In a way, the Rangers annual entry draft won’t really begin this weekend in Minneapolis. It started June 1, when two second-round picks and Roman Horak were shipped to Calgary for Swedish defenseman Tim Erixon, a 2009 first-rounder.
“We’ve been pretty successful with our seconds,” said Gordie Clark, the Rangers director of player personnel, referring to Christian Thomas (2010) and Derek Stepan (2009). “You don’t like to give up the picks. But Erixon is ready---he’ll be a top four defenseman, and we didn’t think it (the draft) was deep enough.”
Indeed, the consensus among scouts and club executives is that there are few difference-makers to be had. “Everybody’s going to have those first eight or nine guys, in whatever order (on their list), and you’ll end up with six or seven impact players,” Clark said. “The next group, seven or eight, will be very good. Top-line players or No. 1 or No. 2 defensemen? No.”
Should the Rangers stay put, their first slot (No. 15) is on the end of that second tier. With Erixon’s acquisition, the Rangers are believed to be focusing on a center or right wing. “The ability to compete is going to be important,” Clark said. “We don’t think there’s going to be an unbelievable high-end guy.”
After the first round, the Rangers have three picks, in the fourth (106) and fifth (136, 138.), the fewest for the team since the draft was trimmed to seven rounds in 2005. “It doesn’t change the strategy,” Clark said. “You still have a list who you like.”
But there was a distinct flavor to the last two Rangers drafts. Seven of the last 13 picks played in the OHL and five of the six 2010 picks, including defenseman Dylan McIlrath (No. 10), were North Americans. At No. 19 in 2009, Clark & Co. . selected Boxford, Mass. native Chris Kreider, a left wing who will play his third season at Boston College.
“We thought so much of Kreider, it didn’t matter if he was Russian or Swede,” said Clark, who noted that the talent pool has changed in the last few years. “The Swedes do a great job in their youth system and all their under-18 programs,” he said. “The Czech and Slovak cycle has dried up. And for the Russians, there’s the KHL option.”
After the top 10, forwards such as Mika Zibanejad, Joel Armia, Mark McNeill, Sven Bartschi---also likely won’t be available. If they are, the Rangers could pounce.
Candidates at 15, scouts say, are rugged RW Tyler Biggs, the captain of the U.S. Under-18 team; C Mark Scheifele, who led Canadien forwards in scoring at the U-18s; Matt Puempel, former OHL rookie of the year; centers Boone Jenner and Zack Phillips and Danish RW Niklas Jensen.
The Rangers also could try to deal for a center (Ottawa’s Jason Spezza or Colorado’s Paul Stastny) if they believe they will be outbid by Los Angeles for No. 1 UFA target Brad Richards, people familiar with the issue said.
Six forwards who should be on the board at No. 15
TYLER BIGGS. If the Rangers want a tough, passionate, north-south style power forward, Biggs (6-3, 210) is the guy. The Binghamton-born right wing was captain of the gold-medal Under-18 National team and will attend Miami of Ohio.
BOONE JENNER. Ontario native who played with Blueshirt draftee Christian Thomas and Niklas Jensen in Oshawa (OHL) was 25-41-66 in 63 games. Scouts say the 6-1 center is well-rounded, has tremendous work ethic.
NICKLAS JENSEN. The right wing, considered the top prospect from Denmark, has size (6-3) and NHL-caliber skills. Powerful skater was 29-29-58 in Oshawa.
ZACH PHILLIPS. The top center for the Memorial Cup-winning St. John Sea Dogs was 38-57-95 in 67 games while playing with probable top 5 pick Jonathan Huberdeau. New Brunswick native is crafty, has nose for net, but not the most dynamic skater.
MATT PUEMPEL. Sniper who had been the 2010 OHL rookie of the year had hip surgery to remove a bone chip that ended the left wing’s season in Peterborough. That said, he was 35-34-69 in 55 games, and health doesn’t appear to be a long-term concern.
MARK SCHEIFELE. The skilled 6-3 center led Canadian forwards in scoring at the World Under-18s and was 22-53-75 in 66 games with Barrie (OHL). Lanky, but with a big upside.