Rangers Roundup: Mock Draft Edition
With the NHL draft just a couple of weeks away, the speculation of who Jeff Gorton will draft with the ninth overall pick will pick up in intensity. As has been well-documented, the Rangers are in the process of rebuilding their roster and are focused on bringing in young talent, and this year’s NHL draft is full of skilled skaters.
But before Gorton makes his pick, let’s see what the numerous mock drafts have to say on the subject.
NHL.com had writers Adam Kimelman, Mike Morreale and Guillaume Lepage gave their first-round predictions in a joint article on the NHL’s website. Both Kimelman and Morreale have the Rangers choosing Jesperi Kotkaniemi from Finland. At 6’1″ and close to 200 lbs., he has the size to be an intimidating player down the middle. As Morreale notes, Kotkaniemi had 29 points (10G, 19A) with Finnish club Ässät, and added an additional nine points (3G, 6A) while helping Finland capture the gold at the Under-18 World Juniors. Aside from the offensive statistics, Kimelman adds that Kotkaniemi was used both down the middle and on the wing, showing his versatility and high hockey IQ. Oh, and he won’t be 18-years-old until July. This would make for a very good signing with the ability to play all forward positions.
Lepage, on the other hand, chose highly touted defensive prospect Adam Boqvist from Sweden. Boqvist is a highly-skilled right-handed defenseman who can provide a ton of offense from the point. The 17-year-old tallied 24 points (14G, 10A), and five points (3G, 2A) in three playoff games for Brynäs IF in the Swedish Junior League. While that is certainly impressive, he managed just one assist playing for the Brynäs IF senior team, while accruing a plus/minus of -7. The scouting report says Boqvist still has work to do on the defensive end, which is not a great sign for a defenseman, but if he can learn quickly, he can be a staple on the blue line.
At 26, the pick the Rangers got from Boston, Morreale and Lepage have the Rangers taking defenseman Jared McIsaac from the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL. McIsaac looks like a defenseman who can contribute offensively while being responsible in his own zone. As a late first-round pick, McIsaac would certainly be a good choice.
Kimelman has the Rangers taking Guelph defenseman Ryan Merkley. As you may have noticed the trend, the defenseman has superb offensive skills, notching 73 points (14G, 59A) between the regular season and playoffs. While his skills are certainly there, his draft stock has plummeted due to other issues, as Ryan Kennedy wrote about for The Hockey News. If Merkley can clean up his apparent attitude problem, he will certainly be able to give any team an offensive spark and a power play quarterback.
Finally, with the 28th pick in the first-round, all three NHL.com writers have different ideas for general manager Jeff Gorton. Adam Kimelman has the Blueshirts taking Sampo Ranta from the USHL. Ranta put up 37 points 23G, 14A) this season for Sioux City. Kimelman adds that Ranta will be heading to the University of Wisconsin next season, and that will certainly help him grow as a hockey player.
Ranta’s not huge at 6-01, 192 [pounds] but the Finnish-born wing possesses a hard and heavy shot along with excellent skating skill. He’s slated to attend the University of Wisconsin next year. UW Badgers’ assistant coach Mark Osiecki describes him as a growing ‘power forward who is strong over the puck and has a good hockey IQ.’ His recent development has seen him rise from a previous ‘B’ Central Scouting ranking to his current ‘A’.” –Kevin Wickersham/Dobber Prospects
Mike Morreale has Gorton selecting Akil Thomas from the OHL’s Niagara Ice Dogs. Thomas is a speedy centerman with high-level scoring ability. Thomas put up 81 points (22G, 59A) and averaged 1.19 points per game. Having a center that can create offense for himself and his linemates is certainly important for any team. Steve Kournianos, otherwise known as The Draft Analyst, gives a deeper scouting report on Thomas.
A thick two-way center with a deadly shot and high compete level who also can play the wing, Thomas led all OHL draft-eligible forwards in scoring with 80 points in 68 games. He is used in all situations, but he is most dangerous on the power play thanks to his keen vision and ability to pump shots through traffic. There a few players in his draft class who offer coaches the kind of versatility Thomas provides — he is used to taking big draws, kill off an important penalty or run the offense from inside the zone during late/close situations.
Thomas has good straight-line speed and average first-step quickness, but he is elusive and agile within tight spaces. Opponents find difficulty in lining up Thomas for a hit because he makes sharp directional changes and anticipates puck movement extremely well. He’s a cerebral player and an excellent stickhandler with soft hands who positions himself properly to exploit mistakes in the neutral zone. Thomas’s zone entries are calculated, meaning he identifies options beyond barreling through or around opponents. He can slow things down or pivot back in order to find trailers or cutters, and releases for the slot area immediately after connecting with a teammate. – The Draft Analyst
Last but not least, Guillaume Lepage says the Rangers should take Benoit-Olivier Groulx from the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. Groulx had 55 points centering Halifax’s top unit and is able to play in all situations. However, his skating ability – or lack thereof – have slid him down the draft boards. If teams are willing to take the forward, they will have work to do with him when it comes to his skating; but other than that, he is a guy with a lot of upsides.
Both Craig Button of TSN and Sporting News contributor Steve Kournianos have the Rangers selecting Oliver Wahlstrom from the USNTDP with the ninth overall pick. Button notes Wahlstrom’s “quick release, velocity, and accuracy,” which helped him to 78 points last season; half of which were goals. A right-handed sniper on the wing is something the Rangers can certainly use in their top-six, and Wahlstrom has the ability to be a game-changer with the puck on his stick.
Wahlstrom is a premier two-way power forward with a deadly shot who plays a similar fearless game as that of current Ranger Chris Kreider, albeit a step slower. He’s a powerful skater with agility that is difficult to handle in one-on-one situations, plus he has the vision and passing ability to keep goalies honest. – Sporting News
Joe Haggerty of NBC Sports thinks that Evan Bouchard will be taken with the ninth overall pick. The London Knights’ captain recorded 87 points (25G, 62A) from the blue line. The consensus is that Bouchard looks like the real deal, and he can be the linchpin of the rebuilding Rangers defense.
9. New York Rangers – Evan Bouchard
A big strong workhorse, Bouchard was an offensive dynamo in the OHL this past season. Moving on from captain Ryan McDonagh at this past year’s trade deadline opens up spots on the Rangers blueline long term
— ISS Hockey (@ISShockey) May 31, 2018
Like Mike Morreale above, Haggerty has Akil Thomas going to the Rangers at number 26. Haggerty adds that Thomas is an excellent skater with slick hands and a dangerous shot. “The bottom line on this kid is that he’s a playmaker.”
At number 28, Haggerty shows Jeff Gorton selecting Jack McBain of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. In 52 games – regular season and playoffs – McBain scored 67 points (27G, 40A). McBain is a big kid at 6’3″ and nearly 200 lbs. and seems to have the skills to make it in the NHL. McBain will be heading to Boston College next season, the alma mater of current Rangers Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, and Paul Carey, where he will be able to further develop his talents.