New York might be the concrete jungle that “dreams are made of”, but rarely do those dreams pan out. That’s especially true when it comes to the hockey team that plays at Madison Square Garden we like to call the New York Rangers.
The Rangers are well-known for being perennial playoff contenders, but have fallen short every year since then-captain Mark Messier broke the 54-year-old curse in 1994.
New York’s biggest problem with sustained success is a lack of competent player development. This is especially true in their first-round picks.
Chris Kreider is a rare success story, but for every Kreider, there’s a Hugh Jessiman. 2018 top ten first-round pick Vitaly Kravtsov, who was traded to the Vancouver Canucks after a beyond lackluster tenure on Broadway, signed a two-year deal to return to the KHL this week.
Fillip Chytill looks like another rare success story, but his linemates on the “kid line” in Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko still have the jury out on them on whether they can be considered draft pick successes.
The Rangers’ first-round draft picks rarely pan out.
Let’s not forget the Rangers’ last true Cup window. We’ll consider that the years from 2012-2017. The Rangers picked in the first round only three times in that span. One of those first-round picks, Brady Skjei, currently plays for a different team with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Another, Lias Andersson, who was a seventh overall pick himself, was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 2020. The third pick is the aforementioned Chytill.
First-round picks in that timeframe were usually shipped off for veterans who came in to help New York win a Cup but often had their tenure end in less than spectacular fashion. There was Rick Nash in the 2012 offseason and Keith Yandle in 2015.
The 2014 deadline brought Martin St. Louis, who was a rare success story in the trade department, leading the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final that season.
Following the Nils Lundqvist trade to the Dallas Stars this past offseason, New York found itself with two first-round picks in this upcoming draft. That pick was shipped away to the St. Louis Blues for Vladimir Tarasenko, with New York retaining the 23rd pick.
For what it’s worth, the Tarasenko trade had St. Louis taking whichever of the draft picks would come later between New York’s own and the traded Dallas pick.
One exception of this all has been in the crease. Quality goaltending is increasingly hard to draft and develop. The Rangers deserve credit for having Henrik Lundqvist and Igor Shesterkin providing elite stability in goal for almost three decades (plus a bit of Alexandar Georgiev in between the two).
Lundqvist is perhaps the NHL’s best seventh-round pick of the 21st century, while Shesterkin was a fourth-round selection.
The New York Rangers are a very good team. Their failure to develop these high draft picks, and instead rely on goaltending and big-name free agency prizes, might just be what’s holding them back from being Cup contenders instead of just playoff contenders.
The Rangers should start by hoping this year’s 23rd pick ends up better than Vitaly Kravtsov.