With only four picks in this year’s NHL Draft, the New York Rangers and general manager Glen Sather will have to choose prospects wisely this Friday in Pittsburgh, PA.
New York will pick 28th in the first round and 59th, 89th and 119th in the later rounds, with a plan to add depth to their youthful core and fill in some of their weak spots that emerged during their grueling playoff run.
Sather may opt to trade the first round pick along with prospects or roster players in exchange for a first-line winger who can fill in for Gaborik while he recovers from surgery and remain on the top-squad when he returns. There have been reports that Brandon Dubinsky is on the trading block, which could mean that an additional draft pick would be given up before Friday night. Whatever the scenario, Sather has a definite understanding of what the team’s needs are under John Tortorella’s system; the post-season made their roster weaknesses clear, which puts the general manager in a better position to continue building for the future.
The Rangers need to bolster their offense at the wing positions and acquire some size that can match their speed. Carl Hagelin sparked the Rangers first line alongside Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, but his ability to handle the puck and score does not yet come close to his first-rate speed.
Christian Thomas and Jasper Fast are two right-wingers already in the Rangers’ system who have promising speed, but New York should focus on players who show an even higher puck-handling potential.
Tanner Pearson, a 19-year old OHL prospect, tallied 91 points in 60 games at left wing for the Barrie Colts, with a plus-21 rating to boot. He also put up 6 points in 6 games for Team Canada at the U20 World Junior Championship. Pearson suffered a serious leg injury in March, but he recovered in time for the NHL Draft Combine where he bounced back and impressed. If he’s still available at pick No. 28, Sather should have an easy decision to make.
Andreas Athanasiou (ath-an-ah-see-ew), currently ranked as the 40th North American skater by NHL Central Scouting, is a 17-year old center/left winger who is close to Hagelin in speed and has a knack for stick-handling.
He does need to bulk up and add some physicality to his technique, but he has at least a couple of years until he’ll be considered ready for the NHL. Many have considered him a high-risk/high reward pick, but his style of play would mesh nicely with the young talent the Rangers already have in their system.
Another almost obvious consideration for the Rangers is left wing/center Stefan Matteau, the 18-year old son of the New York celebrity Stephane Matteau, who scored the infamous series clinching goal in double overtime against the New Jersey Devils in 1994. Stefan presents a bulkiness at 6’1″, 209 pounds, the Rangers could use, but in 46 games with the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP) he racked up an alarming 166 penalty minutes. He’s a tough, aggressive player, but he seems to lack a certain discipline needed under a Tortorella-led system.
It’s never too early to think about your next franchise goaltender, even if you’re the Rangers, who recently celebrated 30-year old Henrik Lundqvist’s Vezina trophy award as the NHL’s top goaltender. New York’s weakest component in the farm is goaltending. Lundqvist should be able to add another solid 10 years to his time between the pipes, but Sather would be wise to draft a young goalie as an understudy to Lundqvist, even if it means picking one in the first round.
There are two standout considerations for this position: Seventeen-year old Andrei Vasilevski and eighteen-year old Malcolm Subban. Vasilevski has been playing for Tolpar UFA in Russia’s junior league for the past two seasons. His numbers have consistently improved, earning him consideration as the top European goalie at the NHL Draft Combine. At the 2012 U20 World Junior Championship he was 4-1 with 2 shutouts and had a 2.01 goals against and .953 save percentage in five games.
Subban is the younger brother of P.K. Subban, defenseman for the Montreal Canadiens. He’s only been playing goalie for the last 6 years and is a bit smaller than the average at 6’1″, 188 pounds, but is agile and quickly gaining attention around the league.
The focus on the Rangers this off-season is obviously on not if they will acquire a top-dollar player, but when and who. Perhaps the organization’s picks in Pittsburgh will give an indication of which roster players will be re-signed, who will be traded and who will be forced to find work elsewhere. Because New York only has four picks this year, Sather may elect to unload for someone who will provide relief for the immediate needs of the Rangers’ first line.
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