right to the top of their depth chart in terms of talent, as well they can all play wing if needed. Kotkaniemi would be the highest upside pick the Rangers have had since the late Alexei Cherepanov.”

MOST RECENT PAST PROSPECTS

LIAS ANDERSSON: Center — Drafted 7th overall in 2017. Andersson bounced around from Frolunda in the Swedish Elite League (22 GP, 7 G, 7 A) to the Hartford Wolf Pack in the AHL (25 GP, 5 G, 9 A), and finally got to play some games with the Rangers in April (7 GP, 1 G, 1 A). After getting his first taste of the NHL, Andersson could make the team out of training camp this season, and contribute to the Blueshirts down the middle.

FILIP CHYTIL: Center — Drafted 21st overall in 2017. Chytil played most of the season with the Wolf Pack and showed that he could produce at the professional level. With 11 goals and 20 assists in 46 games, Chytil impressed the Blueshirts’ brass with his potential for stardom and showed he had moved past his disappointing two-NHL audition at the start of the season. He was recalled, along with Andersson, near the end of the season, and produced one goal and two assists in nine contests. The Rangers also expect Chytil to make the team as a full-time contributor.

BRETT HOWDEN: Center — Drafted 27th overall in 2016 by Tampa Bay. Traded to the Rangers in the McDonagh-Miller deal in February of 2018. Howden had an outstanding year of junior hockey with Moose Jaw in the WHL, registering 24 goals and 51 assists in 49 regular season games (14 GP, 7 G, 8 A in the playoffs). As a 6’2” center, the Oakbank, Manitoba native has the size along with the scoring ability to be an asset to the Rangers in the near future.

[Read: Rangers Prospects Q&A: How Blueshirts Re-Stocked the System]

BEST THREE RANGERS OF THE LAST DECADE

CHRIS KREIDER: Left Wing — Drafted 19th overall in 2009. Kreider made his NHL debut during the Rangers’ 2011-12 playoff run, registering seven points (G-5, A-2) in 18 games as the Blueshirts made an unexpected trip to the Eastern Conference Final. Since then, Chris has compiled three 20-plus goal campaigns and likely would have done it a fourth time if he hadn’t missed two months with a blood clot this past season.

J.T. MILLER: Center — Drafted 15th overall in 2011. The hype around Miller was that he was poised beyond his year with the puck. And while he has since been traded to the Lightning, his impact was certainly positive in New York. With three consecutive 20-goal campaigns — each with increasing points totals — as well as three straight years playing all 82 games, Miller is continuing to grow into his All-Star caliber talent.

BRADY SKJEI: Defense — Drafted 28th overall in 2012. A defenseman in the mold of McDonagh — or even Leetch — Skjei has enough offensive talent to beaming the league-leader at his position for years to come. A 39-point rookie campaign (2016-17) was just the tip of the iceberg in regards to Skjei’s potential. And with the 2017-18 Blueshirts looking for a true top-pair defenseman to partner with Kevin Shattenkirk, Skjei should quickly establish himself as the leading man on the Rangers’ blue line.

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