Whoever the Rangers end up taking with the No. 2 pick overall in this month’s NHL Draft, whether it is Kaapo Kakko or Jack Hughes, that player will give the Blueshirts’ talent level a turbo boost.
But could that pick end up proving to be the turning point in the Rangers’ rebuild? Could adding Kakko or Hughes propel the Rangers out of the rebuild and into playoff contention as early as next season?
“I don’t put a timetable on it,’’ Rangers assistant general manager Chris Drury said when asked that question. “It was extremely exciting to move up and get this pick. We’re getting a very high-quality player, and we’re just kind of taking it one step at a time, and keep trying to get as many good players as we can and develop them as best we can to be full-time, productive, great Rangers. So, that’s how we look at it.’’
Drury wouldn’t say that it was a given to expect the No. 2 pick to make the Rangers’ roster out of training camp. “I think you never know,’’ he said.
But given that Kakko played as a 17-year-old in Finland’s top professional league and set a record for goals in that league (22, in 45 games), and given the way Hughes dominated for a loaded U.S. National Team Development Program side, either would be a good bet to make the club for opening night.
The Rangers, with new team president John Davidson taking over for the retiring Glen Sather, could be poised to make a huge jump from their 78-point campaign in 2018-19. Vitali Kravtsov, the first of their three first-round picks last year, is already spending the summer in North America, skating and working out to get ready for training camp. Kravtsov, 19, had eight goals, 13 assists and 21 points in 50 games for Traktor Chelyabinsk in the KHL, leading all players younger than 20 in all three categories. He’ll need to adjust to the smaller North American rinks, but if he makes the team, and if Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton can add a free agent like Artemi Panarin, that could give a boost to the offense. Add Kakko or Hughes, and the offense could be much improved.
The defense could be better with the addition of Jericho native Adam Fox, who was acquired last month in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes. Second-year pros Libor Hajek and Ryan Lindgren will challenge seriously for a spot on the Blueshirts defense, and the Rangers could look to bring in a free agent defenseman. Goaltender Igor Shesterkin and defenseman Yegor Rykov are also coming over from Russia.
The Rangers also have a total of nine picks in the draft — including two first-rounders and two second-rounders — and those picks could be chips they could use to make trades for NHL-ready players.