Rangers receive big dividends from 2020 draft class

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at New York Rangers
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It’s difficult to believe, but we’re approaching four years since the Rangers won the 2020 Draft Lottery and thus secured the rights to select Alexis Lafreniere first overall.

Though the jury is still out on the improving Lafreniere, the Rangers’ 2020 class as a whole could turn into one of their best of this century, though that’s an admittedly low bar set by more draft misses than hits, especially during the 2010s.

The Rangers made nine selections during the virtual COVID-era draft and are already benefiting from that haul with four players currently on their NHL roster.

Lafreniere is the big name here, of course. He’s got 36 points this season, playing on a line with Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck. That’s three off his NHL career-high of 39 set last season. He is a force 5V5 with 15 goals and has 17 total.

The 22-year-old forward is third in scoring from his draft class (127 points), trailing Ottawa Senators forward Tim Stutzle (231) and Detroit Red Wings forward Mason Raymond (153). Lafreniere is just one point ahead of the No. 13 overall pick that year, forward Seth Jarvis of the Carolina Hurricanes, who’s played 67 fewer games. Dawson Mercer of the New Jersey Devils is two points behind Lafreniere from that draft class.

Though most of the focus on New York’s 2020 draft class is directed at Lafreniere, there are others contributing in the NHL and throughout the organization.

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2020 draft class among Rangers best in recent years

NHL: New York Rangers at Los Angeles Kings
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New York snagged defenseman Braden Schneider with the No. 19 overall pick. The 22-year-old was recalled after just 24 games in AHL Hartford to begin the 2021-22 season and he’s never looked back, anchoring the bottom-pair over the past three seasons. 

His 183 games are the most by any defenseman taken in the 2020 draft, ahead of the likes of Jamie Drysdale, Jake Sanderson and Brock Faber.

Will Cuylle was selected in the second round (60th overall) and is turning in a strong rookie campaign with 10 goals and 18 assists in 59 games, giving the Rangers’ bottom-six a bit of offense to go along with his brand of physicality. The 22-year-old forward leads NHL rookies with 198 hits.

Rounding out the group is the recently-recalled Matt Rempe, who has become something of a folk hero after debuting at the Stadium Series and fighting his way through his first handful of contests while chipping in with a game-winning goal against the Philadelphia Flyers last weekend.

A sixth-round pick (No. 165 overall), Rempe has impressed with two points and 32 PIM in his first six games.

The early success goes even beyond the varsity club. 

Fifth-rounder Brett Berard is shining with Hartford during his first pro campaign, leading Wolf Pack rookies with 17 goals and 34 points through 50 games after three seasons with Providence in Hockey East.

Goaltender Dylan Garand, selected in the fourth round, is 13-8-3 with a .908 save percentage and 2.74 goals-against average in his second season with Hartford. Garand’s strong play gives the organization solid goaltending depth.

Third-round pick Oliver Tarnstrom remains in Sweden. His countryman, goalie Hugo Ollas, was taken in the seventh round and is in his third year at Merrimack College.

These early results are a far cry from the lack of success the organization saw during the 2010s, especially 2014 through 2016.

During that three-year stretch, New York made 20 selections; goalie Igor Shesterkin, taken in the fourth round (No. 118 overall), is the only player to appear in more than 16 NHL games.

The 19 players not named Shesterkin have combined for 34 total NHL games. Only Tim Gettinger (16), Tarmo Reunanen (4), and goaltenders Adam Huska (1) and Brandon Halverson (1) appeared in games for the Rangers. Halverson was taken 59th overall in 2014, 59 picks ahead of Shesterkin.

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Where does 2020 draft rank in Rangers history?

NHL: New York Rangers at Colorado Avalanche
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The 2008 draft class could make a case, with Michael Del Zotto selected 20th overall, followed by Derek Stepan at No. 51. Forward Dale Weise was a nice middle-round find at No. 111.

2004 saw New York select Brandon Dubinsky 60th and Ryan Callahan 127th. Those two players were preceded by Al Montoya (sixth) and Lauri Korpikoski (19th), though most of their NHL careers took place outside of New York.

A bit further back sees foundation pieces of the 1994 Stanley Cup champion coming, with the Rangers drafting Doug Weight (traded in March 1993 for Cup-winner Esa Tikkanen), Sergei Zubov and Sergei Nemchinov in the 1990 Entry Draft.

The Rangers also found success in 1981, selecting James Patrick, Jan Erixon and John Vanbiesbrouck.

It’s foolish to plant the victory flag just yet, especially with a handful of unknowns still in the pipeline. But with roughly perfect of the 2020 selections already in the NHL, the returns thus far are overwhelmingly positive.

Matt Calamia spent six seasons as a digital content producer and writer for the New York Rangers. Prior to... More about Matt Calamia

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