5 best & worst NHL Draft classes for Rangers since 2000

NHL: New York Rangers at Tampa Bay Lightning
Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The 2024 NHL Entry Draft will be held this weekend in Las Vegas and the New York Rangers hold the No. 30 overall pick after a record-setting regular season when they won the Presidents’ Trophy with 114 points.

The Blueshirts only have four picks at the moment, with the remaining three coming in the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds. We’ll see how general manager Chris Drury can make the most of it.

The Rangers have been hit or miss when it comes to recent draft classes. Their history includes a few diamonds, but it’s also littered with some pretty major false gems.

Let’s break down the best and worst draft classes for the Rangers since 2000.

Related: Ranking Rangers’ first-round draft picks since 2000

5 best Rangers draft classes since 2000

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Washington Capitals
James Lang-USA TODAY SportsCredit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start off with the positive, the five best draft classes for the Rangers since the turn of the century.

Honorable Mentions: 2009, 2014

The 2009 and 2014 drafts landed the Rangers franchise-changing talents in Chris Kreider (1st round, No. 19 overall) and Igor Shesterkin (4th round, No. 118 overall) respectively. Unfortunately, they only got two combined games out of the other 12 players drafted in those two years. Kreider and Shesterkin have been major success stories. The rest, not so much.

5: 2020 — Key Players: Alexis Lafreniere, Braden Schneider, Will Cuylle

The Rangers’ 2020 draft class has the potential to be one of the best in quite some time. Headlined by No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere, general manager Jeff Gorton hit it big with his final draft with the Blueshirts, also landing Braden Schneider, Will Cuylle, and Matt Rempe. That’s already four roster players, including three lineup staples.

After a breakout season in 2023-24, Lafreniere looks to be blossoming into a star. Schneider’s been a reliable presence on the back end for the better part of three years; and Cuylle impressed in his first full season. With prospects like Brett Berard and Dyland Garand yet to crack the NHL, on top of Rempe who could carve out a bottom-six role, this class has the potential to be one of the deepest in the past two-plus decades for New York.

#4: 2008 — Key Players: Derek Stepan, Michael Del Zotto

GM Glen Sather got over 800 games from his top two picks in the 2008 draft, selecting Michael Del Zotto No. 20 overall and Derek Stepan in the second round. Stepan played seven seasons for the Blueshirts, surpassing 50 points in five. He was the top-line center when the Rangers reached the Stanley Cup Final and Eastern Conference Final in consecutive years, memorably scoring the OT goal in Game 7 against the Washington Capitals to send the Blueshirts to the conference final in 2014-15.

Del Zotto was traded for Kevin Klein the year the Rangers reached the Cup but was still largely productive in his four and a half seasons. Debuting in 2009-10, he made the All-Rookie Team as a 19-year-old and finished 12th in Norris voting two seasons later.

Sather also nabbed 10-year veteran Dale Weise in the fourth round, but he played just eight games in New York.

#3: 2004 — Key Players: Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky

The Rangers had the No. 6 and No. 19 overall picks in 2004, but their best players came later, taking Brandon Dubinsky in the second round and Ryan Callahan in the fourth.

Callahan became a fan favorite in his eight years in New York, lauded for his constant effort and well-rounded game. The 5-foot-10 winger finished in the top-10 in voting for the Selke Award as top defensive forward in the NHL twice and captained the team for his final three seasons before he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Martin St. Louis.

Dubinsky spent six seasons with the club, recording 40 or more points in four of them and giving the team valuable two-way play in a top-six role. He was ultimately sent to the Columbus Blue Jackets as part of the Rick Nash trade, but Dubinsky was a productive part of the late 2000s and early 2010s Rangers.

First-round picks Al Montoya and Lauri Korpikoski didn’t spend much time with the team and were both separately traded to the Phoenix Coyotes, but Sather didn’t miss out on much as the first round dropped off considerably after Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Blake Wheeler were taken in the top-five.

#2: 2000 — Key Players: Henrik Lundqvist, Domonic Moore

Not unlike the 2009 and 2014 drafts, the 2000 NHL Draft wasn’t super deep for the Rangers. However, it doesn’t get much better than drafting a first-ballot Hall of Famer in Henrik Lundqvist.

They called him “The King” for a reason. Lundqvist finished with a save percentage of .920 or higher in eight different seasons and won the Vezina Trophy as top NHL goalie in 2011-12. He was a brilliant postseason performer, posting a 2.30 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in 130 Stanley Cup Playoff games, and deserves due praise for leading the Blueshirts to the 2014 Cup Final.

Moore was a valuable NHLer in his own right. Although the bottom-six forward only played 87 games in his first stint with New York, the 13-year veteran, who played for 10 different teams in his career, returned to the Rangers toward the end of his career and was a part of their lengthy postseason runs in 2014 and 2015. He retired with 322 games played for the Blueshirts, more than double the amount of any other team he played for.

#1: 2005 — Key Players: Marc Staal, Marc-Andre Cliche, Tom Pyatt

The value of the 2005 draft isn’t immediately apparent, but it set the Rangers up with three core pieces, just not all of them draft picks. With the No. 12 overall pick, Sather selected Marc Staal, who went on to play 13 seasons for the Rangers, finishing with 892 games played, sixth all-time in franchise history.

