With a stunning turn of events that seemed near impossible to New York Rangers fans, their team has ended up receiving the first overall pick in the 2020 NHL draft. When the league was put on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 9th, the Rangers had a 0.8% chance of receiving the first pick in the draft.
However, after lucking out through the NHL’s unique return to play plan, the Rangers were able to get some of their young stars a bit of playoff experience and increase their chances of winning the draft lottery to 12.5%, which worked out perfectly for them. But now that a week has gone by since the lottery, it is time to stop celebrating and figure out what the Rangers should do.
Their first option is definitely the most obvious, and probably the one that would make the most sense. For a while now, NHL scouts have all been in agreement that the top-rated prospect in this year’s draft pool is the Canadian winger Alexis Lafreniere.
Despite only being eighteen years old, Lafreniere stands at 6’1” and provides a strong physical presence on the ice. His offensive awareness is comparable to players such as Sidney Crosby, who has been dominating the league for over a decade now. Last season in the QMJHL, Lafreniere led the league by putting up a whopping 112 points through only 52 games. It’s safe to say that he is definitely the most skilled player in this year’s draft, and he would be a perfect fit on the New York Rangers. There is only one reason that I could see the Rangers drafting anyone but him- his position.
It would be a very bold move, but there could be a very small chance that the Rangers decide to use their first overall pick to draft a center, Quinton Byfield. When it comes to the wingers on the Rangers, they already have a solid top 4.
With superstar Artemi Panarin leading the bunch, and other great players such as Chris Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich, and last year’s second overall pick Kaapo Kakko, the only spot to really put Alexis Lafreniere in his rookie season would be the third line. It obviously wouldn’t hurt to continue strengthening your winger core, but there are other positions on the Rangers that require more depth. More specifically, the centers.
Mika Zibanejad has served as a great first-line center for the Rangers since being traded from Ottawa in July of 2016. But outside of him, the team lacks a center that is qualified to play on at least the second line. Ryan Strome filled that gap last year, and while he put up career-high numbers, he still should be a third-line center at best. Filip Chytil has potential to be great, but he is still too young and too underdeveloped to tell what kind of player he will grow into.
The point is, the Rangers need a solid second-line center on their team. That’s where the number two rated prospect in this year’s draft pool comes in. Quinton Byfield. Comparable to players such as LA Kings star Anze Kopitar, Byfield is a large impactful player that plays a 200-foot game. His competitiveness is unmatched, and he is determined to win every game he plays. He has the potential to grow right into that number two center spot on the Rangers, and possibly even take over the role as their top center in a few years. It would definitely help the Rangers a lot to add center depth to their team, but the question is this: Would it be worth giving up drafting Alexis Lafreniere?
The way I see it, the Rangers will not draft anyone that is not Lafrienere or Byfield. After those two players in the draft pool, there is a decent jump in level of potential. The only exception to that may be Tim Stutzle, another center, but if the Rangers were to go that route Byfield is the obvious choice. Many people will say that choosing Byfield over Lafrienere would be a waste of a first overall pick, but there may be a way that the Rangers could acquire a fantastic center and make it worth it.
The runner ups of this year’s draft lottery were the Los Angeles Kings, acquiring the number two overall pick. Although it would be very risky, one alternative route that the Rangers could go would be to swap picks with the Kings and have LA add in another great prospect. It sounds crazy, but it could work.
The Kings have one of the deepest prospect pools in the entire NHL, so there is a chance that they would be willing to give up a winger to draft an even better one at first overall. If the Kings were to swap picks with the Rangers to move up to first overall, one prospect they could throw in would be Arthur Kaliyev. He is a right-winger that was drafted 33rd overall in 2019 and has shown a lot of potential. If the Kings were against this trade, the Rangers could even throw in their other late first-round pick to even the trade a little bit more. It’s not likely to happen, but if it did, the Rangers could walk away from this year’s draft with elite center Quinton Byfield and top prospect Arthur Kaliyev.
With all of that speculation out of the way, still, the best route the Rangers could take would be to keep their first overall pick and draft Alexis Lafreniere. There are many options for the team to choose on, but choosing the star winger at number one makes the most sense.
The Rangers are going to need center depth at some point if they intend on becoming an elite team within the next few years, but this year might not be the time to do it. As of right now, the draft is scheduled to start on October 9th, but that is subject to change due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The only thing Rangers fans can do is wait and hope to see their team make a smart decision. Having the ability to shape your team’s future with a number one overall pick doesn’t happen often, so let’s hope that the New York Rangers make the most of it.