The intrigue for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft reached its crescendo on April 18 when the Edmonton Oilers cashed out as the Draft Lottery winner for the fourth time in the last six years – thus anointing themselves as the winners in the Connor McDavid Sweepstakes.

“He’s not only the most productive junior player, but also the most dynamic,” then-Oilers GM Craig MacTavish admitted to Mike Brophy of NHL.com
“I can’t tell you how exciting it is for us to win this lottery. Any team would have been just over the moon about winning the lottery, and we’re the same. It’s a game-changer.”

While the Buffalo Sabres lost, they are also winners of a not-too-shabby consolation prize – Jack Eichel.

“We don’t have the first pick, but we have the second pick and we have said all along there are two top-end, impact players, if not franchise players in this draft and they both play the right position (center) for rebuilding,” Buffalo GM Tim Murray explained to Brophy. “So as disappointed as we are in not having the No. 1 pick, we’re extremely happy to be picking No. 2.”

With the first two picks about as set in stone as any first two draft picks can be, the 2015 NHL Draft really begins once the Arizona Coyotes are on the clock with the third overall pick – the first of three the Coyotes own in the first round.

Arizona will shape the Draft depending on what GM Don Maloney does with the third pick. Do they look to continue to add to a young reserve of blueliners and select Noah Hanifin? If they decide on a forward, is it winger Lawson Crouse of centers Dylan Strome or Mitchell Marner? Given the intrigue and machinations swirling around the Coyotes, does Maloney entertain the possibility of dealing the third overall pick for immediate help and look to build the future late in the first round?

While there is a drop off in talent once you get by McDavid and Eichel, there is no lack of talent as there is depth throughout the draft – a point made by Red Line report’s Kyle Woodlief.

“Given the strength and depth of this year’s draft class, there appear to be a lot of teams highly motivated to get something done, so the inclination is to think we will see an active trade market at the draft,” Woodlief predicted in a column for USA Today.

In addition to Woodliefs’ depth proclamation, I expect trades to be the name of the game in the first round of Draft Weekend at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida because of the number of teams that have multiple picks in the first round. The same also holds true for other rounds in the 2015 NHL Draft.

The Coyotes (Nos. 3 and 30) lead the charge of six teams with multiple first round draft picks. The other teams include the Oilers (Nos. 1 and 16), the Sabres (Nos. 2 and 21), the Toronto Maple Leafs (Nos. 4 and 24), the Philadelphia Flyers (Nos. 7 and 29), and the Winnipeg Jets (Nos. 17 and 25).

The Sabres and Oilers will be the most active teams early with Buffalo set to make three picks within the first 31 selections and with Edmonton scheduled to make three picks in the Top 33.

Conversely, barring a trade, the New York Islanders will not make their first selection until Round 3 (72nd).

You can expect a lot maneuvering as teams look to move up and down in the first round, as well teams who will be looking to replace lost first round selections.

For example, the New York Rangers have been discussing deals involving backup goalie Cam Talbot who whined during Henrik Lundqvist’s absence. You can bet President/GM Glen Sather covets the Oilers second 1st round pick (formerly Pittsburgh’s) as well as keeping his eyes on Edmonton’s two second round draft picks (Nos. 33 and 57) as a fallback.

However, Sather and the Rangers will draw competition from the Ottawa Senators who can offer up prospect Robin Lehner or veteran Craig Anderson. Even the Dallas Stars have floated Kari Lehtonen’s name.

Time will only tell to see which team blinks first. In a perfect world, Edmonton would keep the second of their 1st round picks and draft a goalie for the future and possibly use their 2nd round picks and/or prospects to secure their goalie of the present.

In this Mock Draft, each player has ratings for the following scouting “services”: NHL’s Central Scouting (CS), The Hockey News (THN), International Scouting Service (ISS), and Bob McKenzie of TSN. CS breaks down their ratings by North American skaters (NAS), European skaters (ES), North American goaltenders (NAG) and European goaltenders (EG). THN lists each prospect’s NHL Translation while ranking skaters and goaltenders together. ISS provides a prospects’ comparable NHL player (for their Top 30 rated players) and has separate rankings for skaters and goaltenders. McKenzie and TSN rank the Top 75 prospects along with 10 Honourable Mentions and rank skaters and goaltenders together.

The First Round Draft positions utilized are those as of 12p.m. on Thursday, June 25, 2015.

1. EDMONTON OILERS – CONNOR MCDAVID – C
CS: # 1 NAS —– THN: # 1 (Franchise Center)
ISS: # 1 (Sidney Crosby) —– TSN: # 1 (Gilbert Perreault)
If new Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli plays his card properly in terms of draft selections and draft dealings, Edmonton might be able to bid a fond farewell to the NHL Lottery for some time because McDavid is that good. He is the ultimate franchise player who is so good that ISS scout Phil Myre said McDavid’s “acceleration and execution with the puck at high speed is the best I’ve seen since Bobby Orr.”

2. BUFFALO SABRES – JACK EICHEL – C
CS: # 2 NAS —– THN: # 2 (Franchise Center)
ISS: # 2 (Mike Modano) —– TSN: # 2 (Ryan Getzlaf)
Eichel is no slouch in terms of the franchise player label and is in good company with comparisons to Modano, Getzlaf and Joe Sakic (according to ISS). One concern is that Eichel is not sure where he wants to play next season. It is possible he returns to Boston University, which sets the Sabres up for another round of Draft Lottery bingo and the chance to select Auston Matthews first overall in 2016.

3. ARIZONA COYOTES – DYLAN STROME – C
CS: # 4 NAS —– THN: # 4 (Top Line Center)
ISS: # 3 (Anze Kopitar) —– TSN: # 5 (Ron Francis)
The third overall pick is really where the 2015 Draft starts because it has been McDavid and Eichel one-two for a long time. Once again dark clouds rise over the Arizona sky in terms of where the Coyotes will play. If the Coyotes stay the course, Strome will help give Arizona a strong one-two punch down the middle when he teams up with Max Domi.

4. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS – MITCH MARNER – RW
CS: # 6 NAS —– THN: # 5 (Scoring Winger)
ISS: # 6 (Patrick Kane) —– TSN: # 4 (Patrick Kane)
With no GM in place, Director of Player Personnel Mark Hunter is expected to run the Leafs draft. With rumors swirling over possible deals (i.e. salary dumps) for Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf, T.O. could go forward or defense. If decide to go for offense then the Leafs will have a fine one in Marner.

5. CAROLINA HURRICANES – NOAH HANIFIN – D
CS: # 3 NAS —– THN: # 3 (Two-Way Defender)
ISS: # 5 (Erik Johnson) —– TSN: # 3 (Jay Bouwmeester)
Another team that is looking to move some salary (Eric Staal or Jeffrey Skinner), Carolina could forward or defense. If Toronto goes defense, it is possible the Hurricanes would snap up Marner. If not, Carolina goes for the best d-man prospect in Hanifin. The youngster still has room for growth and maturity and will not turn 19 until the middle of the season.

6. NEW JERSEY DEVILS – LAWSON CROUSE – LW
CS: # 5 NAS —– THN: # 8 (Power Forward)
ISS: # 4 (Ryan Kesler) —– TSN: # 7 (Andrew Ladd)
A new era is dawning in New Jersey with Ray Shero taking over from Lou Lamoriello as GM. Look for Shero to change the culture of the club and to open up the offense as he is able to reload the cupboard. He is a power forward with what ISS calls “elite” level size and strength (6-4/215). He also has a mean streak as evidenced by his eight game suspension in his Junior’s teams final playoff contest.

7. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS – IVAN PROVOROV – D
CS: # 7 NAS —– THN: # 6 (Two-Way Defender)
ISS: # 7 (Andrei Markov) —– TSN: # 8 (Mark Giordano)
Another team with a new sheriff in town as Ron Hextall returns to Philly as the newest “Flyer Du Jour” as the Broad Street Bullies look to return to prominence. Hextall learned his craft well while with the Kings and should look to Provorov. The youngster is playing in the WHL and might not be as quick as Hanifin to join the rush; Provorov is a much heavier hitter.

8. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS – MIKKO RANTANEN – RW
CS: # 1 ES —– THN: # 12 (Two-Way Winger)
ISS: # 9 (Jeff Carter) —– TSN: # 10 (Jakub Voracek)
The Jackets led the NHL is games lost to injury so they might want to consider drafting help in the training staff. The failure to sign Mike Reilly might have Columbus look to Zach Werenski with this pick, but Rantanan is a solid top-six forward with size (6-4/209) and ability to play in the Finnish Elite League at the age of 18.

9. SAN JOSE SHARKS – TIMO MEIER – RW
CS: # 10 NAS —– THN: # 13 (Scoring Winger)
ISS: # 14 (Chris Kunitz) —– TSN: # 12 (Marian Hossa)
The Sharks might be joining the Oilers as one of those teams on the prowl for goaltending help; therefore, it is possible that this pick ends up somewhere else. If San Jose keeps it, Meier brings a European background to a player who is hard on the puck and managed 44 goals in the QMJHL last season.

10. COLORADO AVALANCHE – ZACH WERENSKI – D
CS: # 9 NAS —– THN: # 9 (Two-Way Defender)
ISS: # 11 (Rob Blake) —– TSN: # 11 (Brent Seabrook)
For me, it was a tough decision as to which way I would go if I were the Avalanche. After looking at the later parts of the draft, it seems there is more value in Werenski at 10 and help in other areas later in the draft. While he is the third d-man taken in the draft, he has the ability and skills to be the best of the bunch.

11. FLORIDA PANTHERS – MATTHEW BARZAL – C
CS: # 11 NAS —– THN: # 10 (Playmaking Center)
ISS: # 8 (Claude Giroux) —– TSN: # 9 (Justin Williams)
Florida needs to find ways to improve an offense that was 25th in goals and 24th on the PP. Barzal brings playmaking skills to the table based on his hockey sense and skating. Played in only 44 games due to, what THN calls, a freak off-ice knee injury. He came back to lead Canada in scoring and to a Bronze medal in the U-18 championships in April.

12. DALLAS STARS – JAKUB ZBORIL – D
CS: # 12 NAS —– THN: # 22 (Physical Defender)
ISS: # 22 (Niklas Kronwall) —– TSN: # 14 (Niklas Hjalmarsson)
The Stars have a good corps of puck-moving d-men, but their physical defensive blueliners are projects. At 6-2/185, Zboril is still maturing as a player but he has a jump on other European-born players as he made the jump to the QMJHL last season.

13. LOS ANGELES KINGS – PAVEL ZACHA – C
CS: # 8 NAS —– THN: # 7 (Power Forward)
ISS: # 10 (James Neal) —– TSN: # 6 (Eric Staal)
While the Kings have concerns on defense, L.A.’s path to repeating as Cup winners was stalled by an inconsistent offense. At 6-3/214, Zacha gives the Kings the option of a solid power forward that might stay at center or shift to the wing.

