Here’s my feeling on the NHL Draft for the Rangers, and it’s the same as every draft:
I don’t know. You don’t know. They don’t know. Nobody knows.
And we won’t know for years. That’s the nature of the animal. Unless you’re getting one of those clear-cut NHL-ready stars like a Crosby, an Ovechkin, a Taylor Hall, there’s no way to judge a draft until, like wine, it ages.
Kids picked in later rounds routinely turn out to be better than players picked in the first round. The Rangers have historically done better in later rounds: such as when they selected Henrik Lundqvist in the seventh round (after taking Filip Novak, Dominic Moore, Premsyl Duben, Nathan Martz, Brandon Snee and Sven Helfenstein) in 2000; or when they selected Doug Weight second after picking Michael Stewart first, and then got Sergei Zubov in the fifth round and Sergei Nemchinov in the 12th round (!) in 1990.
I always go back to the first NHL draft that defined the Edmonton Oilers dynasty (overseen by Glen Sather, as you know). Well, they got a fabulous player in Kevin Lowe in the first round. But they got Mark Messier in the third round and Glenn Anderson in the fourth. You can give Slats all the credit in the world for that draft, but honestly, if he had known that Messier was going to be one of the top five or six players of all time, and that Anderson would score 1000 points and almost 500 goals and go to the Hall of Fame, well, what was he waiting for? And what the hell was everybody else thinking (the Rangers selected Doug Sulliman and Ed Hospodar ahead of Messier!!!)?
The point is this: You are drafting 18-year-olds. Some of them turn out to be Pavel Brendl or Hugh Jessiman. Some of them turn out to be Brian Leetch. You don’t know now. You know later. Especially with defensemen.
Which brings us to this draft. The Rangers trade of former first-rounder Bobby Sanguinetti for a second-rounder and a sixth-rounder pretty much tells us why they felt it was OK to pass on Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley. Maybe they saw Sanguinetti in those two. Highly-ranked, but cookie-cutter, dime-a-dozen types. Who knows?
Maybe they felt that Dylan McIlrath was more likely to be an NHL player, if not a star then a steady, first-pair defenseman who might one day be a shut-down guy with a Chris Pronger mean streak. We know he’s got the streak, and the size. Plus, maybe we (those watching from a distance) should have taken into account what Gordie Clark and Jeff Gorton said before the draft: That after No. 1 and No. 2, the rest was pretty wide open. That the 19th-ranked player could go third, and vice versa.
Plus, it’s not like McIlrath was ranked 140th. He was the 17th-best North American skater on NHL Central Scouting’s list, and the sixth defenseman. So he went 10th, and as the second defenseman taken.
A surprise? Yes, a surprise. We, who only (and barely) know the names of the prospects coming into a draft, expect the players to be picked in order. Well, that’s why every team has its own scouts. They make their own rankings list. Obviously, Clark — who has had a pretty decent run as a talent evaluator — had McIlrath rated higher than the other available defensemen.
I’m going to go right ahead and admit that he knows better than I. About a zillion times better.
Plus, the Rangers have a boatload of defensemen who can move the puck and skate and pass already in their system. They don’t have a cruncher or a shut-down guy anywhere, in the bigs or in the minors.
Will McIlrath be Pronger? That’s a bit wildly optimistic. Will he be Jeff Beukeboom? Well, he has the size and meanness, and he has more skill than Beukeboom had, and what’s wrong with a first-pair defenseman who plays 10-12 years? Will he be Sanguinetti, and traded at the 2014 draft for a second-round pick? Or will he be Hospodar or Dale Purinton? Very doubtful.
But we won’t know for two, three, four years. He’ll spend next year in juniors, at least.
Maybe by then, one of the other Rangers’ 2010 picks will be playing in the NHL. Who knows?
But chime in anyway in the poll on the right.