Redrafting the Rangers part 1: Building a contender

NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 21: Hugh Jessiman of the New York Rangers is introduced to his new team during the 2003 NHL Entry Draft at the Gaylord Entertainment Center on June 21, 2003 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images/NHLI)
NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 21: Hugh Jessiman of the New York Rangers is introduced to his new team during the 2003 NHL Entry Draft at the Gaylord Entertainment Center on June 21, 2003 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images/NHLI) /
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Redrafting the New York Rangers, year by year

This is the first of a three part series looking at the New York Rangers NHL Entry Draft selections from 2003 to 2019.  Did the Blueshirts make the right selection or would they do it differently? In our first installment, we’ll look at 2003-08 when the team began to emerge as a Stanley Cup contender.

Hindsight

As I’ve stated before, I’m a big “What If” guy. The possibility of what could be or could have been reinvigorates my love of the game. The trade deadline is my personal Christmas. Free agency is my birthday and the NHL draft is my New Year’s. Each and every year the rumors circulate and my heart pounds with anticipation – “What will the New York Rangers do next?”

With this year’s first-overall pick still up for grabs, the possibility of the New York Rangers drafting a potential generational talent in Alex Lafrenière percolates. It’s not likely to happen, but the odds aren’t zero either. To be clear, winning the Stanley Cup is by and far the preferred outcome. Every sane Rangers fan would prefer that, especially after such an overwhelming year, but… in the off chance that the puck doesn’t bounce in the Blueshirts’ favor… the alternative isn’t so bad.

The NHL Draft is something special. Since I was a kid, I would watch and scout from the comfort of my couch equipped with my Brian Leetch jersey, a notebook and clipboard with that year’s NHL.com’s projected draft order attached. I’d pretend to know more than I did about each player’s scouting report and then debate the picks at that week’s Peewee practice. Heck, maybe Glen Sather would call my name one day. Why not me?

Was my name ever called? Only in my dreams, but regardless the thrill of the draft never diminished.

Each and every year young men dress their best and attend that annual weekend of festivities. Hundreds of players watch in anticipation as years of hardwork and sacrifice finally payoff with not only a payout, but the possibility of playing at the top tier of their craft. Parents, partners, and people of all ages partake in the feel good weekend.

Watching mothers and fathers tear up as their child walks to that podium to don that new ball cap is truly something special.

However, this is just the start of another chapter. A more rigorous journey for these young men awaits and as years go bye some of the cream selected in later rounds rise to the top and some early-round top-tier talent sinks to the bottom…

Living up to the potential

The New York Rangers have never been known for their drafting. They’ve acquired most of their first-round talent via trade or signing or the front office has opted to mortgage off their picks and prospects in order to push for the Stanley Cup “here and now.” They came so close, but at a cost that may not have been worth it – in hindsight, of course.

In terms of drafting, on more than one occasion the Rangers have selected a ‘stud’ who was ultimately a dud. Whether that’s due to the Rangers’ development program or the player itself, the player’s potential is stunted and perhaps even disappear from the NHL entirely.

No disrespect to the players that never panned out, but a few have managed to break many a fan’s heart over the years. Some have caused such heartache that decades have passed and the sting remains.

Building a contender

For context to these selections, between the 1997-98 to 2003-04 season, the New York Rangers failed to make it to the postseason. The great Brian Leetch was the leading scorer in those years with 331 points in 480 games and was a minus-71. Petr Nedved was second in points. The team was living in the shadow of its 1994 triumph and prior to the 2004-05 NHL lockout, the New York Rangers finally overhauled their lineup. 2005-06 would begin with an entirely new looking roster headlined by the king of the mullet, Jaromir Jagr.

With all of this in mind, here is a part one of a three part series that  reexamines the New York Rangers’ draft selections over the years.

Please note that I’ve only selected players that went in the first two rounds (or selections). Players that were drafted much lower – like a Henrik Lundqvist for instance – were universally skipped over. Franchises could never have predicted that he’d be who he is today.