14. BOSTON BRUINS – KYLE CONNOR – C
CS: # 13 NAS —– THN: # 11 (Scoring Center)
ISS: # 13 (Kyle Turris) —– TSN: # 13 (Brandon Saad)
Boston is another perennial playoff team that will look to 2015 as a bump in the road and treat it as a year to reload. Like most teams, the Bruins are looking for ways to add scoring and speed. Connor used his speed, fast hands and goal scorer’s know-how to snipe 34 goals in 60 USHL games with Youngstown – helping them to league record 17-game winning streak.

15. CALGARY FLAMES – NICK MERKLEY – RW
CS: # 23 NAS —– THN: # 15 (Scoring Winger)
ISS: # 19 (Brayden Schenn) —– TSN: # 17 (Nicklas Backstrom)
The Calgary native might not be the fastest or most elegant skater in the draft, but he is a playmaker who is stronger on the puck than you might expect from someone his size (5-10/187). While his goal dropped from 25 to 20, his assists numbers skyrocketed to 70 from 33.

16. EDMONTON OILERS – ILYA SAMSONOV – G
CS: # 1 E-G —– THN: # 38 (Starting Goaltender)
ISS: # 1 G (Not Available —– TSN: # 19 (Andrei Vasilevskiy)
I still have to believe this pick could be in motion in the right deal for the right goaltender. Even if they moved later picks and/or prospects for a veteran-type goalie, Samsonov still makes sense moving forward. While first round goaltenders that succeed are few and far between, the Oilers can’t take the chance that another team won’t snap up Samsonov later in the first round. Besides, why have some nay draft picks if you are not going to gamble every now and then.

17. WINNIPEG JETS – EVGENY SVECHNIKOV – C/RW
CS: # 17 NAS —– THN: # 16 (Scoring Winger)
ISS: # 18 (Jakub Voracek) —– TSN: # 18 (Max Pacioretty)
While he is listed as a RW, Cape Breton used him at center toward the end of the regular season and the playoffs. He ended up winning 52% of his faceoffs in a seven-game losing effort against the Memorial Cup host Quebec Remparts.

18. OTTAWA SENATORS – TRAVIS KONECNY – C
CS: # 14 NAS —– THN: # 24 (Scoring Center)
ISS: # 12 (Zach Parise) —– TSN: # 15 (Pat Verbeek)
Konecny and a few other players of his size (5-10/172) will all owe Tyler Johnson a few adult beverages because the Lightning’s play in the playoffs will have opened some eyes. Travis has had a history of concussions and shoulder problems so he will hate to adjust his game slightly, but his hockey sense and compete level should win the day.

19. DETROIT RED WINGS – THOMAS CHABOT – D
CS: # 16 NAS —– THN: # 23 (Offensive Defender)
ISS: # 16 (John Klingberg) —– TSN: # 25 (Alex Edler)
The Red Wings are a team whose star players are beginning to see the end of superb careers, so Detroit has to start replenishing their system. With Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha on the horizon, the Wings could look to the blueline and draft Jakub Zboril’s Saint John teammate. Chabot stepped up his play when Zboril was injured and parlayed his season into a spot with Canada’s U-18 team.

20. MINNESOTA WILD – PAUL BITTNER – LW
CS: # 26 NAS —– THN: # 17 (Scoring Winger)
ISS: # 17 (James van Riemsdyk) —– TSN: # 20 (James van Riemsdyk)
Bittner (6-4/204) has the size that NHL scouts drool over. The Crookston, MN native has drawn some criticism for not using his size more and for not producing more despite being on a line with NHL draftees Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand. Bittner is solid in terms on 5-on-5; PPP and PK play and is willing to drive to the net for goals.

21. BUFFALO SABRES – OLIVER KYLINGTON – D
CS: # 6 ES —– THN: # 20 (Offensive Defender)
ISS: # 32 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 24 (Keith Yandle)
Kyle Woodlief of Red Line Report reminded everyone that current Sabres GM Tim Murray drafted Erik Karlsson when he was in Ottawa. Woodlief refers to Kylington as “Karlsson-lite” so it isn’t too much of a stretch for Buffalo to use one of their many picks on a player that one scout told THN reminded him of a cross between Niklas Kronwall and Trevor Daley.

22. WASHINGTON CAPITALS – JEREMY ROY – D
CS: # 21 NAS —– THN: # 26 (Two-Way Defender)
ISS: # 23 (Marc-Edouard Vlasic) —– TSN: # 29 (Dan Boyle)
With three veteran UFA d-men (including Mike Green), looking to bring in first round depth is not a bad thing. Roy’s size (6-0.183) isn’t ideal, but his sense for the game more than makes up for it. He is good at moving the puck, especially on that first breakout pass – and he has the ability to QB the PP as a right-handed shot from the point.

23. VANCOUVER CANUCKS – FILIP CHLAPIK – C
CS: # 18 NAS —– THN: # 30 (Scoring Center)
ISS: # 40 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 38 (Sean Couturier)
Chlapik is never going to win any awards for his skating style, but his hockey sense and natural abilities more than make up for it. Born in the Czech Republic, Chlapik joined Charlottetown of the QMJHL and did not miss a beat, scoring 33 and 42 assists in 64 games.

24. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS – COLIN WHITE – C
CS: # 29 NAS —– THN: # 19 (Two-Way Center)
ISS: # 15 (Patrice Bergeron) —– TSN: # 16 (Brandon Sutter)
A wrist injury and a bout with mono wreaked havoc with White’s USHL season with Team USA. However, the Boston College recruit responded in the U-18 with six goals and three assists in seven games. THN joined ISS in making Patrice Bergeron comparisons with White.

25. WINNIPEG JETS – NICHOLAS ROY – C
CS: # 45 NAS —– THN: # 18 (Two-Way Center)
ISS: # 47 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 73 (Joe Colbourne)
Roy might be a bit of a reach at #25, but for a team that is seeking to add size at center then Nicholas is worth the gamble. At 6-4/203, Roy is already an NHL center. The problem is that his skating is not. Roy needs to step up his development and production this season after a pair of 16-goal season with Chicoutimi. He did score three goals and three assists in seven games with Canada’s U-18 team.

26. MONTREAL CANADIENS – JAKE DEBRUSK – LW
CS: # 19 NAS —– THN: # 28 (Two-Way Winger)
ISS: # 27 (Kyle Okposo) —– TSN: # 28 (Ondrej Palat)
While Jake (6-0/176) is a bit smaller than his father Louie (6-1/225), the younger DeBrusk far outshines his father in terms of offensive ability. After posting 39 points in 72 games in his rookie season with Swift Current, Jake erupted for 42 goals and 39 assists in 72 games. The offensive improvement was keyed by his strong skating and solid hockey IQ.

27. ANAHEIM DUCKS – BROCK BOESER – RW
CS: # 27 NAS —– THN: # 14 (Scoring Winger)
ISS: # 35 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 26 (Kyle Okposo)
While the Ducks have some youth among their secondary scorers, their big guns (Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf) are turning 30. Boeser affords the Ducks a solid opportunity to bring in a potential big-time scorer. Originally committed to attend Wisconsin, Boeser reopened his recruitment and chose North Dakota.

28. TAMPA BAY LIGHNTING– JOEL ERIKSSON EK – C
CS: # 4 ES —– THN: # 27 (Two-Way Center)
ISS: # 20 (Lars Eller) —– TSN: # 23 (Derick Brassard)
Ek is the solid two-way performer that the Detroit Red Wings won Stanley Cups with, so it shouldn’t be a stretch for GM Steve Yzerman to select the Swedish center. He split time playing in the Swedish Elite League and the Swedish Junior League. He held his own against the older players and averaged a point a game against his age level.

29. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS – BRANDON CARLO – D
CS: # 25 NAS —– THN: # 31 (Shutdown Defender)
ISS: # 21 (Marc Staal) —– TSN: # 22 (Brayden Coburn)
While the Flyers are carrying Chris Pronger for salary cap purposes, they could use a physical d-man as part of their rebuild. Carlo (6-5/185) fits that need to a “T”. His reach is even bigger than what you might expect from someone 6-5. His skating ability is also better than one would expect from such a big player.

30. ARIZONA COYOTES – NOAH JUULSEN – D
CS: # 22 NAS —– THN: # 33 (Two-Way Defender)
ISS: # 29 (Ryan McDonagh) —– TSN: # 37 (Kevin Bieksa)
Two-way d-man who has spent the last two years refining his game in North America with Everett of the WHL. While he is a little smaller than you would like (6-1/181), THN pointed out that scouts say he plays bigger than he really is – muck like Kevin Bieksa and Rhett Warrener. He played the PP in Juniors and his ability to do so in the NHL will signify the difference between a top four d-man and a third-pair defenseman.

FIRST ROUND DRAFT PICK TRANSACTIONS
1. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ first-round pick will go to the Edmonton Oilers as the result of a trade on January 2, 2015 that sent David Perron to Pittsburgh in exchange for Rob Klinkhammer and this pick.
2. The New York Islanders’ first-round pick will go to the Buffalo Sabres as the result of a trade on October 27, 2013 that sent Thomas Vanek to New York in exchange for Matt Moulson, a second-round pick in 2015 and this pick (being conditional at the time of the trade). The condition – Buffalo will receive a first-round pick in 2014 or 2015 at New York’s choice – was converted on May 22, 2014 when the Islanders elected to keep their 2014 first-round pick.
3. The Nashville Predators’ first-round pick will go to the Toronto Maple Leafs as the result of a trade on February 15, 2015 that sent Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to Nashville in exchange for Olli Jokinen, Brendan Leipsic and this pick.
4. The St. Louis Blues’ first-round pick will go to the Winnipeg Jets as the result of a trade on February 11, 2015 that sent Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and Jason Kasdorf to Buffalo in exchange for Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux, and this pick (being conditional at the time of the trade). The condition – Winnipeg will receive the lowest of Buffalo’s first-round picks in 2015 – was converted on April 27, 2015 when the Islanders were eliminated from the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs, ensuring that the Blues’ first-round pick would be lower.
Buffalo previously acquired this pick as the result of a trade on February 28, 2014 that sent Ryan Miller, Steve Ott and conditional second and third-round picks in 2014 to St. Louis in exchange for Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, William Carrier, a conditional first-round pick in 2014 and this pick.
5. The New York Rangers’ first-round pick will go to the Tampa Bay Lightning as the result of trade on March 5, 2014 that sent Martin St. Louis and a conditional second-round pick in 2015 to New York in exchange for Ryan Callahan, a conditional first-round pick in 2014, a conditional seventh-round pick in 2015 and this pick.
6. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s first-round pick will go to the Philadelphia Flyers as the result of a trade on March 2, 2015 that sent Braydon Coburn to Tampa Bay in exchange for Radko Gudas, a third-round pick in 2015 and this pick (being conditional at the time of the trade). The condition – Philadelphia will receive the Lightning’s first-round draft pick in 2015 if it is not the first overall selection – was converted on March 30, 2015 when Tampa Bay qualified for the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs ensuring that this pick could not be a lottery selection.
7. The Chicago Blackhawks’ first-round pick will go the Arizona Coyotes as the result of a trade on February 28, 2015 that sent Antoine Vermette to Chicago in exchange for Klas Dahlbeck and this pick.

