The New York Rangers draft success in recent memory has been less than ideal as most of the team’s top picks have failed to make an impact at the NHL level. Last week I ranked the worst draft picks the organization has made since 2000. Now, let’s look on the brighter side of things with the Rangers’ best selections this century as we prepare for the 2021 NHL Entry Draft in July.
Chris Kreider: 19th overall (2009)
Chris Kreider has been an extremely consistent player for the Rangers since 2012. Through nine seasons in New York, he’s accumulated 346 points in 573 games. While he’s never been an All-Star or eclipsed the 30-goal mark, he’s already had a great career. At 19th overall, the Rangers didn’t draft a superstar, but looking back it was a very solid selection in an average draft class.
Derek Stepan: 51st overall (2008)
Stepan was never able to become the first-line center Rangers fans hoped for, but his career on Broadway will be remembered fondly. Unfortunately, he became a victim of the rebuild in New York and was traded to the Coyotes in 2017. A late second-round pick, Stepan is currently 7th amongst his draft class in career points. From his NHL debut hat trick to his overtime winner against the Capitals, Stepan proved to be a terrific 2nd round draft pick and a fan favorite during his tenure as a Ranger.
T-5: Carl Hagelin: 6th round in 2007 and Jesper Fast: 6th round in 2010
In the first round, NHL teams hope to draft all-stars. In the second half of the draft, teams will sign up in a heartbeat to draft the Hagelin’s and Fast’s of the world. After the 4th round, only 7% of draft picks will go on to play 100 or more NHL games. The Rangers did a terrific job scouting these two Swedes a few years apart. The Rangers found two players with incredible hockey IQ and work ethic. Those two characteristics have allowed them to play a combined 1,128 career games, and they’re nowhere near the end of their careers. Although neither remains on the Rangers roster, Carl Hagelin and Jesper Fast are picture-perfect 6th-round picks.
4. Ryan Callahan: 127th overall (4th round) in 2004
After a terrible 69-point season and a lot of trades, the Rangers had 13 picks in the 2004 draft. Of their eight picks from the first three rounds, only three dressed in over 100 NHL games. Then, with their ninth selection, the Rangers selected future captain Ryan Callahan. While it failed to make up for the disastrous early rounds, Callahan was the silver lining. Once he became a regular on the roster in 2007, he never looked back. Known for his incredible work ethic and willingness to do whatever it takes to win, Callahan became the Captain four years later.
Although his career was constantly interrupted by injuries and eventually cut short after being diagnosed with a degenerative back disease, Cally will always be a favorite of the Blueshirt faithful. When healthy, Callahan was a consistent 25-goal scorer and an annual threat to win the Selke Trophy. Sadly, the Rangers traded Callahan to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Martin St. Louis in 2014, and a few years later his injuries continued to get worse. Though his career didn’t pan out like everyone assumed it would, he will always have a place in Rangers’ history. Not too shabby for a 4th round pick.
3. Igor Shesterkin: 118th overall (4th round) in 2014
Goalies are the most difficult players to project at a young age. We’ve seen goalies drafted in the Top 10 fail and undrafted goalies have outstanding careers. Although his career is 47 games young, this pick appears to be a huge steal. Shesterkin, the 14th goalie selected in 2014, is arguably the best prospect of the bunch. Though Thatcher Demko, Alex Nedeljkovic, Ilya Sorokin, and several other 2014 picks have bright futures ahead of them, none had as much pre-NHL success as Shesterkin. At a time when the organization needed to start planning for life after Henrik, this was a fantastic pick. Ranger fans will likely watch Igor in net at the garden for many years to come.
2. Pavel Buchnevich: 75th overall (3rd round) in 2013
Some people will think it’s premature to put Buch at #2, but I have no hesitation. Amongst 2013 draftees, Buchnevich ranks 14th in points and is second to only Jake Guentzel of players drafted after the first round. It’s always risky to take a Russian-born player playing in the MHL/KHL, especially after the first round, since the prospect may never step foot in the United States. But soon after the draft, Buchnevich lit up the World Junior Championships and the KHL. After finishing in the top 4 of U21 scoring three straight seasons, the Rangers signed Buchnevich to an ELC.
Since then, Buch has developed a complete offensive and defensive game that all came together this season. His production has improved every season, but he really broke out in 2021 with 48 points in 54 games. He was the team’s highest scorer at even-strength and played on the top penalty kill unit. He was a diamond in the rough that the Rangers took a chance on, one that paid off nicely.
1. Henrik Lundqvist: 205th overall (7th round) in 2000
No matter how poor some of the Rangers’ draft picks have been over the past 20 years, the Henrik Lundqvist pick makes up for a lot of the mistakes. The 22nd goaltender selected in the draft, Lundqvist has compiled 459 wins, the 6th most all time. The 21 goalies selected before him combined for 598 wins altogether. While late-round goalies have routinely emerged to become starters in the NHL, it’s rare to see them succeed to the degree Henrik did. You’ve probably heard it all before, but here’s a list of all Lundqvist’s records in New York: Games Played, Wins, Saves, Shutouts, Assists. There was never any doubt, the King is the best Rangers draft pick of all time. It will be nearly impossible to ever surpass it.