Second-round pick Marc-Andre Cliche was the headliner in the trade that brought Sean Avery to New York, and fourth-liner Tom Pyatt was part of the Scott Gomez package that yielded Ryan McDonagh.

Outside of a brief stint with the Dallas Stars, Avery spent the remainder of his career with the Rangers and helped define their identity with his swagger and toughness. McDonagh played over 500 games with the Blueshirts and took over as captain the year after Callahan was traded. He went on to win the Stanley Cup twice with the Lightning.

So while there were a couple extra steps involved, the 2005 draft landed the Rangers Staal, Avery, and McDonagh, three vital pieces over the past two decades.

5 worst Rangers draft classes since 2000

NHL: New York Rangers at Boston Bruins
Dylan McIlrath, 2010 Draft Class – Winslow Townson-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Now, let’s flip the script and break down the worst of the worst since 2000.

#5: 2017 — Key Players: Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil, Morgan Barron

Filip Chytil was a nice grab at No. 21 overall, but this draft is mostly defined by No. 7 overall pick Lias Andersson.

Andersson mustered just three goals and nine points in 66 games with the Rangers before the center was traded to the Los Angeles Kings after three seasons. Having recently announced that he is leaving North America to play in Switzerland, Andersson’s legacy as a bust is cemented.

Sixth-round pick Morgan Barron has become a regular in the NHL, but the center found that success with the Winnipeg Jets after he was traded as part of a package for Andrew Copp ahead of the 2022 deadline.

Chytil’s a talented center but he’s had his own growing pains and lingering health concerns, so he’s not enough to save this draft class.

#4: 2019 — Key Players: Kaapo Kakko, Matthew Robertson, Zac Jones, Adam Edstrom

The Rangers didn’t get the return in value they hoped for when they landed the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft lottery and drafted Kaapo Kakko. Kakko’s failed to seize a consistent role in the top six and while he’s certainly not an awful hockey player by any means, he just hasn’t lived up to the premium draft position.

Gorton also struck out with both of his second-round picks, taking defenseman Matthew Robertson and center Karl Henriksson, who recently left North America to play in Sweden. Like Henriksson, Robertson has yet to play an NHL game.

Zac Jones and Adam Edstrom have potential, as does Kakko, although patience seems to be running thin. But as it stands now, it’s a relatively disappointing draft class.

#3: 2015 — Key Players: Ryan Gropp, Aleksi Saarela, Adam Huska

Headlined by Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the 2015 NHL Draft is already considered one of the greatest in League history. The Rangers may not have had a first-round pick, but they did have seven picks total, including a second-rounder and three third-round picks.

While the 2015 draft was loaded with star talent, it was also remarkably deep, which makes it all the more baffling how the seven players the Rangers drafted have combined for 10 games played in the NHL. Only one of those games was played for the Blueshirts, that by goalie Adam Huska, who allowed seven goals on 39 shots in his lone NHL game..

The Rangers missed on names like Roope Hintz (2nd round, 49th overall), Anthony Cirelli (3rd round, 72nd overall), and Kirill Kaprizov (5th round, 135th overall), all of whom were taken after New York had a chance to draft.

#2: 2010 — Key Players: Dylan McIlrath, Christian Thomas, Jesper Fast

Jesper Fast was a steal in the sixth round, spending seven seasons with the Rangers before the middle-six forward signed as a free agent with the Carolina Hurricanes. Unfortunately, the story of this draft for New York is the selection of defenseman Dylan McIlrath No. 10 overall.

McIlrath played more than two games and averaged over 10 minutes of ice time in only one of his four seasons with the Rangers, who traded him early in the 2016-17 season. The rugged defenseman was too slow for the NHL and has appeared in just 75 games over his eight-year career, largely assuming a reserve or AHL role.

Defenseman Cam Fowler was taken by the Anaheim Ducks two picks later and star winger Vladimir Tarasenko was drafted No. 16 overall. It’s painful to think how the mid-2010s might have gone with one of those players instead of McIlrath.

#1: 2003 — Key Players: Hugh Jessiman, Ivan Baranka, Nigel Dawes

The 2003 NHL Draft might be one of the biggest “what ifs” in Rangers history and certainly of the past two decades. The Rangers selected Hugh Jessiman with the No. 12 overall pick, but the forward was completely overmatched, even in the minor leagues. He struggled in the system and never played a game with the organization. In fact, Jessiman retired with two NHL games played in his career, both coming with the Florida Panthers.

If that weren’t bad enough, the 2003 draft was loaded with elite first-round talent. Dustin Brown (13th overall), Brent Seabrook (14th overall), Zach Parise (17th overall), Ryan Getzlaf (19th overall), Brent Burns (20th overall), Ryan Kesler (23rd overall), and Corey Perry (28th overall) were all taken after Jessiman.

The Blueshirts didn’t get a ton of value out of the rest of the draft either, leaving it as one of the biggest misses of Sather’s tenure as GM.

Lou Orlando has spent the past two seasons as a New York Rangers beat reporter for WFUV Sports. The... More about Lou Orlando

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