The New York Rangers were one of eight teams to be eliminated from the NHL’s qualifying round thanks to losing three straight games at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes. It marked the end of what should be considered a strong year for the franchise.
After finishing with the 5th worst record in the Eastern Conference in 2018-19 the team jumped up to 2nd overall in the NHL’s draft lottery and selected Kaapo Kakko. They then added Jacob Trouba and Artemi Panarin in the off-season and went on to have a much stronger season in 2019-20, finishing with 79 points in 70 games at the time of the pause.
Now getting swept in three games in the qualifiers is obviously disappointing, however, there’s no way the Rangers organization is upset by that now because on Monday night the team ended up getting the ultimate consolation prize.
The Rangers struck gold with their 1/8 chance (12.5% chance for every team that lost in the qualifiers) and won the NHL draft lottery and will select 1st in the 2020 NHL entry draft.
There’s no debate whatsoever about who the Rangers will be choosing with the pick. After putting up 112 points in 52 games in the QMJHL last season, along with 10 points in five games for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships, Alexis Lafrenière will be a Ranger next season.
Which then begs the question, what exactly does this selection do for the New York Rangers?
Lafrenière looks to have all the tools to be a superstar in the NHL. He’s big, strong, fast, has elite hands and tremendous hockey IQ. He almost certainly can step into a top 6 role with the Rangers on opening night and make an impact.
The only 1st overall picks in the past 10 years to have this much hype around them were McDavid and Matthews, while Mackinnon quickly put himself in that group once he hit the NHL. Anytime a team gets the 1st overall pick they expect to get a great player, but the Avalanche, Oilers and Maple Leafs got franchise changing players when they won the draft lottery. That should be the case here for the Rangers.
Lafrenière will give a big boost to a Rangers offence that that relied heavily on Panarin and Zibanejad. Also add Strome, Buchnevich, and the still very young Kakko, and this Rangers team will have a lot of talent going forward. Not to forget the big power forward in Chris Kreider who the organization decided to extend rather than trade at the deadline, and this team looks extremely well-rounded upfront for the foreseeable future.
Ultimately the way Lafrienière will impact the Rangers out of the gate is the exact same way he would have affected the other 7 teams in the lottery if they had one. It’s giving a team a skilled, impactful forward for three years on an entry-level deal.
With the Salary Cap staying at a flat 81.5 million dollars next season, Lafrenière becomes that much more valuable. The Rangers could have a superstar making less than a million dollars before bonuses, and that gives the Rangers something that just about any good team in the NHL would love to have. Some added flexibility.
It might not come right away this off-season, as they still have to re-sign pending RFA’s this summer such as Ryan Strome and Anthony Deangelo. Although, if we look towards the summer after the 2020-21 season, players such as Marc Stall (5.7 million dollar cap hit), Brendan Smith (4.35 million dollar cap hit), and Henrik Lundqvist (8.5 million dollar cap hit) are all coming off the books.
Thanks to the entry-level deal of Lafrenière, signing their RFA’s that summer (Buchnevich and Shesterkin) shouldn’t be an issue, and it will also allow the Rangers to likely make some signings in the free-agent market. There could be players hitting the free-agent market that we didn’t originally expect to because of the cap expecting to stay flat for a little while. The Rangers, who are a wealthy enough team to continue to spend to the cap even with the economic hardship the pandemic has brought us, might be able to take massive advantage of it to improve their roster.
With Lafrenière about to become a Ranger, one thing is for certain. The process the organization was taking to become not only one of the Metro’s elite but the league’s elite, has been greatly accelerated.