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In this Second Round Mock Draft, each player has ratings for the following scouting “services”: NHL’s Central Scouting (CS), The Hockey News (THN), International Scouting Service (ISS), and Bob McKenzie of TSN. CS breaks down their ratings by North American skaters (NAS), European skaters (ES), North American goaltenders (NAG) and European goaltenders (EG). THN lists each prospect’s NHL Translation while ranking skaters and goaltenders together. ISS provides a prospects’ comparable NHL player (for their Top 30 rated players) and has separate rankings for skaters and goaltenders. McKenzie and TSN rank the Top 75 prospects along with 10 Honourable Mentions and rank skaters and goaltenders together.

The Second Round Draft positions utilized are those as of 12p.m. on Thursday, June 25, 2015.

31. BUFFALO SABRES – MACKENZIE BLACKWOOD – G
CS: # 1 NA-G —– THN: # 39 (Starting Goalie)
ISS: # 5 G (Not Available) —– TSN: # 35 (Braden Holtby)
The Sabres emptied out their goaltending cupboard as part of their strategy to make an eventual run at Connor McDavid. While they will need to bring in someone for the present (e.g. Cam Talbot?), Blackwood sets them up for the not-too-distant future. The big netminder (6-4/215) has played two full seasons with Barrie (OHL).

32. ARZIONA COYOTES – JORDAN GREENWAY – LW
CS: # 47 NAS —– THN: # 50 (Power Forward)
ISS: # 31 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 62 (Benoit Pouliot)
Don’t be too surprised if Greenway’s physical makeup (6-5/223) and potential as a power forward doesn’t push him into the first round. He still has some maturing to do hockey-wise, but once he develops his game he has a chance to be a steal of the draft.

33. EDMONTON OILERS – GABRIEL CARLSSON – D
CS: # 2 ES —– THN: # 29 (Shutdown Defender)
ISS: # 30 (Braydon Coburn) —– TSN: # 27 (Jonathan Ericsson)
A disappointing U-18 tournament might have cost Carlsson a shot at the first round. While is most likely this pick is involved in whatever deal Edmonton makes for a goaltender, we will presume they keep the pick for Mock Draft’s sake. It makes sense for the Oilers to draft a defensive d-man with solid hockey sense and size – a nice addition for whomever is in goal in Edmonton.

34. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS – VINCE DUNN – D
CS: # 32 NAS —– THN: # 34 (Offensive Defender)
ISS: # 51 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 36 (Trevor Daley)
Dunn’s game is built on being an offensive d-man. One scout told THN that Dunn not only joins the rush, but is just as adept at leading the rush. A bit on the smallish side (6-0/185), Dunn overcomes it thanks to a high compete level and solid skating.

35. CAROLINA HURRICANES – JANSEN HARKINS – C
CS: # 15 NAS —– THN: # 21 (Scoring Winger)
ISS: # 25 (Jordan Staal) —– TSN: # 30 (Ryan O’Reilly)
Todd Harkins, Jansen’s Dad, was the younger Harkins’ GM in Prince Albert. He uses his hockey sense to be more playmaker than goal scorer. Jansen needs to work on his skating if he wants to see top six forward minutes on a consistent basis.

36. NEW JERSEY DEVILS – DENIS GURYANOV – RW
CS: # 7 ES —– THN: # 66 (Not Available)
ISS: # 24 (Chris Stewart) —– TSN: # 21 (Chris Kreider)
New GM Ray Shero continues his effort to revitalize the Devils offense. Guryanov (6-3/183) is still filling out and learning to play to his size. Once he does that, he will easily be a top six forward because of a wide arsenal of offensive moves who has a nose for the net.

37. BOSTON BRUINS – DANIEL SPRONG – RW
CS: # 20 NAS —– THN: # 25 (Scoring Winger)
ISS: # 26 (Marian Gaborik) —– TSN: # 33 (Alex Semin)
The Amsterdam, Holland native is the next step in new GM Don Sweeney’s attempt to increase scoring and skating to the Bruins organization. Sprong has tallied back-to-back 30 goal seasons (30 and 39) with Charlottetown (QMJHL). Sprong is equal parts sniper and playmaker.

38. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS – JACK ROSLOVIC – RW
CS: # 39 NAS —– THN: # 37 (Scoring Winger)
ISS: # 36 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 34 (Chris Kunitz)
The Columbus native allows the Blue Jackets to continue to stockpile talent. Roslovic has shown an ability to survive and thrive with 2016 Draft wunderkinds Auston Matthews and Matthew Tkachuk. Roslovic, who will be attending the University of Miami-Ohio, made a big splash at the U-18 by scoring five goals and 4 assists in five games.

39. SAN JOSE SHARKS – DANIEL VLADAR – G
CS: # 2 E-G —– THN: # 40 (Starting Goalie)
ISS: # 2 G (Not Available) —– TSN: # 47 (Martin Jones)
The Sharks are no strangers at drafting, developing and winning with European-born goaltenders. Vladar played poorly and was pulled against Team USA in the U-18. However, he did how the ability to split time with Kladno’s Men’s Team and its U-20 Team in the Czech Republic. He uses his size (6-5/185) in the butterfly. Vladar just needs to refine his game and technique before making the transition to the NHL.

40. COLORADO AVALANCHE – NICOLAS MELOCHE – D
CS: # 40 NAS —– THN: # 54 (Physical Defender)
ISS: # 37 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 44 (Francois Beauchemin)
At 6-2/198, Meloche is what you expect him to be a – defensive d-man who plays a physical (and sometimes nasty) game. Rather than stand out in one part of the game, Meloche does a little bit of everything well.

41. NEW JERSEY DEVILS – JEREMY BRACCO – C
CS: # 60 NAS —– THN: # 74 (Not Available)
ISS: # 28 (Tyler Johnson) —– TSN: # 53 (Mats Zuccarello)
It is very possible that the Devils might, and should, look to draft a defenseman at this point. However, Bracco’s talent and ability is too much to pass up. The only thing standing between Bracco and a definite first round selection is his size (5-9/173). Bracco makes up for his lack size with very strong skating skills and outstanding puck skills. While he is more of a playmaker, Bracco has a goal scorer’s shot and should thrive in the NHL as a PP specialist – at the very least.

42. OTTAWA SENATORS – ZACH SENYSHYN – RW
CS: # 38 NAS —– THN: # 47 (Scoring Winger)
ISS: # 39 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 40 (Joel Ward)
The Ottawa native spent most of the season playing on the fourth line for a loaded Sault Ste. Marie team. Despite the lack of top line ice time, Senyshyn score 26 goals and 19 assists in 66 games in OHL rookie season.

43. LOS ANGELES KINGS – JONAS SIEGENTHALER – D
CS: # 12 ES —– THN: # 79 (Not Available)
ISS: # 56 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 32 (Simon Despres)
At 6-3/220, Siegenthaler already has an NHL body. In addition, he is also a mobile defenseman and a good skater for someone his size. Jonas will not be a big point producer, but he is able to play smart game and keep the puck moving.

44. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING – ROOPE HINTZ – C/LW
CS: # 14 ES —– THN: # 56 (Two-Way Winger)
ISS: # 52 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 58 (Lars Eller)
Hintz has proven to be a jack-of-all trades with his ability to play the wing or the pivot. While he needs to develop a consistency to his game, Hintz has shown that he can elevate his game by spending last season in the Finnish Elite League. Hintz also has a familiarity with North American hockey after playing Junior A hockey in Tampa Bay and Bismarck in 2012/13.

45. CALGARY FLAMES – MITCH VANDE SOMPEL – D
CS: # 34 NAS —– THN: # 36 (Offensive Defender)
ISS: # 74 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 63 (Kimmo Timonen)
After utilizing just one pick on their last 10 first rounders, the Flames will look to a unique player. One would have a hard time finding another d-man who runs the point on the PP and then moves up to forward to kill penalties like Vande Sompel. It is that hockey IQ and compete level that have allowed him to overcome his lack of size (5-10/181),

46. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS – ALEXANDER DERGACHEV – RW
CS: # 17 ES —– THN: # 58 (Power Forward)
ISS: # 45 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 54 (Devante Smith-Pelly)
In the salary cap era, the Penguins have done a great job of keeping Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin happy contract-wise. However, that same salary cap has hampered their ability to find permanent linemates for them. At 6-4/201, Dergachev presents an imposing target for either star center. He has all the tools to be a bona fide NHL power forward – now he just needs to bring all of his components together. Missed being eligible for last year’s draft by 12 days.

47. WINNIPEG JETS – RYAN GROPP – RW
CS: # 71 NAS —– THN: # 55 (Scoring Winger)
ISS: # 50 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 56 (Michael Raffl)
Originally committed to North Dakota, Gropp switch plans and signed with Seattle two years ago. He has an NHL body (6-3/192) and features strong skating [and] a good shot. Gropp needs to harness and develop his size and use it more to his advantage – like driving to the net more. Gropp saw some time on the same line with first rounder Matthew Barzal.

48. OTTAWA SENATORS – ERIC CERNAK – D
CS: # 16 ES —– THN: # 99 (Not Available)
ISS: # 42 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 41 (Michal Rozsival)
At 6-3/202, Cernak already brings an NHL-ready body to the table. He uses his size and hockey IQ to win battles down low and he has the ability to get into proper position to get into the shooting lanes. Cernak has a good enough shot to be used on the PP and is a must on the PK.

49. DALLAS STARS – CALLUM BOOTH – G
CS: # 2 NA-G —– THN: # 86 (Not Available)
ISS: # 8 G (Not Available) —– TSN: # 51 (Brian Elliott)
While the Stars have Jack Campbell, there has been some talk that they might move Kari Lehtonen. The 6-3/200 Booth plays his angles well and has the ability to square up to the shooter. While he does a lot of the little things well, he does need to work on his rebound control. Booth has plenty of time to fill in the holes because he doesn’t turn 19 until late May 2016.

50. MINNESOTA WILD – TOM NOVAK – C
CS: # 28 NA —– THN: # 25 (Scoring Center)
ISS: # 44 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 57 (Derek Stepan)
Novak already has a majority of the Wild fans won over. The Wisconsin native committed to the U. of Minnesota. The 6-0/181 Novak needs to work on his skating and bulk up a bit more, but his playmaking abilities can’t be questioned.

