The waiting is over! The New York Rangers are the Stanley Cup Champions… well not really… but it’s the closest us Ranger fans are going to get to a championship for the time being.
While it might not be a Stanley Cup championship, it is a massive step in the right direction. You have to give credit where credit is due. As Ranger fans, we spend days on end ripping apart GM Jeff Gorton and former team president Glen Sather about always trading away picks and never being able to bring a true superstar scorer to NYC. These two, along with the rest of the organization gave us the NHL’s version of the Snookie and JWOWW note from the Jersey Shore detailing the rebuild that was underway.
The saying is it’s better be lucky than good, well in this case it was better to be lucky than bad because for the better half of three quarters of this season, the Rangers looked to be blowing their tank chances with countless overtime losses, but with the help Jeff Gorton’s lucky charm the Rangers found a way to snag the #2 overall pick.
Now it comes down to the pick. Who will the Rangers take? For me, it comes down to two clear options. One obvious one, and one not so obvious one. The obvious one is Kaapo Kakko. The 18-year-old Finish winger has dominated men in the Finnish Elite League since he was 16 and is the goal scorer the Rangers have been longing for since Jaromir Jagr netted 54 goals back in 2005-2006. Kakko is also a big physical presence, standing at 6’2” 190 pounds, he’s smaller than Rangers winger Chris Kreider, but if you put him on an NHL workout program and diet, you can see Kakko getting closer to the 200 to 210 pound mark that can make him a pain to defend against. Kakko was a huge part in Team Finland’s gold medal at the IIHF World Junior Championships, dominating kids his own age.
The more under the radar pick I can see the Rangers taking at #2 is Dylan Cozens who has the same build as Kakko at 6’3” 190, the thing that sets Cozens apart from Kakko is his ability to play center, and how important center depth is on a team. Cozens currently plays in the WHL for the Lethbridge Hurricanes and tallied 84 points (34G, 50A) this season as well as posting a very impressive +32. Say what you want about the +/- stat but when Cozens has been on the ice this season, he’s been a huge contributor to his team. The fact that Cozens is versatile enough to play both the wing and center makes him a very valuable pick for New York who has stressed improving their center depth to help out Mika Zibanejad.
Another aspect of the rebuild is building through free agency and by far the biggest names the Rangers are going to have their eyes on are Artemi Panarin of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 27-year-old Russian left winger just finished a regular season where he tallied 87 points (28G, 59A) in 79 games to help lead the Blue Jackets back to the playoffs. Panarin has put up at least 27 goals in each of his first 4 NHL seasons, and like I mentioned earlier when talking about Kakko, the Rangers have been starving for goal scorers since 2005. Panarin has made it very vocal that he wants to play in a big market and what bigger market than NYC. As of July 1st, the ball will be in Jeff Gorton’s court to make the move.
Mitch Marner is more of a dark horse option. It would be very hard to see him leaving Toronto. The opportunity of playing with John Tavares, Auston Matthews, William Nylander does not come around all too often. However what the Rangers can offer is long term payment with older players like Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi coming off the books in the near future and more entry level contract (ELC) players coming on. Marner, who is coming off his ELC put up an impressive 94 points (26G, 68A) this season and deserves to get paid. My only concern with Marner over Panarin would be the talent that Marner played with in Toronto helped him immensely to get to 94 points. On a Rangers team that doesn’t have those kinds of weapons yet, will he still be able to put up those kinds of points?
Finally the goaltending should be shored up for next season with the addition of Igor Shestyorkin and the emergence of Alexandar Georgiev this season. As a fan base we have been so lucky to have one of the best goaltenders in NHL history grace the Madison Square Garden crease for the past 14 seasons but the rose tinted glasses are starting to wear off and father time always gets the last laugh and for Henrik Lundqvist, the end is getting closer and closer. Shestyorkin over his last three seasons playing for SKA St. Petersburg has posted an outstanding 1.48 goals against average as well as a .941 save percentage in that time. Playing in the second best league in the world, and putting up numbers like that gives Rangers fans a real vote of confidence.
In a sense it was a gift from the hockey gods to get the second pick. It means you really can’t make the mistake of picking the wrong guy. The question now for the New York Rangers is what guy will they see land to them at the #2 spot? Will it be the American superstar center Jack Hughes? Or the Finnish standout winger Kaapo Kakko? June 21st in Vancouver will give us all the first answers to the future of this rebuilding New York Rangers squad.