For the Rangers, the Name of the Game is Defense

By Matthew Blittner
Special Contributor to MSGNetworks.com

After making three selections in the first-round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft on Friday night, the Rangers went into Day Two of the draft aiming to stockpile depth; primarily in the form of young defensemen.

So here’s their round-by-round breakdown.

[Complete Rangers Draft Coverage]

SECOND ROUND

The Blueshirts used their second-round slot — 39th overall — to draft 17-year-old Swedish goaltender, Olof Lindbom.

At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds. Lindbom is decently sized for a netminder.

And while Lindbom didn’t have an overly impressive regular season with Djurgarden — an under-20 Swedish team — he saved himself with a terrific showing at the World Under-18s.

In six games at the World Under-18s, Lindbom led Sweden to a Bronze medal finish over the Czech Republic; earning Top Goalie and Tournament All-Star honors.

His 1.66 goals-against-average and .949 save percentage during the tournament opened the eyes of the many scouts that came to watch him play.

From a strictly technical standpoint, Lindbom has been compared to Boston’s Tuukka Rask.

As one scout told The Hockey News, “He’s a pretty good talent.”

And another scout added, “He’s calm in net and seems to rise to the occasion. He plays well in big games.”

For the Rangers, this marks the first time they’ve taken a goalie this high in the draft since selecting Brandon Halverson near the end of the second-round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

Lindbom’s primary value will be adding to the Blueshirts’ impressive goaltending depth. And he will have his work cut out for him as names such as Henrik Lundqvist, Alexandar Georgiev, Igor Shestyorkin, Halverson and Adam Huska are all ahead of him on the depth chart.

THIRD ROUND

With the first of their two third-round picks, the Blueshirts dipped into the deep pool of Swedish prospects for the third straight selection, drafting defenseman Jacob Ragnarsson.

Ragnarsson measures in at 6-0, 176 pounds and is 18-years-old.

Across three teams — Almtuna Jr., Swedish Under-20 and Almtuna — Jacob totaled 13 points (4 goals, 9 assists) in 51 games.

In keeping with family tradition, Jacob’s Father, Marcus, was drafted 99th overall by the Sharks in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft.

Marcus went on to play in 632 NHL games with the Sharks and Flyers; manning the blue line as solid, slightly nondescript defender.

For Jacob, most scouts have him pegged as marginally better than his father and it shows in his draft position; beating his dad by 29 spots.

Per the Rangers’ official Twitter account, “Ragnarsson led all defensemen younger than 19, in Allsvenskan, in goals, assists and points last season. And while he was born in Mountain View, California, he was raised in Sweden.”

Eighteen picks later, the Blueshirts selected 18-year-old, American-defenseman, Joey Keane.

Keane is no stranger to the draft process as he was passed over last year. However, he used that snub as motivation to get better.

According to Pronman, “Keane was one of the most improved players in the OHL last season.”

MISSISSAUGA, ON – DECEMBER 8: Joey Keane #4 of the Barrie Colts skates in warmup prior to a game against the Mississauga Steelheads on December 8, 2017, at Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images)

At 6-feet-tall, 185 lbs., Keane fits the mold of the “modern day” NHL defenseman; small and fast.

The Hockey News has Keane pegged as a “good skater and a true athlete.”

With the Barrie Colts in the OHL last season, Joey tallied 44-points (G-12, A-32) in 62 games; a significant improvement over his 2016-17 campaign.

Overall, Keane has the tools to be a steady second-pairing defenseman in the NHL; possibly in the next two years.

FOURTH ROUND

With the 101st overall pick (fourth-round), the Blueshirts continued to stockpile defensemen for their organization; selecting Switzerland defenseman, Nico Gross.

Gross spent last season with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL; earning OHL Second All-Rookie honors.

The 18-year-old, 6-foot-1, 185-pound defender plays a solid two-way game and registered 14points (4 goals, 10 assists) in 58 games.

But what he lacks in offensive upside, Gross more than makes up for with heart.

The last time he represented his country in International Play — 2018 Under-18 World Championship — Gross was named the captain of Team Switzerland.

According to NHL.com’s draft database, Nico models his game after Predators’ defenseman, Roman Josi.

If Gross can be even half the player Josi is, the Rangers will be supremely happy with their pick.

As Karl Stewart of NHLCSB told the NHL Network draft panel, “Gross is a hybrid old school/new school guy that has the ability to escape pressure.”

FIFTH ROUND

For the first time since the first-round, the Blueshirts used their fifth-round (132nd overall) pick to select a forward; Finnish right-winger, Lauri Pajuniemi.

The 18-year-old, 6-0, 183-pound winger, spent last season with two teams — TPS Under-20 and TPS — registering 17-points in a combined 46 games.

Most impressive is the fact he played 32 games with TPS in Liiga; faring well for a teenager.

DALLAS, TX – JUNE 23: Lauri Pajuniemi poses for a portrait after being selected 132nd overall by the New York Rangers during the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 23, 2018, in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

And he showed what he can truly do in the playoffs; tallying four points (3 goals, 1 assist) in nine games.

If you look at his Junior career, you’ll see that Pajuniemi has typically been a point-per-game — or better — player against similar age competition. It’s that success that drove him to play in higher leagues — above his age range — and allowed him to build a draft-worthy resume.

Lucky for Pajuniemi, the Rangers’ organization has two of his former TPS teammates; Georgiev and Patrik Virta. Therefore, his transition to the American game should be easier than it normally is.

After the draft, Pajuniemi met with the media and said, “I work hard when I play and I have good skills to score and create space for everybody.”

SIXTH ROUND

The Blueshirts used their sixth-round pick — 163rd overall — to select Swedish defenseman, Simon Kjellberg.

The 18-year-old D-Man was born in Nashville, Tennessee, but raised in Sweden.

At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Kjellberg has a strong — yet slim — frame; well suited for a modern NHL defenseman.

He spent the 2017-18 season splitting time with two teams — Rogle Under-18 of the Swedish Jr. Under-18 league and Rogle Jr. of the Swedish Jr. league.

Across the two teams, Kjellberg played a combined 48 games and put up nine points (G-4, A-5).

In years past, Kjellberg showed slightly more offensive potential than he did last season, so there’s some hope he’ll continue to develop that part of his game.

Overall, Kjellberg is exactly what you expect a sixth-round pick to be; organizational depth.

SEVENTH ROUND

In a surprising move, the Blueshirts traded into the seventh round of the draft; acquiring the 216th overall (second-to-last) pick.

With their pick, the Rangers drafted high-school right-winger, Riley Hughes.

Hughes is a native of Westwood Massachusetts and played for Sioux City in the United States Hockey League.

Prior to joining Sioux City, Hughes played for St. Sebastian’s School and tallied 36-points (G-21, A-15) in 30 games; showing the ability to not only create plays, but to finish chances as well.

The 6-foot-1, 174-pound winger was overlooked by many analysts, but Pronman felt strongly enough about Hughes to declare, “He was one of my favorite sleepers.”

CONCLUSION

The Rangers placed a high priority on defense this year; drafting six defensemen with their 10 picks. (The other four were three forwards and one goalie).

As the Blueshirts continue down their path towards a full-on rebuild, it’s important to note that you can never have too many prospects; especially on the blue line.

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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.