51. BUFFALO SABRES – ANTHONY BEAUVILLIER – C
CS: # 33 NAS —– THN: # 48 (Scoring Center)
ISS: # 41 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 43 (Jaden Schwartz)
Beauvillier was one of the two captains at the CHL Top Prospects game (Connor McDavid was the other) – which shows how scouts are willing to overlook a lack of size (5-10/181) when they see talent. His leadership ability and talent level are seen at both ends of the ice. His development from his rookie season to his sophomore season with Shawinigan was remarkable as he went from 33 points (9-24) to 94 points (42-52) in just three more games last season.

52. CALGARY FLAMES – NIKITA KOROSTELEV – RW
CS: # 50 NAS —– THN: # 46 (Scoring Winger)
ISS: # 60 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 69 (P.A. Parenteau)
There is no fear of losing Korostelev to the KHL because the 6-1/196 RW has spent the last two seasons with Sarnia (OHL) – giving him a nice head start against other Euro-born prospects. His skating is the one thing that probably kept him out of the first round. Despite that, his size and offensive game will make him a PP specialist.

53. CALGARY FLAMES – PARKER WOTHERSPOON – D
CS: # 43 NAS —– THN: # 49 (Two-Way Defender)
ISS: # 54 (Not Available) —– TSN: # HM (Mark Stuart)
Wotherspoon is a two-way defenseman who seems to fall between the cracks because he does not have the size (6-0/170) of a big physical d-man and he does not have the complete offensive game to be an offensive d-man. What he does do well is compete every shift and look to make plays.

54. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS – YAKOV TRENIN – LW
CS: # 48 NAS —– THN: # 43 (Two-Way Winger)
ISS: # 59 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 64 (Mickael Backlund)
The 6-2/179 Trenin is another Euro-born prospect who decided his best path to the NHL was through Major Junior. Trenin seemed to improve game-by-game with Gatineau (QMJHL). While he does need to work on his skating, he has shown a willingness to work on his game. A poor defender at the start of the season, Trenin was seeing time on the PK.

55. NASHVILLE PREDATORS – MITCHELL STEPHENS – C
CS: # 112 NAS —– THN: # 65 (Not Available)
ISS: # 33 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 46 (Andrew Shaw)
The sentimental pick would be d-man Caleb Jones, brother of star blueliner Seth Jones. Predators need for more help offensively has to swing the day at this point of the draft. Stephens is a playmaker who bases his game on hockey sense and a strong competitive spirit – both of which were on display for Canada at the U-18.

56. ST. LOUIS BLUES – DENIS YAN – LW
CS: # 30 NAS —– THN: # 45 (Scoring Winger)
ISS: # 48 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 38 (J.T. Miller)
The 6-1/187 Yan is an interesting story. He is an American-born player who was raised in Russia. He started with the U.S. National Team Development Program before joining Shawinigan (QMJHL) last season 33 goals and 31 assists in 59 games and seven goals in seven playoff games.

57. EDMONTON OILERS – GUILLAUME BRISEBOIS – D
CS: # 41 NAS —– THN: # 74 (Not Available)
ISS: # 46 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 48 (Marc-Edouard Vlasic)
The Oilers have more than enough offensive prospects in the cupboard. Brisebois is a two-way d-man who served as Bathurst’s captain at the age of 17 (in his second year of Juniors). At 6-2/175, Brisebois has time to develop his game from both a physical and maturity level. Despite his youth, he is a strong competitor with a solid hockey IQ.

58. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS – JAKOB FROSBACKA-KARLSSON – C
CS: # 31 NAS —– THN: # 57 (Two-Way Center)
ISS: # 55 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 52 (Daniel Winnik)
The Swedish center is taking an unusual route to the NHL. He has spent the last two seasons with Omaha (USHL) and has committed to play at Boston University. It will be interesting to see of “JFK” teams with Jack Eichel in a Boston-area school next season. The Blue Jackets are developing an organization where they can afford a 2ns round pick on a player who, at the very least, be a solid two-way third-line center who is strong on faceoffs and kills penalties.

59. NEW YORK RANGERS – AUSTIN WAGNER – LW
CS: # 35 NAS —– THN: # 67 (Not Available)
ISS: # 43 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 64 (Dwight King)
Wagner will continue the Rangers quest to add stronger and stronger skaters to the lineup. The 6-1/178 Wagner uses that speed to be dangerous on the rush and when he kills penalties. Of most interest to Rangers fans, Wagner uses his speed to be defenders wide and then funnel everything to the slot and to the net. He could turn out to be a bigger Ryan Callahan-type of player.

60. ARIZONA COYOTES – CHRISTIAN FISCHER – RW
CS: # 37 NAS —– THN: # 59 (Power Forward)
ISS: # 38 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 45 (Alex Killorn)
For a team that seems to have perennial ownership issues, it isn’t the worst thing in the world to draft a player who is committed to Notre Dame as they can stash him there for three or so years. Meanwhile, the Coyotes add a power forward (6-1/21) who has drawn some interest at the end of the first round.

61. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS – GRAHAM KNOTT – LW
CS: # 57 NAS —– THN: # 53 (Scoring Winger)
ISS: # 73 (Not Available) —– TSN: # Not Available (Not in Top 85)
The 6-3/192 Knott has drawn varied scouting reports. Some see him merely as a third-line forward who will hit and pop the occasional goal. Others see him as a top-six forward. While he almost doubled his point totals with Niagara (23 to 44), there are those scouts who believe he should be productive. The feeling is that if he can’t get stronger and work on raising his compete level, Knott will live up to the latter scouting report.

SECOND ROUND DRAFT PICKS TRANSACTIONS
1. The Toronto Maple Leafs’ second-round pick will go to the Columbus Blue Jackets as the result of a trade on March 5, 2014 that sent Marian Gaborik to Los Angeles in exchange for Matt Frattin, a conditional third-round pick in 2014 and this pick. Los Angeles previously acquired this pick as the result of a trade on June 23, 2013 that sent Jonathan Bernier to Toronto in exchange for Ben Scrivens, Matt Frattin, and this pick (being conditional at the time of the trade). The condition – Los Angeles will receive a second-round pick in 2014 or 2015 at Toronto’s choice – was converted on January 18, 2014 when Toronto’s second-round pick in 2014 was traded to the Anaheim Ducks.
2. The Philadelphia Flyers’ second-round pick will go to the Boston Bruins as the result of a trade on October 4, 2014 that sent Johnny Boychuk to New York in exchange for a second-round pick in 2016, a conditional third-round pick in 2015 and this pick. The Islanders previously acquired this pick as the result of a trade March 4, 2014 that sent Andrew MacDonald to Philadelphia in exchange for Matt Mangene, a third-round pick in 2014 and this pick.
3. The Florida Panthers’ second-round pick goes to the New Jersey Devils as the result of a trade on February 26, 2015 that sent Jaromir Jagr to Florida in exchange for a conditional third-round pick in 2016 and this pick.[25]
4. The Dallas Stars’ second-round pick will go to the Ottawa Senators as the result of a trade on July 1, 2014 that sent Jason Spezza and Ludwig Karlsson to the Stars in exchange for Alex Chiasson, Nick Paul, Alex Guptill and this pick.
5. The Los Angeles Kings’ second-round pick was re-acquired as the result of a trade on March 5, 2014 that sent Hudson Fasching and Nicolas Deslauriers to Buffalo in exchange for Brayden McNabb, Jonathan Parkers, LA’s second-round pick in 2014 and this pick. Buffalo previously acquired this pick as the result of a trade on April 1, 2013 that sent Robyn Regehr to the Kings in exchange for a second-round pick in 2014 and this pick.
6. The Boston Bruins’ second-round pick will go to the Tampa Bay Lightning as the result of a trade on March 2, 2015 that sent Brett Connolly to Boston in exchange for a second-round pick in 2016 and this pick.
7. The Detroit Red Wings’ second-round pick will go to the Dallas Stars as the result of a trade on March 1, 2015 that sent Erik Cole and a conditional third-round pick in 2015 to Detroit in exchange for Mattias Janmark, Mattias Backman and this pick.
8. The New York Islanders’ second-round pick will go to the Buffalo Sabres as the result of a trade on October 27, 2013 that sent Thomas Vanek to New York in exchange for Matt Moulson, a conditional first-round pick in 2014 and this pick.
9. The Washington Capitals’ second-round pick will go to the Calgary Flames as the result of a trade on March 1, 2015 that sent Curtis Glencross to Washington in exchange for a third-round pick in 2015 and this pick.
10. The Vancouver Canucks’ second-round pick will go to the Calgary Flames as the result of a trade on March 2, 2015 that sent Sven Baertschi to Vancouver in exchange for this pick.
11. The Chicago Blackhawks will receive the 24th pick of this round (54th overall) as compensation for not signing 2010 first0-round draft pick Kevin Hayes.
12. The Montreal Canadiens’ second-round pick will go to the Edmonton Oilers as the result of a trade on March 2, 2015 that sent Jeff Petry to Montreal in exchange for a conditional fifth-round pick in 2015 and this pick.
13. The Anaheim Ducks’ second-round pick will go to the Columbus Blue Jackets as the result of a trade on March 2, 2015 that sent James Wisniewski and Detroit’s third-round pick in 2015 to Anaheim in exchange for Rene Bourque, William Karlsson and this pick.
14. The New York Rangers’ second-round pick will go to the Arizona Coyotes as the result of a trade on March 1, 2015 that sent Keith Yandle, Chris Summers and a fourth-round pick in 2016 to New York in exchange for John Moore, Anthony Duclair, a conditional first-round pick in 2016 and this pick.
15. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s second-round pick will go to the New York Rangers as the result of a trade March 5, 2014 that sent Ryan Callahan, a conditional first-round pick in 2014, a first-round pick in 2015, and a conditional seventh-round pick in 2015 to Tampa Bay in exchange for Martin St. Louis and this pick (being conditional at the time of the trade). The condition – the Rangers will receive a second-round pick in 2015 if Callahan is re-signed by Tampa Bay for 2014/15 – was converted on June 25, 2014 when Tampa Bay signed Callahan to a six-year contract.
16. The Chicago Blackhawks’ second-round pick will go to the Philadelphia Flyers as the result of a trade on February 27, 2015 that sent Kimmo Timonen to Chicago in exchange for a conditional fourth-round pick in 2016 and this pick.

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The 2015 NHL Draft represents the third consecutive year that the New York Rangers will go without a 1st round draft pick. Barring any trades, this year or next, it will be four years and counting come the 2016 NHL Draft as the Rangers moved that 1st rounder to the Arizona Coyotes in the Keith Yandle deal.

As a result of the Martin St. Louis-Ryan Callahan trade, the Rangers first selection in 2015 will be the Second Round with the 59th pick.

The Rangers have made the 59th overall selection four times in the history of the NHL Draft. The last time the Rangers made the 59th pick was last year when they selected goaltender Brandon Halverson.

