Revisiting Rangers 2020 Draft class — lasting gift from Jeff Gorton

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Carolina Hurricanes
James Guillory-USA TODAY SportsCredit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 NHL Draft is the gift that keeps giving from former New York Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton. In his final draft with the team before being fired in May 2021, Gorton delivered four players currently on the roster and another two prospects who may eventually join them.

Alexis Lafreniere was the headliner of the 2020 draft class after being selected with the No. 1 overall pick. Though he struggled to find his footing his first three seasons, Lafreniere broke out this past season and emerged a star in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But the success of this draft class goes beyond Lafreniere. Of the nine players that the Rangers drafted in 2020, Braden Schneider (1st round, No. 19 overall), Will Cuylle (2nd round, No. 60 overall), and Matt Rempe (6th round, No. 165 overall) have also become important NHL players for the Rangers.

Schneider’s a staple on the blue line, missing just three games since his debut midway through the 2021-22 season. Cuylle’s coming off a promising first full season at the NHL level after appearing in four games the year prior. And Rempe won the hearts of New Yorkers with an electric rookie season in 2023-24.

On top of that, forward Brett Berard (5th round, No. 134 overall) and goalie Dylan Garand (4th round, No. 103 overall) are impressing with the Hartford Wolf Pack, the Rangers’ American Hockey League affiliate, and could join the Blueshirts in the NHL in upcoming seasons.

Related: Rangers options if looking to trade Kaapo Kakko, move up in 1st round of 2024 draft

Rangers 2020 NHL Daft class is turning into exceptional one

NHL: New York Rangers at Detroit Red Wings
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Gorton’s legacy with New York is a complicated one, particularly after a rebuild that saw many fan favorites shipped away, and not always for bountiful returns. Still, he hit the mark with the last draft class of his tenure, leaving the Rangers with a slew of players that could be in the picture long term.

Lafreniere’s development is an absolute game-changer. After captaining Canada to a World Juniors gold medal and winning tournament MVP along with a 112-point season that led the QMJHL, he was the consensus top pick and a no-brainer after the Rangers won the NHL Draft Lottery in 2020.

But Lafreniere failed to live up to the expectations, tallying 47 goals and 91 points in 216 games over his first three seasons. Labeled as a major disappointment and a draft failure, he entered his age-22 season with questions if it would be his last in New York.

He proceeded to change the narrative, setting NHL career highs with 28 goals and 57 points despite minimal time on the top power-play unit. He displayed an ability to generate offense on the big stage, scoring seven of his team-leading eight postseason goals at five-on-five.

Now, he’ll enter his age-23 season with loads of confidence and still plenty of room to grow. As long as he and current GM Chris Drury can come to terms on an RFA deal next season, he should be a key piece of the Rangers’ core for years to come.

He’s not the only one that has the potential to be a long-time Ranger.

Schneider took the opportunity he got in his rookie campaign and ran with it, appearing in all 20 postseason games as a bottom-pairing defenseman as the Rangers made a run to the 2020 Eastern Conference Final.

Despite some typical growing pains, he’s been a reliable presence on the back end and could step into an even bigger role next season after playing next to K’Andre Miller in this year’s playoffs. He’ll need a new RFA deal this offseason, but don’t expect him to go anywhere — the Rangers will need his size and athleticism moving forward.

It’s tougher to make long-term projections for Cuylle, but he undoubtedly held his own in his first taste of consistent action in the NHL. Appearing in every regular-season game but one, Cuylle led all rookies and finished seventh in the League with 247 hits.

On top of his physical play, he managed a respectable 13 goals and 21 points. It’s hard to say whether or not he’ll develop into a top-six winger, but he did score 43 goals in 59 OHL games in 2021-22 and 25 goals in 69 AHL games in 2022-23.

It’s even harder to project Rempe. Whether he’s a flash in the pan or a long-term regular remains to be seen. The 6-foot-8 forward electrified fans with his size and big hits, but it’s still up in the air if he’s ready for a permanent fourth-line role. He’s still very raw, and there are plenty of aspects to his game that need to be refined, something he admitted after the season.

“I’m gonna work at every single part of my game,” Rempe said during the team’s exit interviews. “I wanna bring more to the table. I wanna be a guy who can play 8-12 minutes every night.”

He came up in the system as a center, and if he can sharpen his skating, defense, and puck control, he’d provide great value as a sixth-round pick.

Then there’s Garand and Berard.

Garand’s played 73 games in the AHL the past two seasons with Hartford, splitting time with Louis Domingue. While his regular-season numbers don’t leap off the page, he’s been a clutch postseason performer with a 2.21 Goals-against average and .927 save percentage in 17 Calder Cup Playoff games.

Jonathan Quick will return for next season, but Garand could be in line to assume backup goalie duties behind Igor Shesterkin in 2025-26.

Berard could crack the NHL even sooner, coming off a team-high 25-goal season in Hartford. With Drury announcing that the Rangers will explore both internal and external solutions to fill the open holes on the roster, perhaps the 21-year-old gets a chance to make the team this fall, similar to how Cuylle did this past season.

Either way, the Rangers have already seen plenty of value from their 2020 draft and could see plenty more in future seasons.

Gorton and president John Davidson were fired in May of the following year. Drury assumed both duties, handling the 2021 draft and constructed a team that has reached the Eastern Conference Final twice in the past three seasons.

But traces of Gorton’s fingerprints still linger and the 2020 draft remains a lasting memory of his tenure and one of the finer moments of his six years as Rangers GM.

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

Mentioned in this article:

More About: