Hughes, Kakko, Podkolzin: A preview of the top prospects for the Rangers to watch at the WJC

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We all want to win. Nobody likes to lose. But, sometimes, you need to take a step back, evaluate where you are and change something to move forward.

It began with the letter last season when Rangers management realized that their team was just not good enough. After years of “going for it” and paying for it with trades of young players and multiple first-round picks, the end was bound to come at some point. No, the Rangers didn’t win the Stanley Cup, but that core of the Rangers gave us memories that will last all of our lifetimes. Now though, it’s about building the team up again and giving them another shot to win the Stanley Cup, and what happens at the end of this season will go a long way in determining just how long this process will take.

The Rangers are not a good hockey club at the moment. They have defensive problems, they don’t have an offensive dynamo that strikes fear into their opponents, such as Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews, or Connor McDavid type of player, and they’re missing an elite number one center. The defensive help is coming in the form of prospects K’Andre Miller, Libor Hajek, Ryan Lindgren and hopefully Yegor Rykov as well. It’s going to take time, but the Rangers have added some fine defensive prospects to the roster.

The problem, however, is that no prospect in the organization has the ceiling of an offensive dynamo except for Vitali Kravtsov. Filip Chytil is good, darn good, but even he isn’t on the Kravtsov level of talent. For a Rangers team that has aspirations of winning that elusive fifth Stanley Cup, and hopefully with Henrik Lundqvist still on the roster, they need some reinforcements.

As of this moment, the Rangers sit 20th in the league standings with 39 points, six away from the bottom spot which is currently occupied by the Los Angeles Kings. They have the fewest regulation and overtime wins in the league by a big margin, and they have been saved by the masterful play of Henrik Lundqvist many times this season. The bottom will fall out when the playoff races tighten up, and this team could end up bottom three in the entire league – and that’s exactly where they need to be. A bottom three spot would all but guarantee a lottery pick and, yes, in recent years, teams have been kicked out of the lottery. But, for argument’s sake, let’s say this team does indeed get a top three pick at the end of the year.

The top three spots in this year’s draft each feature a player that would drastically alter the fortunes of the New York Rangers franchise for the next decade or more. The first overall pick would mean the Rangers get to select the U.S. National Development Program’s offensive wunderkind, Jack Hughes. The second overall pick would mean the Rangers get to select TPS’s budding superstar Kaapo Kakko. The third overall selection would mean the Rangers get to select SKA-1946 St. Petersburg’s Vasili Podkolzin (although the third-ranked prospect is very much up for debate, I think Podkolzin would be the guy the Rangers would target). Each of those three fills the offensive dynamo gap for the Rangers and they will have a guy to pair with Vitali Kravtsov to strike fear into opponents every time they touch the ice. Hughes would fill the elite number one center role as well.

Over this next week we are going to take a look each of these three players in depth; what they can do, what they’re presence would mean for the team, what the lineup would look like with them in it, what kinds of players they project to be and how much of an impact they could have as early as next season. Hughes, Kakko, and Podkolzin are three world-class talents and getting one of them means this rebuild ends years earlier than anticipated.