The New York Rangers have five picks in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Teams will make 217 selections over Friday and Saturday, but you don’t have to bury yourself in 217 scouting reports to gauge how the Rangers are doing. Over the last few years, statisticians have dug into how teams can improve their drafting. Here is a look at how the Rangers can use these strategies to bolster their thin farm system.
From Henrik Lundqvist to Derek Stepan to Brady Skjei, the Rangers have built their rosters around homegrown talent since the 2005 lockout ended. That could change if the Rangers don’t pump more talent into their system.
On Friday, the Rangers pick in the first round for the first time since taking Skjei in 2012. They also have no second round pick for the third time in five drafts. The lack of picks has left the prospect pipeline in bad shape.
The Rangers’ system ranked 29, 28, and 25 in various annual August prospect rankings. Both Skjei and Pavel Buchnevich counted as prospects at the time. Only goalie prospect Igor Shesterkin rose to prominence this season.
The Rangers have done well, signing amateur free agents like Kevin Hayes and Jimmy Vesey and undrafted free agents like Mats Zuccarello and Cam Talbot. They should keep chasing talent wherever they can find it, but drafting well is the only long-term solution.
Safe is Death
Filling an entire draft with so-called “boom or bust” picks sounds like a scary proposition, but taking risks may be the way to go. Analytics writer Namita Nandakumar believes teams should focus on prospect ceilings, not prospect floors.
"In summary: every team needs third and fourth liners, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should draft them. Instead, consider taking a chance on a player you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else."
The Rangers have done an okay job of this in recent years. While only Buchnevich stands out on the current roster, several other gambles turned into key trade chips used to acquire Keith Yandle (Anthony Duclair) and Eric Staal (Aleksi Saarela).
Most recently, the Rangers used their highest selection in the 2016 draft on Sean Day. Day is so physically talented that he was granted exceptional status to play Canadian Major Junior hockey a year early. After struggling so much in his draft year that he dropped to the Rangers at pick 81, he showed major progress this season.
Even with the luxury of a first round pick, the scouting staff must continue to prioritize potential in every round.
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Teams need to prioritize talent, but they also need to prioritize quantity of draft picks. Nandakumar’s term for getting the most out of a draft is “Perfect Draft Value.”
"Having more picks and earlier ones makes your Perfect Draft Value higher."
Obviously, the Rangers’ track record of trading away most of their first and second round picks does them no favors here. Not only have they had no high picks since 2012, they’ve also made less picks than average. The average team made 35 draft selections from 2012 through 2016, but the Rangers only made 29 over that span.
An analytics writer who goes by the pen name PDWhoa looked into the relative value of picks from each round.
"Nearly half of all the value to be found in the draft is in the first round. The second and third rounds hold the majority of value that is left with value gradually declining in round four through seven. Interesting to me is the lack of difference in the last few rounds. It seems to me that a knowledgeable person could use the gap in name value and the lack in real value to their advantage. A fifth sounds more impressive than a seventh, but swapping those could leave a gap that is not difficult to make up."
This reasoning suggests the Rangers avoid bundling picks to move up in the middle rounds, as they did in 2015 to select Ryan Gropp. The Rangers have not traded back in a draft for extra picks since before the 2005 lockout.
The Rangers only have five picks in the 2017 draft as of now. General Manager Jeff Gorton should strongly consider turning a fourth or fifth rounder into multiple later selections.