The Rangers should just copy the Maple Leafs

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Tomorrow, the Rangers will come out of the Christmas break and they find themselves in a very tough spot. They are 2-3-4 in their last 9 games, compiling 8 out of a possible 18 points. They currently find themselves just 5 points from the cellar of the league and 7 points from the last wild card spot. The Blueshirts have had a tough stretch of games, including games against juggernauts in the forms of Winnipeg, Tampa, and Toronto.

Showing Heart

Even though they played with the heart, that was not enough to win any of those three games, as they picked up just one point out of a possible six in the game against Winnipeg (a game they had no business being in). These offensively drunken teams were too much for Quinn’s Rangers to handle for a full 60 minutes.

After a 1-1 game after two periods against the high-powered Leafs, the Rangers had some life. It was in the last 20 minutes that the 77 million dollar Tavares, and 21-year-old superstar Mitch Marner, showed the world exactly why they are a top-notch contender, and the Rangers are far from it. So what do the Rangers need to do to get to that level?

Following Toronto’s Plan

The Rangers need to look no further than the opponent they played on Saturday night as a model for what they have to do to compete. The Leafs are one of four contenders (in my opinion) for Lord Stanley’s Cup, and that is because of the consistent bottoming out they have done over the last handful of years. The Leafs built this team by drafting top-notch talent at the top of the draft.

Dating back to the 2012 draft up until the 2016 draft (5 drafts), the Maple Leafs held the 5th, 21st, 8th, 4th, and 1st pick respectively in those drafts. With the 5th pick in 2012 they took Morgan Reilly who currently leads all NHL defensemen in points. With the 8th pick in 2014, they took William Nylander, who in the previous two years had back-to-back 61 points seasons. With the 4th pick in 2015, they took Mitch Marner, who is on pace for 111 points and has a very good shot at winning the Art Ross Trophy for most points, this season. And finally, with the 1st pick in the 2016, they took American superstar Auston Matthews, who will be an 80+ point player every year for the next decade, and will become the highest paid player in NHL history sometime in the next 6-7 months.

To cap off these fantastic draft picks, Kyle Dubas went out and signed the most prized free agent to hit the market in the last decade, John Tavares. This is the model the Rangers need to use if they are going to compete in the next couple of years. Now, let me be clear, I am not saying you have to pick first or second overall EVERY YEAR, but as mentioned in a previous post, I do believe you have to at least once, like the Leafs did. Let’s take a look at what the Rangers can do to parallel these moves the Leafs made.

What the Rangers have done so far
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In the 2017 draft, the Rangers drafted Filip Chytil 21st overall. Chytil is having a promising rookie season, and is growing with each game. I do believe that Chytil is a bonaifde top-six player and will be for the next decade plus. I also am confident that in two years, Chytil will be a 60-point player, so I will consider him the “Nylander” of this Rangers team even though he was not taken in the top 10.

Many feel that if Chytil missed the cut-off for the 2017 draft, the Montreal Canadians would have taken him 3rd overall in the 2018 draft. Also, many re-drafts have Chytil going in the top 10 of the 2017 draft. Nylander is without a doubt the better player, but I do think that Chytil can be a significant role player in the top-six for this Rangers team for a very long time. In the 2018 draft, the Rangers took two major swings on Russian forward Vitaly Kravstov with the 9th overall pick, and American defenseman K’Andre Miller with the 22nd overall pick.

It is too early to say that these two are going to be all-star caliber players year in and year out, but it’s looking very promising right now.  First up is Kravstov, who I believe is going to be an excellent top-six forward that has 25-30 goal-a-year potential. Kravstov is not the “Mitch Marner” of the Rangers, in that Mitch Marner is one of the best players in the entire game, but he will certainly be an integral piece of the Rangers puzzle. He is having a phenomenal D+1 season in the KHL and is going to be playing on the top-line for Russia at the WJC tournament this week. 

Next up is Miller, who is looking like the steal of the first round. He is a tremendous skater, with extreme upside as an 18 year old. Miller will likely be on the top-pair alongside Vancouver Canucks drafts pick, Quinn Hughes for team USA at the WJC. I am hopeful that Miller will be the next Brian Leetch for this team because of the ineptitude of this current blue-line. Miller can be the “Morgan Reilly” of the Rangers, even though he was not taken in the top 5 of the draft. In many re-drafts, Miller is going in the top-10, and will likely be a top 5 defensive prospect in the NHL next season while at Wisconsin.

What the Rangers should do next

So according to my model, the Rangers have their “Nylander” (kind of) and “Reilly” of the future, as well as a number of integral pieces in Zib, Chytil, Lias, Kravstov, Buch, and Skjei. This means the Rangers are lacking a Marner, Matthews, and Tavares……so where can they find them?

The Rangers, as mentioned before, are only 5 points from the bottom of the league and the best odds to land the top pick. If the Rangers do land a top two pick, they will be able to draft Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko. Both of them, while they are not the same level of Matthews, are the elite, top of the draft type players the Rangers need.

So, if the Blueshirts do draft one of the two, they will be the “Matthews” of this Rangers club. Next up is the “Tavares” of the Rangers; a 26-27 year old star that can be bought via free agency. Many think that this will be the easiest get for the Rangers during this rebuild in the form of Russian star, Artemi Panarin. Panarin will likely hit the open market on July 1, 2019, and many writers, including Elliot Freidman, have their money on the Rangers landing him.

Panarin is a guy the Rangers have lacked since the days of Jagr in that he is an 80+ point player year in and year out. Panarin is the “Tavares” of this Rangers team. Last but not least is who will be the “Marner” of this Rangers club? It is very hard for me to find someone that can fit this build because Marner, in my opinion, is the best player on the Leafs, and a top 5 player in all of hockey.

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If I had to pick someone who CAN fit this build, it would be Kravstov. They are both players that were picked in the top 10 (Marner 4, Kravstov 9), play on the wing, and had phenomenal D+1 years. This is an extremely big stretch for the reasons mentioned before, but if I HAD to pick one player to fill the “Marner” role for the Rangers, Kravtsov is it.

Do you have any better ideas? Sound off in the comments section below.