Prior to the Halverson pick, you have to go back to the 1999 NHL Draft to find the next time the Blueshirts made the 59th overall pick. They drafted Center David Inman in the second round. Inman played four years at Notre Dame and then played a couple of years in the minors – splitting 71 AHL games with Hartford and Lowell and 69 ECHL games with Charlotte.

You have to jump 12 years to the 1978 Draft to find the Rangers exercising the 59th pick – a selection who would make history two years later as a member of the 1980 Miracle on Ice team. Fourth round pick Dave Silk made his bones in the Olympics, but he did play 249 NHL games.

The first time the Rangers made the 59th overall pick was 1969 when they spent a fifth round pick on defenseman Gord Smith – a veteran of 299 NHL games with Washington and Winnipeg.

Unless the Rangers are busy on draft day, they will make five draft picks during their time in Sunrise, Florida. The Rangers own the following picks in the Second Round (59th overall) and Third Round (89th overall).

Odds are the Rangers will be adding to that above-listed total as President/GM Glen Sather is actively shopping goaltender Cam Talbot. While the team would love to swap Talbot for Edmonton’s second 1st round pick (#16), that is highly unlikely to happen unless the Blueshirts are able to play the Oilers off the Sabres, Sharks and Flames.

Further complicating the matter is that Ottawa is making Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner available and there are talks that Dallas could be persuaded to deal Kari Lehtonen.

Talbot’s one-year deal at $1.45 million is very enticing to any team looking to acquire a goalie. It would cost at least two to three times that much if a team wanted to sign an UFA. The problem is that any team acquiring Talbot is prohibited by the CBA of extending him until after January 1, 2016.

On Thursday morning, the NY Post’s Larry Brooks reported that the Rangers have given teams permission to speak to Talbot’s representatives to judge Cam’s opinions on an eventual contract extension.

Darren Dreger of TSN reported on Tuesday that the Rangers were offered two 2nd round picks for Talbot, but the Blueshirts turned down the deal. Dreger confirmed the offer was not from Edmonton but he could not confirm if the draft picks were in the same year or not.

There was some talk that the Oilers were offering their 2nd round pick (#33) and defenseman Martin Marincin, but the Rangers were cool to the deal – and rightly so. Marincin, much like Dylan McIlrath, will need to clear waivers to be assigned to the AHL so there is no reason to bring him and run the risk of losing him on waivers.

For the purpose of my Rangers Mock Drafts, we are going to work under the presumption that Talbot remains with the Rangers – at least through the Draft. To take any other stance would be to open up too many variables. Also, the Rangers could decide to keep Talbot and look to move him prior to the 2016 Draft. The Blueshirts would not get as much at that point, but a team would probably make a deal in order to get a jump start on signing Talbot.

However, if the Rangers were able to secure the 16th overall pick from the Oilers (or another 1st round pick) I would not hesitate to use it on any of the following four players: Paul Bittner, Jake DeBrusk, Brock Boeser, and Colin White. If the Rangers were really daring, they could try and move down a couple of spots in the first round and look to add some additional picks.

As we move ahead to the Second Round and Third Round previews, I have selected three players of interest per round and they are listed in order of preference.

SECOND ROUND

NIKITA KOROSTELEV – RW
CS: # 50 NAS —– THN: # 46 (Scoring Winger)
ISS: # 60 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 69 (P.A. Parenteau)

The 6-1/196 Korostelev spent the last two seasons preparing himself for the NHL and North American style of hockey by playing for Sarnia (OHL). He did show some incremental offensive improvement between his first year in Sarnia (60-17-21-38) and his second year (54-24-29-53).

There is a concern that skating will hold him back, but that his skill set still points to him being a solid PP specialist.

ISS Scout: “Exceptional shot, quick release. Can score and make plays, although sometimes makes blind passes [See, he already sounds like a Ranger]. Speed is not great, but he has good sense and not afraid to play in traffic.”

AUSTIN WAGNER – LW
CS: # 35 NAS —– THN: # 67 (Not Available)
ISS: # 43 (Not Available) —– TSN: # 64 (Dwight King)

The 6-1/178 Wagner works equally as hard in all three zones on the ice. He continues the Rangers plan of adding speed and strong skaters to the lineup. In 61 games with Regina (WHL), Wagner scored 20 goals and 19 assists – not too bad for a youngster who just turned 18. He could turn out to be a little bigger and quicker version of Ryan Callahan.

ISS: “Funnels everything to the net and skates to the slot with ease. Works hard 200 feet and shows strong discipline to take care of one zone at a time, doesn’t force the game. Expect his level of play and production to rise next year as he takes on a bigger role in the offense.”

SEBASTIAN AHO – LW
CS: # 18 ES —– TSN: # HM (Patrik Elias)
ISS: # 61 (Not Available) —– THN: # Not Rated (Not Available)

It should be interesting come draft day because there are two prospects named Sebastian Aho who are draft-eligible. This Aho is born in Finland and is a winger while the other Aho is a Swedish defenseman who, interestingly enough, is rated as the 13th best European skater.

Aho is one of those players in this year’s draft who will owe Tyler Johnson some props for opening up scouts eyes to players who are six-feet tall. Of course, the Rangers have experience with such players (Martin St. Louis and Mats Zuccarello).

While it won’t make sense to play Aho on one wing and Zucc on the other, it would be equally as foolish to pass on the 5-11/172 based just on his size. With limited draft picks available, the Rangers have to take the best players they can and sort out the rest.

ISS Skill: “Creative, intelligent winger who reads the game extremely well and has strong offensive tools.

ISS NHL Potential: “Second line offensive winger who can bring a high-tempo, creative game.”

THIRD ROUND

A.J. GREER – LW
CS: # 57 —– THN: # 60 (Power Forward)
ISS: # 57 (Not Available) —– TSN: # Not Rated (Not Available)

Truth be told, I am very high on the 6-3/203 Greer that I would give every consideration of drafting him the second round – which is why I would like to see the Rangers add some extra draft picks.

The Quebec native spent his freshman year as a teammate of Jack Eichel at Boston University. It was a rollercoaster ride of a season as Greer battled early season benching, to a “promotion” to the fourth line before seeing action on the Terriers second line during the Frozen Four’s final two games.

While he tallied just three goals and four assists in 37 games, much is expected of Greer. His game is based on his size and strength and a solid skating game for someone of his size.

Could you imagine the havoc the Beantown Line of Greer, Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes could wreak on the NHL?

CHRISTIAN JAROS – D
CS: # 40 ES (Not Available) —- THN: Not Rated (Not Available)
ISS: 69 (Not Available) —– TSN: # Not Rated (Not Available)

The 6-3/201 right-handed shooting defenseman has extra motivation during the 2014/15 season as he went undrafted during the 2014 NHL Draft. While known for being a physical defensive d-man, Jaros has good skating and puck-handling skills and might merit some PP in the future because he has a pretty good shot from the point.

ISS: “A strong two-way figure on the backend [who] brings it on both sides of the puck, defensively intelligent, attention to detail and active, while offensively showing good vision and good decisions on the first pass and ability to generate from the point on the PP.”

KEEGAN KOLESAR – RW
CS: # 65 NAS —– THN: # Not Rated (Not Available)
ISS: 65 (Not Available) — TSN: # HM (Matt Martin)

ISS sees the 6-1/217 Kolesar as a “3rd line, two-way, power forward” who can play on the PK. He is the type of player who is going to bring a physical presence to whatever line he is on. He can add valuable defensive play to a scoring second line and much-needed offensive spark to the checking third line.

ISS: “Big winger with above average hands and puck control, heads up and carries the puck with confidence. North-south type but has good upside [potential].”

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Trying to map together a draft strategy for the New York Rangers in the Fourth Round (#119), Sixth Round (#179), and Seventh Round (#209) is a lot like trying to find that proverbial needle in the proverbial haystack. However, that hasn’t stopped me before and it isn’t going to stop me now.

The game plan has to be to try and get the biggest bang out of the buck as possible. It does not matter if it seems that the team is over-stockpiling talent at one position – that is what trades are for. It is also why I have a goaltender on my list in the sixth round – although he could be gone by the time the Rangers draft.

Once again I list three players in my preferred order of selection in each round.

FOURTH ROUND

VEETI VAINIO – D
CS: # 25 ES —– THN: # Not Rated (Not Available)
ISS: # 89 (Not Available) —– TSN: #: Not Rated (Not Available)

Skating and the ability to join the rush are the calling cards of the 6-2/169 right-handed shooting d-man. ISS says that his so adept at joining the rush that he acts more as a fourth forward than the first blueliner in on the rush. He is going to need to work on maturing and getting stronger so that he can add a physical component to his game.

ISS: “offensively gifted defenceman who possesses an elite skill-set and skating ability. Quality offensive defenseman who can QB the breakout and the PP.”

ADAM MUSIL – C/RW
CS: # 61 NAS — THN: # 71 (Not Available)
ISS: # 104 (Not Available) — TSN: #65 (Andrew Desjardins)

NHL bloodlines run very deep for the 6-3/202 forward. His father Frantisek was a veteran of 797 NHL games as a d-man. Brother David made his NHL debut on defense for Edmonton playing four games and his uncle is Bobby Holik.

Musil has room to develop his game, especially in terms of improving his skating. While ISS projects him out as a potential top-six forward candidate, he might fit nicely in the niche his Uncle Bobby had as a force as one of the NHL’s best checking/third line centers.

KEVIN STENLUND – C
CS: # 21 ES — THN: # Not Rated (Not Available)
ISS: 90 (Not Available) —– TSN: # Not Rated (Not Available)

At 6-3/205, Stenlund already has an NHL body – and he doesn’t turn 19 until September. On the down side, he has had two knee injuries and only time will tell as to if/how they play a role in his development. Stenlund served as the captain for his HV71 U-20 team.

ISS: “A big center who plays with maturity and great leadership. Utilizes his big frame well in protecting the puck … needs significant development time.”

SIXTH ROUND

RYAN BEDNARD – G
CS: # 22 NA-G —– THN: # Not Rated (Not Available)
ISS: # 19 G (Not Available) —– TSN: # Not Rated (Not Available)

Many of you are wondering why I have a goaltender listed given the depth in the organization. The answer is simple, you can never have enough goaltending and in a draft with such few selections it is best to get the best you can.

The 6-4/180 Bednard has committed to Bowling Green University after posting a 2.86 GAA and a .913 SV% for Johnstown of the NAHL. Factor in four years of college and another two years honing his craft in the minors, it will be at least six years before Bednard could logically state his case for a shot as the number one in New York – and a lot of things can happen during that time.

Bednard uses the butterfly style and pays attention to playing his angles. One benefit that he would bring is his ability to control the puck with his stick and distribute it to his teammates.

DRYDEN HUNT – C
CS: # 111 NAS —– THN: # Not Rated (Not Available)
ISS: 144 (Not Available) —– TSN: # Not Rated (Not Available)

Hunt is another one of those players who spent last season with a chip on his shoulder as he went undrafted in the 2014 Draft. Much like Christian Jaros, there might be a couple of teams regretting that they didn’t take a late round flyer on either player.

