Winning the Draft Lottery and garnering the first overall pick is a great moment for any franchise hoping to turn their luck around with a quality player. However, when there are instances of two great players vying to be selected first overall, the team with the second overall pick can turn out to be the real winner. Enter the New York Rangers.
The Rangers entered the 2019 Draft Lottery with the sixth best odds to get the first overall selection (7.5%). While they didn’t walk away with the first overall pick, who went to their rivals the New Jersey Devils, New York got the second overall pick. In a case like the Connor McDavid draft, it definitely stings to move up so far, but not get the first overall selection. However, with the top two draft prospects exceeding all expectations, the Rangers will get a great player no matter who the Devils select.
Throughout most of the 2018-19 season, Jack Hughes had been the sure pick to be taken first overall in the 2019 NHL Draft. While that might still be the case, Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko has been making a case to be taken first overall as well. Kakko’s play has continued to turn heads especially now that Hughes and Kakko are both playing for their respective nations at the World Championships in Slovakia. Kakko currently leads all skaters at the tournament with 5 goals in 3 games and scored an absolute beauty on the breakaway against Team Canada in his first game.
Kakko also played a pivotal role in helping Finland secure the gold medal in the World Junior Championships this year by scoring the go-ahead goal with under 2 minutes to go against the United States. He finished the tournament with 2 goals and 5 points in 7 games.
Kakko has shown incredible goal scoring ability and if drafted by the Rangers, could easily slot into their top 6 forward group next season.
There is the off chance that New Jersey takes Kakko leaving the Rangers to take Hughes. While that is still an excellent draft pick, it seems to make more and more sense for the Devils to take Hughes and the Rangers to take Kakko. New Jersey already has Nico Hischier as one of their key centers, but drafting Hughes would allow the Devils to have a 1-2 punch of Hughes and Hischier for years to come. This would then allow them to focus on filling out their bottom six and re-signing Taylor Hall and going from there. While drafting Kakko would give them a great winger to work with, it seems more likely they want to lock down their centers for the foreseeable future. As for the Rangers, Kakko could also immediately slide into their top six potentially even playing his rookie season alongside Mika Zibanejad. The Rangers also have one of their top prospects in Vitali Kratsov coming over from the KHL this upcoming season along with goalie prospect Igor Shestyorkin so the youth movement would be in full effect for New York.
Personally, I think that all of the talk generated around Kakko potentially going first overall is somewhat of a recency bias since he has been tearing it up internationally all year and had an excellent year in Liiga. Ultimately, the New York Rangers are in an excellent position because whether they get Hughes or Kakko, their rebuild will be accelerated that much further and will have a solid franchise player on their hands. Ultimately, I think that the Devils will select Hughes and the Rangers will land Kakko. If his play in the last year has been indicative to how he will play in New York, then Rangers’ fans are in for something special.