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NHL Draft: Rangers take gamble on Russian right winger Vitali Kravtsov

Vitali Kravtsov, of Russia, smiles after being selected

Vitali Kravtsov, of Russia, smiles after being selected by the Rangers with the ninth pick in the NHL Draft Friday night. Credit: AP / Michael Ainsworth

DALLAS — With the players they picked in the first round of the NHL Draft on Friday night, the Rangers made it pretty clear that in this rebuilding effort of theirs, they are playing the long game.

The three players they selected may have caught many observers by surprise, but the Blueshirts are confident that they have aided their long-term plan by stockpiling young talent in their organization.

The Rangers shook up the NHL Draft, first by stunning the crowd with their selection of under-the-radar winger Vitali Kravtsov with the No. 9 selection, then by pulling off the first trade of the night involving first-round picks. They acquired the 22nd pick from Ottawa and selected U.S. development defenseman K’Andre Miller. With their third pick, No. 28 overall, they took 17-year-old Swedish defenseman Nils Lundkvist.

With Kravtsov still under contract for one more year to his Traktor Chelyabinsk team in the KHL, and Miller committed to playing college hockey at Wisconsin next season, Rangers director of player personnel Gord Clark was asked if this group of first-rounders wasn’t as NHL-ready as last year’s first-rounders, Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, who both appeared for the big club late in the season.

“You just don’t know,’’ Clark said. “You go to training camp — and summer camp, first — you tell them what they’ve got to work on and they come back and it’s all up to them. Jeff [Gorton]’s no different than Glen [Sather]. If they come back and they show that it looks like they’re going to play, if they earn a spot, they earn it. It’s always been that way.

“But there’s no hurry. We’ll talk to them about the best place for them in the next year or two to be playing and maturing and growing.’’

With their first pick, the Rangers passed over many more heralded names to select 6-4, 184-pound right wing Kravtsov, 18, who was the third-ranked European skater available, according to the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau. His name hadn’t been mentioned often by draft prognosticators.

With Rasmus Dahlin having gone first to the Sabres and Andrei Svechnikov having been taken second by the Hurricanes, the big names started to come off the board.

Kravtsov had four goals and three assists in 35 games for Chelyabinsk but eclipsed those numbers in the KHL playoffs with six goals and five assists in 16 games, which brought him some notice.

“He’s a little bit like J.T. Miller, I would say,’’ Clark said. “He plays like a center in his game. We don’t think he’s a goal-scorer, but he scores goals. But he makes more plays. You can’t play an 18-year-old in the KHL in the center spot at all. He had been a center growing up, but that’s to see in the future. But we took him as a winger.’’

K’Andre Miller, a 6-3, 198-pound defenseman who was a forward until his sophomore year in high school, impressed the Rangers with his athleticism. The Rangers gave Ottawa the No. 26 and 48 overall picks to jump up to No. 22 to take him.

“For 9, obviously, I think you know me enough — it’s the best player available at that pick, and Vitali took care of that one,’’ Clark said. “Then after that, it was, I wanted to take a defenseman, there were a number on the board, and we had K’Andre higher, and he was still sitting there, and Jeff pulled the trigger to move down there and get him where we wanted to get him. We didn’t want to take any chances.’’

**Vitali Kravtsov, right wing, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL)

No. 9, 1st round. 6-4, 184. Born Dec. 23, 1999, Vladivostok, Russia

Stats: 35 games, 4 goal, 3 assists for Traktor Chelyabinsk

Scouting report: A skilled playmaker who left his home in Vladivostok at the tender age of 8 or 9 to pursue a hockey career. The KHL Rookie of the Year has drawn comparisons to Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov.

New York Sports