During the four years of their organizational rebuild, the NHL Draft was a big deal for the Rangers.
From 2018, when they sent that open letter to the fans announcing the rebuild, until 2021, the Blueshirts made seven picks in the first round of the draft, four in the second and six in the third.
But this week in Montreal, when the draft returns to an in-person event for the first time since 2019, the Rangers — barring a trade — will not have a first-round pick nor a third. Overall, they have four picks in the seven-round draft, which will take place Thursday and Friday at the Bell Centre.
It is the first time since 2016 that the Rangers have not had a first-round pick. They went four straight years without one from 2013 to 2016, when they were an annual Stanley Cup contender, led by the stellar goaltending of a peak-of-his-powers Henrik Lundqvist.
Now, with Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin in their net, the Rangers again are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, chasing their first title since 1994.
This year, they sent their first-round draft pick to the Winnipeg Jets at the trade deadline as part of the package to acquire forward Andrew Copp. A few days earlier, they had traded their fourth-rounder to the Florida Panthers to acquire forward Frank Vatrano.
They had traded their third-round pick to the Vegas Golden Knights in last summer’s deal to acquire forward Ryan Reaves. Last summer, they also sent their 2022 seventh-rounder to Tampa Bay for the rights to pending free agent Barclay Goodrow, who subsequently signed a six-year, $21.85 million deal.
Having only four draft picks doesn’t necessarily mean the Rangers will be quiet this week. General manager Chris Drury has a ton of work to do this summer as he tries to put together his team’s roster for the 2022-23 season, and while he’s in Montreal mingling with the other 31 GMs, he could be active in making trades.
It’s been reported that Drury has investigated the possibility of trading for Winnipeg center Pierre-Luc Dubois. The 24-year-old, a restricted free agent this summer, reportedly informed the Jets that he wants a short-term deal and intends to leave the club as an unrestricted free agent in 2024.
The Rangers need a second-line center to play behind Mika Zibanejad, and Dubois, a 6-2, 205-pounder who had 28 goals and 60 points for Winnipeg this season and 102 goals and 239 points in 361 career games for Winnipeg and the Columbus Blue Jackets, could fill that role. He centered for Artemi Panarin when both played for Columbus.
Dubois would be a younger — but likely more expensive — option as a No. 2 center than either Ryan Strome, who held that position for most of the last four seasons, or Copp. Both are unrestricted free agents this summer.
To acquire Dubois, Drury likely would have to trade Filip Chytil, who seemed to mature during a strong playoff run this spring, and/or Kaapo Kakko, the No. 2 overall pick in 2019. Kakko had an injury-marred season but also had a strong postseason before being made a surprise scratch in the Rangers’ Game 6 loss to Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Final.
Once Drury acquired Dubois, he would have to sign him to a long-term deal that likely would cost somewhere in the $7 million range and be a tight fit under the Rangers’ salary cap.
Drury reportedly has talked to the Vancouver Canucks about former Ranger J.T. Miller, who is under contract for one more season at a $5.25 million cap hit. He’s certainly also looking at other options to play behind Zibanejad and next to Panarin.