Rangers introduce the next franchise player in No. 2 pick Kaapo Kakko


Shortly after 8 PM (well 5 in Vancouver), the Rangers waited patiently for the Devils to make it official by selecting consensus top pick Jack Hughes. To their credit, they played the poker game well by using all three minutes before having GM Ray Shero give way to Martin Brodeur, who announced the 18-year old American center.

Once the suspense was out of the way, it was finally the Rangers’ turn to make their highest selection in an NHL Draft ever. Unless you want to count Brad Park in the 1966 Amateur Draft with the future Hall of Fame defenseman also going number two. Too bad they eventually packaged him with Jean Ratelle and Joe Zanussi to the Bruins in exchange for Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais.

When GM Jeff Gorton stepped up to the podium along with the Rangers management which included new Team President John Davidson, former architect Glen Sather, chief scout Gordie Clarke and coach David Quinn, he didn’t mince any words. Gorton wasted no time by quickly announcing Kaapo Kakko from TPS Turku, Finland as the second pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.

There was no acknowledgement of Vancouver being gracious hosts. He didn’t congratulate the Blues on finally winning their first Cup. Gorton doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who’s comfortable doing such stuff. Other GM’s like Lou Lamoriello might be. The bottom line is Gorton is here for one purpose. To continue improving the Rangers as they prepare for Phase Two of the rebuild.

It’s an exciting time for Ranger fans. By all accounts, they won last month’s NHL Lottery by moving all the way up to number two to get their man in Kakko. The Devils were always gonna be in the top three based on the odds. So, it wasn’t a great shock when they beat out their close Hudson rival for the top pick where they got their guy in Hughes.

The thing is by adding the physically gifted Kakko to a young talent pool that eventually will include K’Andre Miller added to Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, Brett Howden, Vitali Kravtsov and Igor Shesterkin, this team is going to be fun to follow. Let’s temper expectations for next season. Sure. Adding Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox should help bolster the blueline. Especially if they don’t do something foolish like trading Tony DeAngelo.

It’s possible that by training camp, both veterans Kevin Shattenkirk and Brendan Smith could be gone. If that comes to fruition, only Marc Staal will remain as the elder statesman with a couple of years left on his contract. The rest of the Ranger defense could be projected top pair Brady Skjei and Trouba, DeAngelo, Fox, Libor Hajek and Ryan Lindgren. They already relinquished the RFA rights of Fredrik Claesson, making him unrestricted.

My one question is how much does management value keeping a vet like Shattenkirk around if Fox struggles to establish himself early. That’s why he might not be going anywhere for now. It’s more likely Smith gets bought out. A solid citizen, who filled in on the fourth line admirably, he’s expendable. Quinn used him up front and on the back end when called upon.

There are other roster questions that will soon be answered. Will Chris Kreider still be a Blueshirt? Even though he didn’t go last night, it’s uncertain he’ll be retained with a year left on his contract. He’s gonna go from making $4.625 million on average to somewhere between $6.5 to 7 million next year. As much as I would prefer to keep him, it’s thought that the organization has already decided on his future. It doesn’t look like he’s staying.

What about Jimmy Vesey and Vladislav Namestnikov? Vesey’s name has been tossed around the rumor milk with a few teams interested. The Sabres could be a possible destination. They can use more depth up front. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

There’s even some talk about key restricted free agent Pavel Buchnevich. He improved under Quinn by setting a new career high with 21 goals. In 64 games, he went 21-17-38. The 24-year old Russian forward would be a good player to keep. He has good chemistry with Mika Zibanejad and should improve on his next contract. It depends how the Rangers view him.

Would they use Buchnevich as part of a package to pry William Nylander from Toronto? The Maple Leafs are in a bind due to leading scorer Mitch Marner, who wants to get paid too dollar over the long-term. If there’s a deal to be done, I’m sure Gorton will explore it.

In the meantime, the Rangers showed off their new toy to very pleased fans who turned out at the Draft Party last night.

The work isn’t done. Day Two will continue at 10 PST or 1 PM local time. Rounds 2-7 will go by quickly today. We’ll see what else they’re thinking.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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