Hunt (6-0/199) projects out as a two-way center who exploded between his second WHL season (62-21-19-40) and his third season that was split between Regina and Medicine Hat (71-33-50-83).

ISS: “An effective two-way center who shows strong strength, balance and protection skating up ice. Third line ceiling. Secondary offensive contributor who can play special teams well.

GRANT GABRIELE – D
CS: # 90 NAS —– THN: # Not Rated (Not Available)
ISS: # 141 (Not Available) —– TSN: # Not Rated (Not Available)

The 6-1/167 d-man is a product of the U.S. National Team Development Program. Gabriele does a little bit everything well. His game should develop as he starts to mature on the ice and off the ice – and adds some bulk to his frame. He has committed to play at Western Michigan University.

ISS: “Steady simple two-way defenseman showing good mobility and awareness in all zones. Depth defender who will show up every day and give you his all.”

SEVENTH ROUND

CHASE PEARSON – C/LW
CS: # 123 NAS —– THN: # 83 (Not Available)
ISS: # 193 (Not Available) —– TSN: # Not Rated (Not Available)

The 6-2/190 Pearson is another 2015 draft prospect who has NHL bloodlines as his father Scott Pearson played in 292 NHL games. Pearson is expected to return to Youngstown of the USHL before heading to the University of Maine in 2016. I wouldn’t be adverse to the Rangers taking Pearson prior to the 7th round – even as high as the 4th round.

“He’s a big, strong two-way centerman,” Youngstown coach Anthony Noreen told the Bangor Daily News. “He has elite hockey sense, and he’s great on faceoffs.”

Pearson scored 12 goals and 14 assists in 57 games with Youngstown, but eight of his goals came on the PP.

ISS: “A strong and big winger who skates well and displays aggressive puck pressure. Good offensive positioning. Bottom six defensive shutdown role.”

SAM MILETIC – LW
CS: # Not Rated (Not Available) —– THN: # Not Rated (Not Available)
ISS: # 178 (Not Available) —– TSN: # Not Rated (Not Available)

The 6-0/182 Miletic is a future University of Michigan commitment so you know that he is going to learn how to play the game under legendary coach Red Berenson. While he projects out as a two-way forward, his offensive game is still developing. His hockey IQ, skating and compete level do leave room open for developing offensively. If he turned to be Carl Hagelin-lite, he still would be a useful NHL player.

ISS: “A two-way versatile forward who brings strong work ethic and intangibles on both sides of the puck. A depth forward who can PK and provide secondary offense.”

CHAZ REDDEKOPP – D
CS: # 82 NAS (Not Available) —– THN # Not Rated (Not Available)
ISS: # 176 (Not Available) —– TSN: # Not Rated (Not Available)

The 6-3/200 blueliner already features NHL size and pretty good skating ability for someone his size. He is the prototypical shutdown, physical d-man teams crave. He uses his size to battle in front to clear the net and to deliver big hits. The left-handed shooting defenseman’s shot is better than his offensive game – scored five goals (with 16 assists) in 72 games with Victoria (WHL).

ISS: “Solid stay at home defender with a strong thick build and responsible instincts and work ethic. Depth defender who will thrive in playoff style hockey.”

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Fleury – Crosby – Malkin. Check.

Holtby – Ovechkin – Backstrom. Check.

Bishop – Stamkos – Johnson – et al. Next up.

While the eyes of the NHL will be on Ben Bishop, Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson, the eyes of Rangers fans will be on the et al part of the equation as prodigal sons Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman attempt to prove that you can go home again.

Of course, the Blueshirts can match the Lightning “expatriate” for “expatriate” as Martin St. Louis, Dan Boyle and Dominic Moore look to spoil their former organization’s run to the Stanley Cup.

In truth, each team’s connection to the other runs a couple of players deeper. On the Rangers side, former Tampa Bay forward Ryan Malone appeared in six games with the Blueshirts before being assigned to Hartford and retiring. Defenseman Mike Kostka appeared in 22 games with the Lightning last year, including three in the playoffs.

On Tampa Bay’s side, Jonathan Marchessault was a member of the Rangers Connecticut Wolves AHL affiliate in 2011-12 (76-24-40-64) being signing with Columbus prior to the 2012-13 season.

As Rangers fans have come to learn, it don’t come easy as their team’s path to prosperity is hardly paved with gold. All 12 of the Blueshirts games have been one-goal decisions this season and, if you factor in the last two games of the Stanley Cup Final, that figure is 14 straight. In fact, 19 of the Rangers last 21 playoff games have been decided by one goal.

The Rangers fondness for 2-1 games is something that seems to be shared by other playoff teams. Through the first two rounds, over one quarter of playoff games ended with a 2-1 score.

The Rangers Eastern Conference Final foes handed them three losses in the space of 15 days from November 17-December 1, with Tampa Bay outscoring New York 15-7.

While at first blush the Lightning’s dominance seems to be extremely disconcerting, but a closer look tells a different story. The Rangers followed their December 1 loss to Tampa Bay with a 3-2 loss to Detroit on December 6 – a game that saw the Rangers blow a 2-0 first period lead. The Rangers were just one game over .500 and a deep run into the playoffs was not on too many people’s minds.

However, that loss turned out to be the turning point of the season. Starting with an overtime win over Pittsburgh, the Blueshirts ran off eight consecutive wins before losing at Dallas on December 29. The Rangers followed that loss to the Stars with a five game winning streak that included their three-game sweep of the California teams.

The Rangers went on an unprecedented 42-12-3 run that turned a run-of-the-mill 11-10-4 team into a 53-22-7 team that won the Presidents’ Trophy.

The bottom line is that the current New York Rangers are a much different (and better) team than the Lightning at the beginning of the season. Heck, Tampa Bay can the same thing as Johnson and defenseman Victor Hedman elevated their play to an elite level. But the Rangers difference is both one in terms of different personnel (Keith Yandle and James Sheppard) and growth of youngsters who are making a difference in the lineup on a nightly basis (Jesper Fast, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller).

In addition, the Rangers played the first two games against Tampa Bay without Captain Ryan McDonough and Fast was out of the lineup in the first game. Boyle and Tanner Glass missed the third game and while McDonagh did play, it was only his third game back in the lineup.

Of course, all of those regular season accolades go out the window once the playoffs arrive. While the Rangers can set aside their two weeks of hell against the Lightning, they should not forget it or they will be condemned to repeat it.

They need to heed the numbers Tampa Bay’s best offensive players posted during the three games. Stamkos led the Lighting in points with seven (2-5) and former Rangers captain Callahan paced the Lightning with four goals (two on the PP).

The Lightning’s Triplets Line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov combined for five goals and eight assists.

While all of those offensive numbers look good, their pale in comparison to the
6-foot-7 gorilla in the room – goaltender Ben Bishop. The fact that Bishop’s goals against average in the three games was 2.34 is a testament to the Rangers “success” against this season.

Bishop, who is 8-0 against the Rangers, entered the season with only seven goals against in his previous five games. Overall, Bishop’s GAA against the Rangers is 1.49 thanks to a .946 SV % and two shutouts.

As a comparison, Henrik Lundqvist is 17-12-6 with a 2.41 GAA and .914 SV% in 35 career games against the Lightning.

Another stat to consider is that St. Louis had two PPGs against his former teammates, but he played a team worst -6 in the series (as did Dan Girardi).

While the Lightning are a solid defensive team, 12th best during the regular season and 5th best in the playoffs, Tampa Bay’s game is built on their offense which led the NHL during the regular season and is 4th in the playoffs.

While Tampa Bay has size, especially on defense with the likes of Hedman (6-6), Andrej Sustr (6-7) and Braydon Coburn (6-5); and don’t forget Boyle who matches Sustr’s 6-7 frame, the Lightning are not expected to go out of their way to try and intimidate the Rangers through physical play.

Rather, the Lightning will look to pressure the Rangers by using their talent, speed and quickness. In doing so, they might be doing the Blueshirts a big favor.

It is interesting to see how the Rangers style of play and that of their opponents have developed over the years and through the playoffs.

In the Rangers matchups against Pittsburgh and Washington, the Blueshirts faced off against teams with offensive firepower but were more concerned with defending the Rangers speed, blocking shots and being overly physical than they were playing their own game. It was very reminiscent of the John Tortorella Era New York Rangers.

In facing Tampa Bay, the Rangers are facing a team that is similar to the Alain Vigneault New York Rangers. Both teams are built to beat you with their skating and speed. While neither team is overly physical, they are not going to back down from the physical play and both teams make sure to finish their checks.

Both teams watched as their main offensive guns, Stamkos/Callahan and Nash/St. Louis, struggled at the start of the playoffs. Both teams were living on superb efforts from secondary scorers. In the Lightning’s case, The Triplets have registered unreal numbers with 17 goals and 14 assists in 13 playoff games.

Each team has faced their come-to-Jesus meeting in the playoffs, Tampa Bay coming from behind to eliminate Detroit in the first round and the Rangers with their historic comeback against Washington.

In looking at the Rangers-Lightning series, here are five keys to a Rangers victory:

FORECHECK
The easiest way to slow down the Lightning’s top two lines is to keep them pinned in their own end. While Hedman is among the NHL elite defenseman and Stralman has elevated his game, the rest of Tampa Bay’s d-men are not big-time puck carriers. The Ranges best strategy might be to dump the puck into Hedman’s corner and look to hit him early and often and tire him out/slow him down before he starts the Lightning rush. Tampa Bay has been known to dress seven d-men and might do so once Callahan proves that he is fully over his appendix removed.

BEST PLAYERS MUST STEP UP
It is a foregone conclusion that teams need their best players to play their best in the playoffs. For the most part, that has been the case for the Rangers but two players in particular must step their game up an extra notch.

Rick Nash has probably played some of the best two-way hockey he has ever played in his career. Far too many times a star offensive player will allow his scoring slump at affect his defensive zone play. That has hardly been the case with Nash. With that said, the Rangers need him to step up his offensive production and start burying some of the chances he is getting. Instead of trying to be cute and get Braden Holtby to pen up his pads, Nash should have hit the slot with a wicked wrister on his Game 7 breakaway.

Nash could probably get away with being a playmaker if the third forward on his line could find his scoring touch. While Derick Brassard is tied with Chris Kreider for the team lead in goals (5), St. Louis has been nothing but a disappointment offensively in the playoffs.

The jump in his step that was his calling card for years in Tampa Bay is practically – so much so that Brooks Orpik managed to catch him from behind. It is possible that his knee is giving him trouble or it is possible that the end is near for St. Louis. After all, it is usually a player’s legs that go first and that is a death knell for a player who made his living on his speed and skating.

The bigger concern is that it seems that his hands and ability to finish have vanished as well. He was unable to bury a couple of close-in chances against Holtby – the kinds of shots that he used to bury in the past.

