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How the Rangers Two First Round Picks Can Change the Look of their Franchise

The New York Rangers have two first round picks at this year’s draft at #2 and #20.

The 2019 NHL draft is just around the corner and it is a big one for the Rangers, as well as the New Jersey Devils and their fans. The Devils have the first-overall pick and will be followed by the Rangers, thanks to the NHL lottery system.

When was the last time the Rangers and Devils had the top two picks at the same time? Never, because the last time the Rangers had the first overall pick was in 1965, well before the Devils had entered the league.

To give you a little Rangers history, they selected Brad Park in 1966. Park played a big role in turning the franchise into a winning organization. Both teams can potentially turn their fortunes around in an instant when they select either Jack Hughes or Kappo Kakko, two generational talents with the first and second pick in this year’s draft.

The Devils will most likely pick Hughes at number one. According to scouts, Hughes can skate, pass, and shoot as well as the greatest playmakers in the NHL, Patrick Kane and Connor McDavid. That’s saying something as they are two of the greatest talents to play in the NHL in the last ten years. Hughes is just 5’10, 170 lbs. like Patrick Kane. He broke a U.S. National Team Development Program (NTDP) record with 228 career points and scored 111 points in 49 games on the NTDP and for the U-18 and U-20 World Juniors for the United States in 2018-19.

At the Men’s World Championships this year, Hughes recorded three assists in seven games. He was an eighteen-year-old competing against older men.

Kakko was also eighteen years of age, but he opened some doors and eyes. Kakko scored six goals for the Finns and look dominant against older men. Lots of teams, including the Devils, took notice. The Rangers have kept quiet. Kakko is a power forward who at 6’2 190 lbs. is built to play in the NHL immediately. Watching Kakko play in the world championships, he put on a show for Finland who won the World Championship.

Kakko looks like he is big enough and skilled enough to play in the NHL next year and I think his physicality makes him more desirable than Hughes but it’s a toss-up. Most think Devils GM Shero will continue to draft centers as they are hard to find, especially those who can skate and put up points like Hughes does.

The Rangers would be happy to take Kakko and they would be happy to take Hughes.

If the Devils pick the wrong guy, they will bear the brunt of the fan’s criticism because they had the number-one pick, while the Rangers can only respond to what the Devils do. Ultimately, both teams will get excellent players out of this year’s draft, but the question for these two bitter rivals, is will Hughes or Kakko end up being the better player.

My answer remains Kakko.

So, what is the best case scenario for the Rangers who also have a number 20 pick in the first round?

I say the Rangers should draft Kakko and a big defenseman at number 20 to balance the lack of size they currently have on defense. I cannot stress enough that the Rangers need more defensemen like Brady Skjei than they need defensemen like Neal Pionk and Tony DeAngelo, who are small and talented. Some of the bigger defenseman in this draft are Philip Broberg (6’3 200 lbs.), Thomas Harley (6’3 193 lbs.) and Moritz Seider also 6’3 and 208 lbs.

The St. Louis Blues and the Boston Bruins have easily the biggest defenses in the league and made it to the Stanley Cup Final. It did not happen overnight either. John Davidson was the Blues’ President for seven seasons (2006-12) and helped draft David Perron, Alex Pietrangelo and seven other players who have been starting on the Blues during this year’s playoff run. It’s good to have John Davidson running the Rangers draft this year after being named Team President.

At last year’s draft, the Rangers added size to their roster when they drafted the 6’3 K’Andre Miller. However, Miller and Skjei are the only d-men on the Rangers with any size, and Miller will probably continue to develop as a College player. The Rangers would be wise to draft a big physical defenseman, because Marc Staal, Kevin Shattenkirk are heading in to the last two years of their contracts.

The Rangers will have nine picks in this year’s draft. They will have two picks in the first round at numbers 2 and 20 and they must use them wisely. They used their second pick and a 2020 third round pick to acquire the Hobey Baker Award finalist Adam Fox. Fox is a small, speedy blue liner like Pionk and DeAngelo.

So, the question is does Fox force the Rangers to trade Pionk or DeAngelo or do they send him down to Hartford for a year?

The Rangers are in line to pick up a great talent with the second overall pick, but will have an even harder decision at #20 to step up and get a solid future blue liner with some size. That’s how the Rangers continue to rebuild on their quest for the Cup.

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Anthony has been a sportswriter at In The Zone since Sept. 2019. He graduated from Montclair State, where he was assistant Editor of the student newspaper's sports section. He also co-hosts a sports-themed radio show on the campus station, WMSC 90.3 FM, which was recently named #1 college radio station in the nation.
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