Rangers have options despite limited NHL draft picks

MONTREAL — Rangers president and general manager Chris Drury will enter his second NHL draft as head honcho Thursday having signed just three restricted free agents to one-year deals, one of which is expected to be traded at some point, since the club’s offseason began last month.

The offseason might just be getting started, but the start of free agency is steadily approaching on July 13, and the Rangers still have uncertainty surrounding critical parts of their lineup. The first in-person draft since 2019 just might be the time for Drury to make some moves that will provide clarity in those areas.

The Rangers, however, have just four picks in this year’s draft, their fewest number of selections in 10 years. The last time they had just four picks was 2012, when the Rangers were coming off a conference final loss to the Devils and in the midst of a championship window.

The 2022-23 Rangers, who are fresh off a conference final loss to the Lightning, appear to be on the cusp of another Stanley Cup window.

Chris Drury
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So this year’s draft isn’t so much about deciding which promising prospects fit in the organization. It’ll be an opportunity for Drury to strike deals and survey the landscape for acquisitions to address the Rangers’ current needs for a second-line center, another right wing and a backup goalie.

Still, the draft is equally important for the future. It’s just the second time in since 1980, when it became known as the entry draft, that the Rangers have just four picks. They don’t necessarily need to be stocking their somewhat-overflowing prospect pipeline, but Drury may want to hang onto his few remaining picks after trading so many away at the trade deadline this past season.

Drury unloaded a heap of draft picks to acquire reinforcements for the playoff run, which wouldn’t have gone on as long as it did without those additions. All four acquisitions, however, were pure rentals considering all four are unrestricted free agents this summer. There’s a possibility one or two will re-sign with the Rangers, particularly Tyler Motte, but the trade-deadline haul still cleaned out a good chunk of current draft stock.

Andrew Copp cost the Rangers a 2023 fifth-rounder and two conditional seconds that ended up turning into the Rangers’ 2022 first-round pick (No. 30) and the Blues’ original 2022 second-round pick (No. 55) for the Jets. Motte earned the Canucks a 2023 fourth-round pick, and Frank Vatrano earned the Panthers a 2022 fourth-rounder (No. 127), which now belongs to the Canadiens.

Drury also shipped a 2023 third-round selection to Philadelphia for Justin Braun, who only played in eight regular-season games before he leapfrogged veteran defenseman Patrik Nemeth and played all but one playoff contest. Though Drury gave up a handful of draft picks, the Rangers only lost one prominent prospect, Morgan Barron, who went to Winnipeg as part of the Copp deal.

The Rangers’ highest pick this year, No. 63, could be packaged in a trade. In fact, any of the Rangers’ four selections could be used to sweeten a deal. But Drury may want to keep the Rangers’ remaining picks. The later rounds of the draft are much more difficult to predict, but there are always hidden gems who exceed their draft position.

Some players who could fall to the Rangers at No. 63 include center Rieger Lorenz, right winger Gavin Hayes and defenseman Mats Lindgren, who is no relation to Ryan Lindgren. Lorenz, who is committed to the University of Denver for the 2022-23 NCAA season, was named the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s top rookie in May after a standout year.

The Rangers probably got a good look at Hayes, who played this season alongside the club’s 16th-overall pick last year, Brennan Othmann, with the OHL’s Flint Firebirds.