A few months back I had asked Kevin if I could write up a draft preview for the blog and in my time preparing I've kept tabs on numerous prospects.
In the interest of full disclosure, I focused a lot on the second round since the Rangers held two picks in the second. After completing the trade that sent those very two second round picks to Calgary for D Tim Erixon, you will not be reading the names Adam Clendening, Victor Rask, Lucas Lessio, Robbie Russo, Shane McColgan, Marcus Granlund, Matt Nieto, Reid Boucher, Nick Cousins, Phillip Danault, or Joel Edmundson beyond this point.
Well with that out of the way, let's get down to business. So, who should we keep an eye on during draft night on June 24th? The first thing to do is identify needs in the Rangers system. The obvious and most cited need if you ask any Rangers fan is an elite playmaking center. Unfortunately, sitting at the 15th selection in the first round, there is no one prospect that can fill the requirement.
The next deficiency would be secondary scoring, in particular on the wing. So let's start right there and take a look at who might be pulling a Blueshirt over their head on draft day:
RW Joel Armia is currently playing in the Finnish pro league and had a pretty good season as an 18-year-old scoring 18 goals. Armia at 6'3 is big and has a ton of skill. He has a natural touch for putting pucks in the net, but is considered to be a one-zone player and uncomfortable at best outside the offensive zone.
RW Tomas Jurco has one of the slickest sticks you'll see of any draft-eligible prospect and has lit up YouTube with his dazzling skill. On the ice, Jurco scored 31 goals for the Saint John's Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, but much like Armia questions have been raised about toughness and defensive zone play. He's also been hit with that oft-heard buzzword "enigmatic." However, Jurco's play in the Memorial Cup and his strong combine has raised his stock heading through June.
LW Sven Bartschi had a great season in the WHL for the Portland Winterhawks. Bartschi plays well in all zones, can be used in any situation on the ice and most importantly can get it done offensively. He is one of the more complete wingers with a huge potential upside to have their name called in the first round. The big question with Bartschi is if he'll still be on the board at 15.
A pure goal scorer, LW Matt Puempel has registered back-to-back 30-goal seasons for the Peteborough Petes in the OHL. He can score almost anywhere on the ice with ease and possesses a true pro wrist shot. Puempel is coming off a season-ending hip injury and while his stock has fallen slightly, it does not change the fact that he is an absolute lethal goal scorer.
The Rangers probably got a good look at LW/RW Nicklas Jensen as a teammate of Christian Thomas (2010 - 2nd) for the Oshawa Generals. Jensen is a big, powerful winger that is not afraid to drive to the net. He isn't the best skater out there but is strong on his feet. The word "inconsistent" has been attached to him and that could be enough to scare some teams away. He is talented though and that can't be overlooked.
RW Tyler Biggs is a two-way, hard skating winger. He's a tough kid, who's willing to go to the net and grind it out in the corners. He also has a heavy shot and isn't afraid to take the body. Biggs is headed to Miami University in the fall and while he's not necessarily an elite player, he is a player that might draw the Rangers interest.
Now to some centers the Rangers could have their eyes on.
Also headed the NCAA route is C Rocco Grimaldi. The North Dakota-commit is an elite offensive talent. He has incredible vision to go along with slick hands, a laser shot and great skating ability. For the US National Development Team, Grimaldi put up numbers similar to that of the former top 10 picks Flyer's James van Riemsdyk and the Predators' Colin Wilson in their draft years. So why is Grimaldi an option here at 15? He's 5'6. Grimaldi is a good faceoff man but will probably end up at wing at the pro level due to his size.
One prospect that has no questions about his size is C Mark McNeill. McNeill is one of those "thoroughbreds" you hear about. He put up 81 points playing for the Prince Albert Raiders in the tough WHL and turned a lot of heads in the WJC-U18 tournament in Germany as arguably Canada's best forward. McNeill displays toughness by finishing his checks and fighting, but can also put the puck in the net and is a capable passer.
C Zach Phillips, a teammate of Jurco, posted 95 points for a very deep Sea Dogs teams. Not a great skater, but consistently drives to the net with effectiveness. He's a kid that relies on his natural ability without much effort. If he can put it all together he could dominate next season in the Q.
Outside of the top 6, this draft is widely considered boom or bust. It's really wide open. Your guess is really as good as mine as to whom the Rangers will end up drafting with the 15th pick on June 24th. I just wanted to offer a little insight into who might be out there for consideration.
Personally, if I had to choose a top 3, I would say Puempel, Biggs, and Grimaldi in that order. Puempel is a definite sniper, Biggs is a kid that fits the Rangers system perfectly and Grimaldi is a great talent.
Tell me who you think the Rangers should draft in the comment section below or hit me up on Twitter @mavanco.
Special thanks to Kevin of giving me the space to share my thoughts, Jess Rubenstein of The Prospect Park, Chris Peters of the United States of Hockey and Kirk Lueduke of Bruins Draft Blog for filling in the gaps with their on-point prospect insight.
McNeill seems a very conservative pick. If he's on the board if not shoot for the moon in the potential department.
@KingBadaBing The little draft research I've done had me excited about McNeill, but seeing lots of comments similar to yours regarding him.
@AG_Blue I'm going to take a guess and say it'll be on Versus. Anyone?
@KevinDeLury @KingBadaBing There's a lot to like about McNeill, I just don't know if he's a potential first line center. And that's what I personally am looking for. I think Phillips would make a better 1-2 punch with Stepan down the line. Jess over at PP brought up a great point maybe last week that yeah McNeill is a safe pick but then what happens to Anisimov, Boyle, and Lindberg? Does Dubi stay on wing? This also assumes that Stepan becomes the number one guy we all fantasize he can be.
As for the prospects you listed, put me in the Matt Puempel camp. This draft will be a crapshoot at 15 for sure, so best to go with some potential sky-high offensive talent to add to our pool.
All things being equal though, Ryan Strome is the guy i really want. Would take some maneuvering for sure though.