SPECIAL TEAMS
This is always a major key in every playoff series and will continue to be as long as the Rangers offense continues to struggle and as long as the Rangers continue to play one-goal games in the playoffs. Given the Rangers season-long struggles on the PP, they had success against Tampa Bay scoring three goals on 10 PP chances. Marty St. Louis scored two of them and Dan Boyle added the third.

The Blueshirts are going to need to find ways to increase their offense and improving their PP is the first step. Whether it is on the PP or at even strength, the Rangers are going to have to do some dirty work in front of the net in terms of being more than just a finesse team. They need to add a lot more “jam” to their game as Tortorella would say.

The Lightning was 4-12 with the man advantage against the Rangers in the regular season.

Carl Hagelin pointed out that stopping the Tampa Bay power play will also go a long way in slowing down The Triplets.

“Their Triplet Line there is really clicking,” Hagelin explained to Dan Rosen of NHL.com. “I think it starts with their [power play], and that’s where they get a lot of momentum. We’ve got to focus on just playing well defensively. I think if we do that we’re going to get some chances.”

BEN BISHOP
The Rangers are going to have to find a way to beat Bishop. They should probably study the Habs-Lightning Game 4 tapes to see what Montreal did to drive Bishop to bench 5:08 into the second period after allowing three goals on 14 shots.

Obviously, the Rangers are going to need to get traffic in front of the big guy and hope they can get to any rebounds. They also might want to steal a page from the Pens and Caps playbook and gently “brush” Bishop every now and then during scrums in front. Bishop does have the tendency to lose his composure if the going gets physical in front.

One thing the Rangers might want to do is get Bishop moving laterally. Big goaltenders and are a lot like big pitchers. It is easier for a big goalie (or big pitcher for that matter) to lose focus when their mechanics are off. The easiest way to foul up a 6-foot-7 netminder’s mechanics is to get him moving and forcing him to track down the puck, as opposed to letting the puck come to him. At that point, the smallest correction to their mechanics can become a major production.

DEFENSIVE ZONE COVERAGE
It is no surprise at times that the Rangers get pinned in their own zones for long stretches at a time. Despite the company line that the Rangers play a man-to-man defensive coverage, they do not. At best, they play what could be described as a matchup zone.

The Rangers forwards continue to drop down below the tops of the faceoff circles in order to cut off the shooting lanes – which means they are playing a spot (i.e. zone) on the ice. If they were playing man-to-man, two forwards (usually the wingers) would shadow the point men. Since the Rangers don’t do that, opposing forwards know they can pretty much use the point men as an unchecked outlet if they are being pressured down low. If you play close attention to it, you will notice how wide open the opposing point men are. As a result, the Rangers run into problems when they start chasing the puck rather than playing the man.

THE PREDICTION

Teams never really face a “Must-Win” situation until they face elimination. With that said, Saturday afternoon’s Game 1 is a “Really Wanna-Win” situation for the Rangers for two reasons. First off, the Blueshirts want to head down to Tampa Bay with two wins in their pockets.

Secondly, and more importantly, the rangers need to put to rest the questions about the regular season and Bishop’s dominance as soon as possible. The sooner they get that settled, the faster they can get down to concentrating on winning the series.

The mind and the heart are split on this one. My mind is telling me that the Rangers three regular season losses to the Lightning can be explained, but they can’t be overlooked. Both teams have come a long way since their final meeting on December 1. Of course, there is still the little matter of never having beaten Ben Bishop to deal with.

My mind could have been easily persuaded to join the heart if injuries weren’t such a big concern for the Blueshirts. Mats Zuccarello’s status continues to be uncertain, although some rumblings say that The Little Italian Norwegian Kid could see action later in the series.

While Dan Boyle did join his teammates on the ice for their Game 7 celebration and handshake line against the Capitals, you have to figure he is day-to-day and will be a game time decision for Game 1. While Matt Hunwick has done a fine job whenever he has been called upon, the revenge factor makes Boyle’s availability important.

The same can be said for Martin St. Louis. Either he is still dealing with knee issues (or some other injury) or we have witnessed the downfall of a former elite player.

The heart tells me that the Rangers have been overcoming this type of injury adversity from the beginning of the season. So much so that “Next Man Up” could be considered the team’s unofficial rallying cry.

While Ryan Callahan returned to practice, his availability for Game 1 won’t be determined until Saturday. Most fans expect Callahan to play, but how effective will he be and how effective can he be.

Tampa Bay has a lot of offensive ability, especially from their secondary scorers like The Triplets. However, the Rangers have the best corps of defensemen in the playoffs and they managed to contain Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the first round and did a pretty darn good job on Alex Ovechkin (a couple of goals not withstanding) and Nicklas Backstrom.

During the last two years of playoff hockey, the Rangers have proven to be a resilient team – at least outside of the Stanley Cup Final. The Madison Square Garden crowd, especially those in the expensive seats, get criticized for being too stoic and corporate – which are things you don’t want from your fandom. However, it is something that you want in your hockey team – and it is something the Rangers have thrived on.

Former Rangers and NHL Dave Farrish has been providing an insight into his former team during the playoffs for NHL.com and credits the Rangers doing exactly that.

“No matter what the situation was they were very even keeled,” the former Ducks and Maple Leafs assistant coach told Dan Rosen. “They weren’t high when they won or low when they lost. There were very businesslike. Their attitude never changed. You couldn’t tell if they won the game or lost the game by their tone of voice after the game, especially Henrik. I thought that was very impressive, to maintain your balance like that.”

The Rangers resiliency has served them well throughout the regular season and the playoffs. They have overcome injuries, poor seasons from star players and inability of star players to score in the playoffs. They have mastered the ability to live on edge while their fans are living on the ledge with all of the one-goal games. The Rangers bend to the point of breaking, then bend a little more, before bouncing back to right the ship.

Leave it to The King to put the final stamp on my Eastern Conference Final Prediction.

“[The Lightning are] a team we had some problems with during the season,” Henrik Lundqvist explained to Rosen, “but if there’s one thing I learned, playoffs are a different story.”

Much like they always seem to do, the New York Rangers will find a way to overcome the roadblocks placed in front of them. The Blueshirts will return to the Stanley Cup Final after a hard fought seven game series against Tampa Bay.

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If it is Spring time and the hockey playoffs are blooming, then it must be time for the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals annual playoff series. While that might not be the whole truth, it is pretty darn close as the Battle of Broadway versus the Beltway lines up for the fifth time in the last seven years – and three in the last four playoffs.

The way these two teams are going this playoff matchup is going to have more sequels than the “Rocky” saga.

David Satriano and Dan Rosen of nhl.com pointed out that Dan Girardi, Henrik Lundqvist and Marc Staal are the only Rangers to have played in the previous four playoff matchups. The Capitals have five players: Nicklas Backstrom, Eric Fehr, Mike Green, Brooks Laich and Alexander Ovechkin. Jay Beagle appeared in four playoff games in 2009, but did not play in the Rangers-Capitals series.

The Capitals Game 7 elimination of the New York Islanders robbed New York hockey fans of the first Rangers-Islanders playoff matchup in 21 years – and I say good riddance.

It would be bad enough if the Rangers are eliminated by the Capitals, but could imagine the scene if the Islanders were the team eliminating the Blueshirts? There would be a conga line a mile long stretching from Madison Square Garden to the East River as Rangers fans lined up for a long walk off a very short pier.

In terms of substance, whether they were playing the Capitals of the Islanders, the Rangers would be facing a team that is more physical than Pittsburgh. While the Penguins tried be punishing hitters, they are no match for the Capitals (or even the Islanders for that matter).

You can expect Washington to come out hitting from the opening faceoff of the opening game. While Tom Wilson has drawn the most ink because of his hot on Lubomir Visnovksy, the most physical player they need to worry about is the Capitals best player – Alexander Ovechkin.

Ovie has no problems leading the seek-and-destroy missions that has become the Capitals calling card. In addition to his size, Ovechkin enjoys the superstar designation that allows him to play over the line without the fear of reprisal from the National Hockey League.

The Rangers cannot afford to get caught up trying to answer every hit the Capitals dish out. While they do need to maintain a physical presence, the Rangers are going to win the series by doing what they do best. As physical as the Caps might be, you can’t hit what you can’t catch.

The first obstacle is going to be shaking off the rust as the Rangers get back into playoff mode after being off a week – something the team needed in the long run.

“We played 13 games in 22 days, and a lot of it was against teams that were … trying to get into the playoffs,” Coach Alain Vigneault explained to Avery Stone of USA Today. “I think this (break) is going to be very beneficial for us. We’ve got a couple little bumps and bruises that we’re in the process of healing.”

While the time off won’t be enough to allow Mars Zuccarello to return to the lineup, it did allow Kevin Klein to get in the necessary practice to return to the lineup.
In looking at the Rangers-Capitals series, I see five keys to a Rangers victory.

DISCIPLINE

This key is a multi-layered one. First and foremost, the Rangers have to stay out of the penalty box. While Washington’s power play has been nothing to write home about during the playoffs, the Capitals did own the regular season’s best power play. There is no need to poke the bear with a stick at this point in the season.

Secondly, the Rangers need to remember that skating, speed and solid two-way play is what led them, to the Presidents Trophy during the regular season. They must not be drawn into matching the Capitals hit-for-hit. Take the body when you can and don’t be drawn into any retaliation penalties.

MOVEMENT

The easiest way to avoid hits is to keep moving – both in terms on constantly being in motion (i.e. skating) and keeping the puck moving. This movement is crucial to the Rangers power play. The Rangers power play is at its best when both pucks and players are moving.

The Blueshirts get themselves into trouble when they start playing a passive (and stationary) box and appear content to move the puck around the perimeter. A team that does not move on its power play makes itself very easy to defend.

TRANSITION

The Rangers will make things easier on themselves if they are able to alleviate the pressure (and physical play) the Capitals are dishing out if they are able to get the puck out of the zone.

The ability to break Washington’s forecheck will not only lessen the Caps ability to punish the Rangers defense corps, it will allow the Blueshirts to use their speed advantage in the overall transition game – which is the key to the Rangers offense.

As part of this emphasis on transition, it means the Rangers are going to win the “battle of the blue lines” – both in their zone and at the Capitals blue line.

In their defensive zone, the Rangers are going to have to work extra hard at winning the battle along the boards – especially within five feet of the blue line. If Washington is able to win those battles and keep the 50-50 pucks within the Rangers end, the Capitals are going to be able to use their size to eventually wear down five tired skaters.

At the Capitals blue line, the Rangers can’t afford to turn the puck over at the blue line. If they have no advantage on the attack they need to get the puck deep and work on the Capitals defense corps. The hope is that the Rangers speed lets them win the puck battles or at least force the Caps into taking penalties.

