Rangers Opt for Upside With First-Round Picks

By Matthew Blittner
Special Contributor to MSGNetworks.com

The Rangers just dove head first into the deep end of the prospect pool.

Looking to make a splash Friday night, the Blueshirts selected Russian right-winger Vitali Kravtsov with the ninth overall draft pick in the first round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.

Kravtsov is a 6-foot-2 and 183 pounds, At 18-years-old, he has the tools to make an immediate impact on the Rangers’ 2018-19 roster.

[Complete Rangers Draft Coverage]

The forward can buyout out the last remaining year of his KHL contract — which he’d likely do if he makes the team out of Training Camp — otherwise, he has to go back to the KHL for the year.

Kravtsov’s best trait is his grit and willingness to play a tough, physical game.

The Game’s Bible, The Hockey News, had Kravtsov ranked as its 24th-best prospect in this year’s draft class.

With Chelyabinsk in the KHL this past season, Kravtsov, showed he’s deserving of being drafted in the first-round. And thanks to NHL’s draft analysis panel, we have an idea of what current NHL player he’s most comparable to; and that’s James Neal.

Overall, that’s quite a nice comparison for a newly drafted player.

DALLAS, TX – JUNE 22: Vitali Kravtsov poses for a portrait after being selected ninth overall by the New York Rangers during the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 22, 2018, in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Per one scout, who spoke to The Hockey News, Kravtsov, “you had to make an effort to go and see him. But when you did, it was worth the effort.”

As many have stated, this year’s draft — beyond Rasmus Dahlin and Andrei Svechnikov — was wide open and any one of the potential Top-10 prospects could be taken at any time.

For the Rangers, their selection of Kravtsov was as much about the present as it is the future.

Following the Blueshirts’ Trade Deadline moves last season, the team made it a priority to accumulate as much young talent as possible.

Not only does their pick of Kravtsov make the team younger, it also allows them to balance their desire of winning this year with the goal of building a long-term Stanley Cup contender.

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING ON KRAVTSOV

MIKE MORREALE (NHL.COM): “The KHL Rookie of the Year, Kravtsov is a strong skater with balance and speed, and can create offense around the net.”

ADAM KIMELMAN (NHL.COM): “He’s a determined goal-scorer who can carry the puck and create from in close, or use a good, hard shot to score from distance.”

CRAIG BUTTON (TSN): “A classic Russian scoring-winger, with skating ability to break free and hands to finish.”

NICK BOBROV (RANGERS’ DIRECTOR OF EUROPEAN SCOUTING): “Very exciting player. Very smart player. Very skilled player with great size and a lot of speed.”

TRADE ALERT: RANGERS TRADE THE 26TH AND 48TH PICKS TO OTTAWA FOR THEIR 22ND OVERALL

With the 22nd overall pick, the Rangers selected K’Andre Miller, an 18-year-old defenseman from Hopkins, Minnesota.

Miller measures in at 6-4, 205 lbs and shoots lefty.

Playing for the US National Development team, K’Andre totaled 29 points (9 goals, 20 assists) in 58 games this past season.

Those are some nice numbers, especially when you consider he converted from forward to defenseman only two years ago.

Per the NHL’s draft analysis panel, “He has elite NHL skating ability and has tremendous gripping power.”

As one scout told The Hockey News,“He has a beautiful, powerful stride and he’s becoming a real stout defender. At the very least, he’ll be a minutes-eater because he’s such a great athlete.”

Miller will get the chance to grow into his role as an offensive-defenseman under the tutelage of Wisconsin’s coach, Tony Granato.

As for current NHLer comparisons, The Game’s Bible says he matches up well with Seth Jones.

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING ON MILLER

COREY PRONMAN (THE ATHLETIC): “He’s a great skater. He’s physical, works his butt off and impacts the transition game. And he has a great personality too.”

RYAN KENNEDY (THE HOCKEY NEWS): “I love the Rangers trading up to nab K’Andre Miller. He has tons of upside and athleticism.”

NICK BOBROV (RANGERS’ DIRECTOR OF EUROPEAN SCOUTING): “He’s just got so much raw talent”

RANGERS SELECT NILS LUNDKVIST WITH 28TH PICK OVERALL

Finally, with the 28th overall pick, the Rangers selected 17-year-old Swedish defenseman, Nils Lundkvist.

At 5-foot-11 and 174 pounds, Lundkvist isn’t the biggest of players, but his skills make him seem bigger than he is.

The NHL’s draft analysis panel compared him to Devils defenseman, Sami Vatanen. And like Vatanen, Lundkvist is a solid defender with a very high Hockey IQ.

As one scout told The Hockey News, “He seldom makes a mistake with the puck. He can skate and pass the puck, but he’s more safe and efficient than he is dynamic. He’s surprisingly good defensively considering he still has room to grow physically.”

Or as another scout said, “You never had to worry about him in any part of the ice. Before he gets the puck he knows where to go.”

While playing for Lulea of the Swedish Hockey League, Lundkvist also drew comparisons to fellow 2018 first-round draft pick, Adam Boqvist. In other words, the Rangers got a lot of value with this pick.

And per the Rangers official Twitter account: “Lundkvist was third among SHL players younger than 18 in goals and points. He tied for third in assists and was one of just 10 defensemen younger than 18 to play at least one SHL game.”

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING ABOUT LUNDKVIST:

LESLIE TREFF (NY SPORTSDAY): “The Rangers did not think that they could get him and they did. This is an outstanding pick. He has excellent offensive skill and a good level of physicality. Lundkvist can skate too.”

COREY PRONMAN (THE ATHLETIC): “I have questions about his offensive upside, but he has a very mature two-way game and a lot of hockey IQ. He could move up the ranks quickly if his progression this season was any indicator.”

Overall, the Rangers had an eventful first-round, just not in the way that many expected.

At the end of the day, the Blueshirts added a good deal of young talent to their pipeline. And even though we’re not likely to see any of their picks in the NHL this season, the future looks bright for the Rangers.

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.