The New York Rangers have not historically been successful in the NHL entry draft. From 2000-2010, the Rangers selected 52 players in rounds 1-4, but only 17 played 100 games in the NHL. Leading up the NHL draft in July, let us take a look at some of the worst draft picks in Rangers history. Hopefully, history does not repeat itself.
5. Darin Oliver, Dane Byers, and Bruce Graham: 36th, 48th, and 51st overall in 2004
The NHL Entry Draft has historically been top-heavy. Even with today’s in-depth analysis, only 34% of 2nd round picks play 100 games or more in the NHL. Even with those odds, the Rangers 2004 2nd round picks were shocking. During a rebuild, the Rangers acquired 6 picks in the first two rounds in the 2004 draft. With their first three selections in the 2nd round, the Rangers chose Darin Oliver, Dane Byers, and Bruce Graham. If you are wondering who these players are, you are not alone. In total, the trio played a whopping six NHL games and scored one point.
Dane Byers did go on to have a successful 500+ game AHL career, which made him look like Wayne Gretzky compared to the others. Having a competitive AHL team is important, which is why the other two selections proved to be a complete organizational failure. Oliver played six AHL games before playing his entire career in Germany and Graham only played 58 AHL games. At a time when the Rangers at least needed to add some depth, these were a huge error in judgment.
4. Lias Andersson: 7th overall in 2017
The Derek Stepan trade was the beginning of the end for the Rangers’ mid-2010s era. While the return of Anthony DeAngelo had some success on the ice, the centerpiece was the 7th overall pick in the 2017 draft. The Rangers used that pick to select Swedish center Lias Andersson, someone they considered a “safe” prospect. While his career is far from over and a lot of his issues in New York were non-hockey-related, the Rangers learned an important lesson. It’s a mistake to draft someone in the first round solely on their abilities as a “team player” and a “leader”. It was a selection that felt like a reach at the moment and has turned out even worse.
Andersson was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in October 2020, almost a year after requesting a trade. Though originally considered a weak draft class, the 2017 draftees have been impressive thus far. Other players selected after Andersson include Gabriel Vilardi, Martin Necas, Nick Suzuki, Joshua Norris, Kailer Yamamoto, and Jason Robertson. The Rangers also selected Filip Chytil with the 21st overall pick, someone who almost immediately proved to be a better prospect. The Rangers worried too much about drafting a bust that they took someone not worthy of a lottery pick.
3. Al Montoya: 6th overall in 2004
Al Montoya was a serviceable backup goalie in the NHL for ten years for six different teams. Strangely enough, none of those six teams were the New York Rangers. Reflecting on it today, there’s a reason why goalies are rarely taken in the first round anymore. Montoya, the first Cuban-American to play in the NHL, was coming off a Gold Medal win for the USA in the 2004 World Juniors, and the Rangers were desperately looking for their next franchise goalie. Mike Richter had recently retired and 2001 first-round pick Dan Blackburn had suffered a nerve injury that ended his NHL career.
Unfortunately, Montoya failed to ever live up to this draft spot. Then, when a certain Swedish goalie emerged in 2005, there was quickly no place for Montoya on the Rangers. After a few decent seasons in the AHL for Hartford, he was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes. His journeyman career continued as he was traded to the Islanders and eventually signed short-term deals with multiple teams until his retirement in 2019. For some, a 10-year NHL career with 168 games played isn’t too shabby, but it’s not what the Rangers hoped for with the 6th overall pick.
2. Dylan McIlrath: 10th overall in 2010
The Dylan McIlrath selection was baffling at the time and only went downhill from there. With their highest draft pick in six years, the Rangers selected…an enforcer? Prior to being drafted, McIlrath had accumulated a measly 28 points in 118 games in the WHL. The even more staggering number, though, was the 271 PIM he had during that same time. Not only is it a waste of a lottery pick to draft an enforcer with a third-pair ceiling, but McIlrath also was criticized for his weak skating abilities before the draft.
McIlrath signed an AHL contract in 2012 and mostly stayed there for the next three seasons. In his first real opportunity to play in the NHL, McIlrath dressed in 34 games in 2015-16, notching four points. Unfortunately, a bad knee injury destroyed any chance to become a part of the Rangers plan and he was dealt to Florida. He has since signed a 2-way contract in Detroit where he was named Assistant Captain of the Grand Rapids Griffins. The Rangers had decided they needed a hitting defenseman, but instead of signing one, they reached for one in the first round.
1. Hugh Jessiman: 12th overall in 2003
The argument could be made for Mcllrath, but the loaded 2003 draft makes Hugh Jessiman look much worse in comparison. 16 of the 30 first-round selections became NHL all-stars, and the list of players selected later is insane: Dustin Brown, Brent Seabrook, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Brent Burns, Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry, Patrice Bergeron, Shea Weber, David Backes. Sadly, that is not even all of them. Jessiman’s NHL career, on the other hand, amounted to a whole 14 minutes of total ice-time.
Hugh Jessiman is the type of player that has absolutely no business being an early NHL draft pick. A massive 6’6” power forward, he scored at Dartmouth simply because he was huge. Predictably, his game didn’t translate whatsoever to the NHL. In 2008, the Rangers officially gave up on the former 1st rounder in a trade to Nashville for “future considerations.” He did have a mildly successful 8-year AHL career, though he finished with 849 PIM and only 228 points. In a year where numerous franchise players were drafted, the Rangers completely wasted a pick on a fighter.