The Rangers surprised some folks last year by taking Lias Andersson at No. 7 overall, higher than when he was expected to go.
Nobody can say the Rangers don’t pick with conviction, as they again bypassed some players considered by many to be top-10 talents in selecting 18-year-old Russian winger Vitali Kravtsov at No. 9 overall with the first of their three first-round picks.
Clearly this was the player Rangers brass and their scouting staff felt strongly about to take him over the likes of Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson, both of whom went to the Islanders, as well as Evan Bouchard.
“Just a lot of hockey sense, a lot of skill,” new Rangers coach David Quinn said of Kravtsov on NBCSN. “People rave about his character. He was a guy we talked an awful lot about over the last month, and we’re excited to get him.”
The Blueshirts then used some of the draft capital they accrued at the deadline to move up four spots to No. 22 overall to select 18-year-old defenseman K’Andre Miller, sending Ottawa the No. 26 overall pick they got from Boston and the No. 48 overall pick they got from New Jersey. Their third first-rounder at No. 28 was used to select Swedish defenseman Nils Lundkvist.
Kravstov, listed at 6-3, 184 pounds, is a skilled scorer with the upside of being a top-line wing. He’s under contract with KHL club Traktor Chelyabinsk through the 2018-19 season. If trajectory holds, he’s probably not too far off from being able to contribute at the NHL level.
He won the KHL Rookie of the Year award in 2017-18. He had four goals and three assists in 35 games before he exploded during the KHL playoffs, posting six goals and five assists in 16 games as his team made it to the semifinals. That is significant for an 18-year-old playing in one of the best pro leagues in the world. He’s a good skater, a trait becoming more valuable with each passing year in the NHL, and has good size.
Miller, who’s committed to Wisconsin, is a converted forward who’s considered a great skater.
The Rangers have bolstered depth at center and defenseman over the last year. Taking a winger with the potential to score a lot of goals fills a need. Kravtsov, Miller and Lundkvist now join a touted group of Rangers prospects which includes the Blueshirts’ two first-rounders from last year, Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, and trade acquisitions Libor Hajek, Brett Howden and Ryan Lindgren. This is the group the Rangers hope will serve as the nucleus of their youth movement.
How soon each player arrives will vary, but with all of them either 20 years old or younger and the Rangers in a transition period, nobody will be rushed.
This is a time for the Rangers to ‘Trust the Process,’ the one which began last summer when the club traded top Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to Arizona for the No. 7 overall pick, which became Anderson, and defenseman Tony DeAngelo.
Once another attempt at a Cup run went awry when the calendar flipped to 2018, the organization decided to go all in on selling veteran assets and reshaping the roster to get younger and faster with an eye on the long-term. GM Jeff Gorton and president Glen Sather signed a letter to fans on Feb. 8 announcing the club’s intent to rebuild.
They shipped out veterans, brought in prospects and picks and dismissed Alain Vigneault in favor of new coach David Quinn, someone they believe will get the best out of their young players.
From 2013-2016 the Rangers didn’t have a first-round pick. Preceding that stretch they hit on some first-rounders in Brady Skjei (2012,) J.T. Miller (2011) — who is now with Tampa Bay — and Chris Kreider (2009.)