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Rangers handed No. 1 draft pick in second phase of lottery with top prospect Alexis Lafreniere in sight

Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton looks on at

Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton looks on at a press conference to introduce John Davidson at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, May 22, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Getting swept out of the qualifying round doesn’t feel so bad now, does it, Rangers fans?

Less than a week after the Rangers’ were evicted from the NHL’s Toronto bubble following their loss in the play-in series by the Carolina Hurricanes, the Rangers bounced back in the most spectacular way possible, when they won Phase 2 of the NHL’s Draft Lottery Monday, and the right to select electric forward Alexis Lafreniere. It will be the second time the Rangers make the first overall pick in the draft, but the first time since 1965, when the NHL was a six-team league.

“A few days ago we were the first team out of the bubble and we feel terrible, and we're still trying to get over that, and ask questions why, and try to move forward that way,’’ Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said in a Zoom call with reporters after the lottery. “It was a lot of different emotions, you go through… going back to the letter a couple years ago we wrote [in 2018], talking about a rebuild, and trying to do things the right way. But we knew we needed luck, and luck is on our side tonight.’’

It was the second straight year Gorton has had luck in the draft lottery. A year ago, the Rangers moved up to the No. 2 spot, which they used to select Finnish forward Kaapo Kakko. Gorton said last year he brought a good luck charm with him to the lottery, the NYPD badge of the late Steven McDonald, the officer who was paralyzed after being shot and who was a huge Rangers fan. The team has an annual award it gives out in McDonald’s name, which this year went to Mika Zibanejad. Gorton said because the badge brought him good luck last year, he asked the family if he could have it again for this lottery.

“A good luck charm, I don't know, I'm starting to believe in them,’’ Gorton said. “We're 2-for-2 with it.’’

The lottery involved all eight qualifying round losers – the Rangers, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins, Florida Panthers, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets – each of whom had an equal, 12.5 percent chance, to win the top pick and the right to select Lafreniere, the two-time Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year and the MVP of the 2020 World Junior Championship. The NHL had already had the first phase of the lottery, for the seven teams that did not qualify to be included in the league’s 24-team restart, but since the league didn’t consider the qualifying round to be the playoffs, technically, the qualifying losers were considered eligible for the lottery as well.

Rather than wait until those eight teams were eliminated from the qualifying series before having the lottery, the league held a lottery with the seven non-bubble teams in late June, with a placeholder representing the eight qualifying round losers. When the placeholder won the right to the first pick in the first draft, it necessitated a Phase 2 for the eight teams who would lose in the qualifying round.

“It's been a really long last couple months, but it’s really fun to know who won the lottery today and [it’s] a really good team,’’ Lafreniere said. “I'm really happy.’’

The 6-1, 192-pound Lafreniere played for Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and led the league in scoring, with 112 points (35 goals, 77 assists) in 52 games this season. Asked who his favorite Rangers player is, he said he loved watching Artemi Panarin, who put together a 95-point season and is a finalist for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player. Barring something completely unforeseen, Lafreniere will make the Rangers’ roster immediately next season and be Panarin’s teammate. He also should be an instant help to an offense that managed only four goals in its three qualifying round games.

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