Hockey season, for the Rangers, was over shortly after it restarted. They were swept in three games by the Carolina Hurricanes in the NHL’s playoff qualifying round in Toronto. So now, while 17 teams continue to chase the Stanley Cup (Toronto and Columbus play a series-deciding Game 5 Sunday night to determine the last team to advance to the 16-team playoffs), the Blueshirts have begun their offseason.
There are many questions the management team of president John Davidson, general manager Jeff Gorton and assistant GM Chris Drury need to resolve in the offseason, such as how best to wrap up the Henrik Lundqvist situation, and which of the team’s free agents to re-sign. But before all that, there is a golden opportunity coming their way in the form of the second phase of the NHL’s draft lottery, which will be at 6 p.m. Monday.
The Rangers, and the other seven qualifying round losers, will enter that lottery, with each having a 12.5 percent chance to win the top pick and the right to select forward Alexis Lafreniere, the 2019 Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year and the MVP of the 2020 World Junior Championship.
Last year the Rangers won the second pick overall, which they used to take forward Kaapo Kakko.
Should lightning strike for the Rangers and they get the 6-1, 192-pound Lafreniere, a speedy, playmaking left wing who led the QMJHL with 112 points (35 goals, 77 assists) in 52 games in 2019-20, that would provide a turbo boost to their two-year-old rebuild. In fact, it might end the rebuild and make them Stanley Cup contenders as early as next season.
The Rangers having a shot at Lafreniere (Pittsburgh, which had the seventh best record in the league, by points percentage, has a shot at him, too) is a result of the NHL overcomplicating the draft lottery process as the league was figuring out some of the minute details of its return-to-play plan after the coronavirus shutdown in March.
Because the league wanted to maintain its 16-team playoff format, and because its restart in the two bubble cities of Toronto and Edmonton included 24 teams, the first layer of series was called a qualifying round, rather than a playoff round. Therefore, the eight qualifying round losers were not considered playoff teams, and thus were eligible to be included in the draft lottery. So when the league held the draft lottery in June, the qualifying round losers were represented by a placeholder, which ended up winning the first pick overall. That meant the eight qualifying round losers would have a second lottery for the first pick, with each having an equal chance to win.
Even if the Rangers don’t win the right to draft Lafreniere, though, they hold two first-round picks in the draft, scheduled for October 9-10. Based on points percentage in the regular season, the Rangers would pick ninth overall with their own selection, and they also will be getting a pick from Carolina in the Brady Skjei trade. Carolina owns Toronto’s first-round pick and will send the lower of the two picks they own to the Rangers to complete the Skjei deal.
The Rangers recently signed Cornell forward Morgan Barron, a 6-2, 210-pounder who was a sixth round pick in 2017 and developed into a First Team NCAA All-America in ’19-20, and a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, as the best player in college hockey. Adding Barron, and/or Lafreniere to their roster next season would be a nice improvement to a Rangers team that managed just four goals in their three postseason games.