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New York Rangers Secure the #1 Pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. What Should They Do?

Aug. 11, 2020 - Michael Stewart

New York Rangers Secure the #1 Pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. What Should They Do?

Introduction: The New York Rangers for the second consecutive year will be selecting in the top two in the 2020 NHL draft and this time around it will be the 1st overall pick. The last time the Rangers had the 1st overall pick was in 1965 when they selected Andre Veilleux. Fast forward to 2020 and the Rangers are now on the clock; which is tentatively scheduled for October 9th and the 10th in Montreal. The consensus pick in most of the NHL mock drafts is forward Alexis Lafreniere who is poetry in motion on the ice as he recorded 35 goals/77 assists for 112 points in 52 games. Following Lafreniere in most mock drafts is center Quinton Byfield who finished the season with 32 goals/50 assists for 82 points in 45 games. The rumor mill has already begun for the Rangers as to what they should or will do with the pick, keep it or trade back for more picks? Let’s dive in with a breakdown of the two top prospects, possible trading partners and also trading chips the Rangers could explore on draft night.

The Prospects

  • Alexis Lafreniere (LW): Lafreniere is an offensive weapon as he can score in a variety of ways. Lafreniere has excellent vision on the ice and distributes the puck well to the open man. His creativity and elite intelligence only enhances his value and he is also solid away from the puck and plays all three zones well. Lafreniere is graceful on his skates, but he can also play physical (6’1/193) when needed and he won’t be pushed around at the next level. Listed as a Left Wing, in my opinion I believe Lafreniere can transition to the center position without a hitch; which will evaluate his game even more.
  • Quinton Byfield (C): Byfield has good size (6’4/215) and there’s room to add more size to his frame. Byfield might not be a pure scorer like Lafreniere, but he has other elements to his game that can’t be ignored. The first thing you notice is his smooth skating ability for his size and his ability to find the open man. Byfield is more physical than Lafreniere and doesn’t hesitate to use his body anywhere on the ice. Many scouts believe that Lafreniere is more NHL ready than Byfield, but believe Byfield is nowhere near his potential and has the biggest upside and could develop into a beast.  

Trading Partners

  • Los Angeles Kings: The Kings have the 2nd overall pick and it’s unclear who they would want with their selections and that is vital for the Rangers if they decide to entertain trading their pick. If the Rangers like Byfield a little more than Lafreniere and find the Kings favor Lafreniere more; then this could be a match made in heaven. The Kings have a total of 11 picks in the draft to the Rangers 10. If the Kings desire Lafreniere, would they be willing to part with their 2nd overall pick and perhaps their 2nd round pick (#32) as well? The Rangers don’t have a 2nd round pick in the draft as it was part of the trade for Adam Fox from Carolina.
  • Ottawa Senators: The Senators will have the 3rd and 5th overall picks in the draft and again it’s uncertain if they are determined to move up to select either Lafreniere or Byfield. This scenario would be much more risky for the Rangers as picking 3rd overall could push them right out of the running for either prospect. I believe this option would not be one the Rangers would like to entertain, but it’s worth mentioning.

Trading Chips

  • Ryan Strome (C): Strome had his best season of his career in 2019 (18 goals/41 assists/59 points) and many contribute the addition of Artemi Panarin inserted as Strome’s left winger. There was definitely chemistry between Strome and Panarin on the ice. The results had Strome finishing 3rd in scoring and cementing his place as the 2nd line center. However; Strome is a RFA and is expected to get a reasonable rise in 2021; which is why I believe he becomes a trading chip. The Rangers must be mindful that players like Mika Zibanejad will be looking for a big deal and by the way he played in 2019 (41 goals/34 assists/75 points in just 57 games), it appears it would be in the Rangers best interest to be prepared. So what would Strome bring back in terms of value? Keep in mind that Defensemen Brady Skjei brought back a 1st round from Carolina and Strome having his best season, along with being a 2nd line center could warrant a similar return.
  • Tony D’Angelo (D): De’Angelo led all Ranger Defensemen in scoring in 2019 (15 goals/38 assists/53 points in 68 games and is looking at a much bigger rise than Strome in 2021. Do the Rangers favor De’Angelo enough to sign him to a multi-year deal somewhere in the range of $4.5M-$5.2M per year? Keep in mind that the Rangers signed Jacob Trouba is an 8-year deal at about $8M per year and Adam Fox will be looking for a big pay day once he is eligible. The Rangers do have depth at the Defensemen position and if an offer is too good to pass by, then perhaps the Rangers would consider it. Again, if Brady Skjei was worth a 1st rounder, then De’Angelo would certainly be worthy as well.
  • Henrik Lundqvist (G): Lundqvist is arguably the greatest goalie in New York Rangers history and will always be regarded “The King”. However; nothing last forever and I just can’t see the Rangers going with a three-goalie system in 2021. All indication is that the Rangers really like the tandem of Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev and will more than likely sit down with Lundqvist and give him a few options. The first option will be for Lundqvist to pick a handful of teams that he would want to play for; which will allow him to waive his no trade clause. In all likelihood the teams Lundqvist selects will all be solid Stanley Cup contenders. The Second option will be a buyout; which would benefit the Rangers more than trading him. It’s unclear if a Stanley Cup contender would have interest in Lundqvist despite the Rangers would need to eat at least 50% of his contract. So the likely scenario will be that the Rangers will buyout the last year of Lundqvist contract ($8.5M); which will add $3M to their cap space, add $5.5M to the dead money pool in 2021 and another $1.5M the following year. The last option would be for him to retirement from the NHL and return to Sweden and continue to play for the team he began his career with.

Final Thoughts: This draft reminds me of the 2004 draft when the top two picks were LW Alexander Ovechkin and Center Evgeni Malkin. The Washington Capitals are happy selecting Ovechkin, but not many would have blamed them if they had selected Malkin as both players have had Hall of Fame careers. The same could be the case for Lafreniere and Byfield as they are entering the NHL. I believe both will live up to their hype and become stars for their respective teams and the NHL. The million dollar question is: What will the Rangers on draft night? I’m sure now until their first selection on draft night, President John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton are going to have many sleepless nights.