For a Rangers team that essentially put an end to its rebuild with its longest playoff run in seven years, the 2022 draft seems like a bit of an afterthought.
With so many restricted and unrestricted free agents to take care of, holes in the lineup to fill and decisions to make regarding personnel, the Rangers’ offseason to-do list is not focused on stocking their already somewhat-full prospect cabinet. Alas, the Rangers have just four picks in this year’s draft, which is set for Thursday and Friday in Montreal.
“We still want to just keep moving forward,” president and general manager Chris Drury said during his end-of-the-season conference call with reporters when asked about the club’s priorities. “Keep finding good players at all the positions. We’re doing a deep dive now and looking back, it’s still pretty fresh. We’re going to try to do everything we can to be better and be back in the playoffs.”
Since the famous rebuild letter was sent out in February 2018, the Rangers have drafted 35 players, 17 in the first three rounds. They’ve had seven first-round picks: Vitali Kravtsov, K’Andre Miller, Nils Lundkvist, Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere, Braden Schneider and Brennan Othmann. Four of those players are already considered lineup regulars.
The Rangers lost their 2022 first-round pick due to the conditions of the trade for Andrew Copp, whom Drury acquired from the Jets at this year’s trade-deadline in exchange for three draft picks and prospect Morgan Barron. It was a relatively hefty price for a rental, but worth it considering Copp’s impact on the team’s playoff run. Winnipeg also sent a 2023 sixth-round pick to the Rangers in the deal.
The three draft picks were two conditional second-rounders and a 2023 fifth-round selection. The 2022 second-round pick the Rangers sent to Winnipeg became a first (No. 30) since they reached the conference final and Copp played in at least half of their playoff games.
For the other conditional second-round pick, the Jets had the option of taking the Blues’ original 2022 pick or the Rangers’ in 2023. Winnipeg ultimately decided on this year’s second-rounder (No. 55), which the Rangers acquired from St. Louis as part of the Pavel Buchnevich trade that also brought in the since re-signed Sammy Blais.
The Rangers’ highest pick this year is in the second round at No. 63, so the organization won’t participate until Day 2 of the draft unless a trade occurs. Trading for a first-rounder doesn’t seem likely, considering the club has transitioned into a win-now mode.
No. 63 is the only pick the Rangers have through the first three rounds. They’ll also draft in the fourth round at No. 111, which was originally the Jets’ pick but made its way to New York via the Golden Knights as part of the Brett Howden trade. The Rangers also have pick No. 159 in the fifth round and No. 191 in the sixth.
The Rangers have had at least eight and as many as 10 picks in each of the past four entry drafts. The fact that they have just four this year indicates their priorities have shifted to the here and now rather than the developing of young talent. It’s possible Drury could use their four selections as deal sweeteners for assets who could help the Rangers make another playoff run.
Drury was announced as a finalist for the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year award, along with the Lightning’s Julien Brisebois and the Avalanche’s Joe Sakic, at the NHL awards ceremony on June 21. The first-year Rangers boss will find out whether he won on the first day of the draft.