Fans of the New York Rangers have no patience and that translates right to the front office. It’s a weakness that has dogged the team for years and it has resulted in rash decisions and bad trades. As a result, it has also meant only one Stanley Cup in 81 years. Impatience when it comes to developing young players has been a long term problem, but it has come to the forefront in the last four years.
When the Rangers won the second overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft lottery, Ranger fans were delirious. At last, the team was going to get a top pick, a difference make, a future superstar. With the New Jersey Devils always going after Jack Hughes, there was little doubt that Kaapo Kakko, scorer extraordinaire and Finnish wunderkind was going to the next Rangers star. There were dreams of numerous goals and talk of a Calder Trophy.
Let’s make one thing clear before we go on. It takes years before a teenager taken in the draft is ready to play in the NHL. Generational talents like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews come along rarely and hockey fans were lucky to see two of them in successive years, but the problem is that the McDavid/Matthews drafts raised expectations.
Here’s an interesting question. How many players taken in the 2019 Entry Draft have played 100 NHL games? We all know that Kaapo Kakko has played 151 games, but how many other have done it? The answer is three: Jack Hughes (145), Kirby Dach (125) and Nils Hoglander (101).
Hughes leads in goals scored with 30 and Kakko is second with 24. Only five players drafted that year have scored as many as 10.
Only 26 of the 217 players drafted in 2019 have played 10 games or more in the NHL. Some of them are in their rookie seasons and are 2022 Calder Trophy contenders. They include Trevor Zegras (#9), Moritz Seider (#6), Alex Newhook (#16) and Bowen Byram (#4).
Zegras is making headlines with his flashy play and he was given another year at Boston University and spent some time in the AHL before this season. Seider spent a year in the AHL before playing last season in the Swedish Hockey League. Newhook played two seasons at Boston College and started this season in the AHL. The Avalanche gave Byram another full year in the WHL before bringing him to NHL.
Of the rest of the top five picks in 2019, Kirby Dach (#3) has had a rocky start in the NHL and Alex Turcotte (#5) has spent most of his time in the AHL after playing one full year in the NCAA. Of the eight players the Rangers drafted in 2019, only Kakko and defenseman Zac Jones have made it to the big leagues.
While top pick Jack Hughes is coming into his own this season, his first two years can hardly be described as a success with 18 goals in 117 games for a last place team.
When Kaapo Kakko was drafted, it was clear that the 18-year old had nothing left to learn in the Finnish Liiga. But he then had to learn his craft in the toughest league in the world, when he could have benefited from an internship in the AHL.
Another issue in that learning process was how he was deployed by Coach David Quinn and this season with Gerard Gallant.