SPECIAL TEAMS

A big key rests on how the referees are going to call this series. If the Rangers speed game is working, they are going to draw a fair share of penalties against the Capitals. If they referees are going to let obstruction go, then it will be a long series.

A long series can get even longer if they Rangers power play is not producing any consistent offense. The Rangers don’t need to score on every man advantage (one out of four would be good), but they do need to able to maintain sustained pressure on a large number of power plays.

The more success the Rangers have on the power play, the less inclined Washington will be too “take liberties” with their physical play. Between having to face an active Rangers power play and watching Ovechkin sit for long periods of time (think Sidney Crosby, Game 1 Period 1), the Capitals will have to curtail their physical play a bit.

In terms of penalty killing, stop Ovechkin! The entire NHL knows that Ovie likes to set up on his off-wing at the top of the left circle and wait to line up one of howitzer-like one-timers.

During the last two regular season games the teams played, the Rangers left the Capitals captain WIDE open for those shots as he netted two PPGs.

While the Rangers don’t want to be caught focusing all of their attention on Ovechkin, it might behoove them to consider a triangle-and-one at times (keep someone on Ovechkin at all times and play a triangle formation) to try and confuse the Capitals.

Better yet, just stay out of the penalty box altogether.

BRADEN HOLTBY

MSG analyst Steve Valiquette pointed out that he thinks Braden Holtby might be wearing down because of the workload he handled this year. Valiquette thought Holtby was staying down on his knees and not regaining proper positioning following his first save – something he did criticize Marc-Andre Fleury for on Carl Hagelin series-winning goal in Game 5.

The numbers do bear Valiquette out. Holtby led the NHL is games played, minutes and saves this year. Including his six playoff games (he missed Game 2 against the Islanders because he was sick), Holtby has played in 79 games so far – surpassing his career high of 55 (last season). He has played nearly 6,000 minutes – nearly doubling the 3,100 minutes he played last season.

That is quite a heavy workload for a goaltender who is not used to it. The Rangers to keep pressure on Holtby as much as possible to see if they can wear him down by sheer quantity, never mind quality. They can up the ante on the quantity by getting bodies to the net and creating a lot of traffic in front of him.

THE PREDICTION

I would feel a lot more confident in picking the Rangers to win if Mats Zuccarello would be in the lineup. While James Sheppard’s size will be a welcomed addition to the lineup, the Blueshirts will miss the Little Italian Norwegian Kid’s ability to open up a game with his vision and determination.

With that said, the Rangers have shown an ability to overcome whatever speed bumps the 2014-2015 season have thrown at them. Whether it was injuries to Henrik Lundqvist, Derek Stepan and Kevin Klein, there was always a Cam Talbot, Kevin Hayes or Matt Hunwick ready to step in and fill the void – the “Next Man Up” theme that WFAN’s Boomer Esiason has always espoused about this season’s New York Rangers.

While the Capitals have the best player on the ice in Alexander Ovechkin, and maybe even the second best player in Nicklas Backstrom, the Rangers have the better team from one to 20.

It is not going to be an easy series. Nothing is ever easy when it comes to the New York Rangers. Who else but the Rangers would make winning a five-game series seem like winning a seven-game series where every game went into overtime?

Let’s face it; the Rangers almost always have to do things the hard way. Their last seven playoff games have been decided by one goal. Nine of their last 10 playoff games have been one-goal games. 12 of their last 14 games are, you guessed it, one-goal games. Of those 14 games, three went to double overtime and three were settled in “regular” overtime.

As they have done in the past, the Rangers will find a way to soldier on and advance to the Eastern Conference Final in, what else, a seven game series victory on home ice – in overtime.

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It is an interesting week for hockey fans as the post season drama goes on with two big games ahead. Four teams will battle it out with the most interesting tie being the New York Islanders-Washington Capitals Game 7. The other game to watch is Detroit Red Wings taking on Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6. While the Lightning will be putting in effort to try and force a Game 7 with the Red Wings, New York Islanders will be looking to impress after successfully forcing a Game 7 with the Capitals. If you wish to cash in on the action, you can check out the NHL odds for the upcoming playoffs games here.

Let us take a look at these games individually and see the build up to the match-ups.

Washington Capitals Vs New York Islanders

This Game 7 will take place at 7:30 p.m. ET with the series tied at 3-3. Although this is just what the Islanders wanted, a Game 7 is never an easy game both for the fans and the players as it means almost 3 hours of intense physical test. This will be a big game for the Islanders as it is their chance to finally make it to the 2nd round of the post season, something that they last achieved back in 1992-1993. Back then, they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins which was the best team in the NHL at the time. Since then, it has been an agonizing 14 missed opportunities for them to reach the second round.

By the look of things this could be the most favorable chance for the Islanders to qualify. The Washington Capitals have their defensive weaknesses which the Islanders will be looking to exploit. However, the Roster still has one of the most dangerous offensive plays in the league. The lapse in defense is also compensated by their inform goalie who showed his quality in Game 6. It all boils down to who wants it most and who will execute their game plan effectively and win it all. Your pick should be Capitals 3, Islanders 1.

Detroit Red Wings Vs Tampa Bay Lightning

The lightning scored three late goals in Game 4 to overturn a 2-0 deficit, something which was instrumental in keeping the season alive up to now. While the Lightning will be trying to make a Game 7 match-up happen against the Red Wings, they will have to come up with a strategy to get past the strong Wings defense. In addition Petr Mrazek, the Red Wings goalie, will be another stumbling block for the Tampa Bay.

At the Lightning camp, the players’ struggle to score continues with Tyler Johnson being the only one in the squad who has been scoring freely. Steven Stamkos will go into match 6 still goalless in the series. If he is to score, it will take something special for him to beat Pavel Datsyuk whom he doesn’t have a good record against. The Red Wings not only have depth in their squad, but most of their players have also been scoring at will. Nine of their players have a goal each and 13 of them have at least 2 points each so far.

The pick is Red Wings 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 2

 

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The New York Rangers enter the 2015 Stanley Cup season as the hunted instead of the hunter. The bullseye is drawn on the Rangers is doubled in size because, first off they are the Rangers and secondly they face the extra burden of winning the Presidents’ Trophy for the third time since the trophy was awarded at the end of the 1985-86 season.

“We have to embrace it, and challenge ourselves,” Rick Nash told Brett Cyrgalis of the NY Post. “We’re obviously going to be the team to beat.”

No fan of the Blueshirts will ever forget the last time the Rangers were the NHL’s Presidents’ Trophy winner. It was the season that saw the end of the curse and the end of “1940” chants (except for the sarcastic one the Garden faithful chanted that fateful night).

While fans might want to forget the first time the Rangers won the Presidents’ Trophy, they should remember it or face the wrath of being condemned to repeat it.

After eliminating the New Jersey Devils by winning a Game 7 for the first time in franchise history, the Rangers squared off against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992.

It was a series that featured Adam Graves being suspended for four games for breaking Mario Lemieux’s left wrist. With the Rangers up two games to one and a 4-2 third period lead and with a chance to put the game away with a five-minute power play, the Blueshirts snatched defeat from the jaws of victory when a Ron Francis shot from outside the blue line eluded goalie Mike Richter.

About 90 seconds later Jaromir Jagr tied the game. Richter was so rattled that Jaromir Jagr nearly beat a wandering Richter with a shot from center ice. Coach Roger Neilson replaced Richter with John Vanbiesbrouck and it was Beezer who was victimized by Mark Messier’s turnover in overtime that led to Ron Francis completing the hat trick and tying the series at 2-2. Pittsburgh would win the next two games and end the Rangers Cup hopes.

Of course that was 23 years ago and times have changed. If a Rangers player ever came close to doing to Sidney Crosby what Graves did to Lemieux – well let’s just say said Rangers player would be collecting Social Security by the time his suspension was over.

The NHL has to be thrilled as the league prepares for the Stanley Cup playoffs – especially those in power who favor parity. Only 16 points separated the Rangers (first in points) and Calgary Flames (final playoff qualifier). That is the fewest amount of points since 16 teams made the playoffs. The last time that gap was less was in 1964-65 when just four of six teams made the playoffs.

With the Los Angeles Kings missing the playoffs, the NHL will see its 16th different Stanley Cup champion crowned. No team has won back-t-back Cups since the Detroit Red Wings in 1996-97 and 1997-98.

Also lending itself to NFL-like parity, the NHL saw seven teams make the playoffs this year after missing out last year – the largest turnover in league history.

Even within the game itself, parity appeared to reign. Nearly 605 of games (719 of the 1,230) were one-goal games or one-goal plus an empty net goal.

As for the 2015 version of this rivalry, many people will point to the Rangers speed and overall attention to defense and the return to form of Henrik Lundqvist as the key to the series.

Some people will point to the revenge Crosby and Evgeni Malkin want to dish out after the Penguins failed to capitalize on the three games to one lead last year. Still others will point to Marc-Andre Fleury and his need to replicate his 2009 Stanley Cup heroics rather than revisit his 2012 playoffs meltdown.

I see this series as one of attrition – especially among the Penguins blueliners. Pittsburgh enters the playoffs without Kris Letang who is suffering from post-concussion syndrome.

Also gone are veteran d-men Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik who both left during the summer.

The status of injured defensemen Christian Ehrhoff, Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot are unknown – although Jenn Menendez of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that Coach Mike Johnston thinks Pouliot, and possibly Ehrhoff, could be available for playoff duty at some point. Things were so bad for the Penguins that they were only able to dress five defensemen by the end of the season because of injuries and cap concerns – and one of them was minor league veteran Taylor Chorney.

It is interesting that the Penguins found themselves with such cap constraints considering that they placed Dupuis and Maatta on LTIR – according to Rob Rossi of TribLive.com.

Actually, if Rossi’s April 11 article is true, then there is a big disconnect in the Steel City in terms of the organization, from top to bottom.

Rossi states that Pittsburgh settled on current GM Jim Rutherford after failing to hire their number one priority – player agent Pat Brisson, who just happens to be Crosby’s agent.

Rutherford, who was only allowed to hire one outsider for his staff, was expected to provide mentorship for former Ray Shero hires Jason Botterill, Tom Fitzgerald, and Bill Guerin. The implication was that Rutherford was a placeholder for one of these three.

Much like Rutherford, Johnston was not Pittsburgh’s first choice as coach. Instead, their number one target left for Vancouver’s job (Willie Desjardins).

Also like Rutherford, Johnston was able to bring in one outside assistant coach (Gary Agnew) as Rick Tocchet and goalie coach Mike Bales were retained.

The Penguins have been able to dip down to their AHL affiliate to recall d-men Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington. It will be interesting to see how much ice time and responsibility rookie head coach Mike Johnston gives two his rookie defenseman.

Even the vaunted Penguins forward corps has seen its share of injury woes. Pascal Dupuis was limited to just 16 games before blood clots ended his season. Even Malkin has been suffering from an undisclosed injury that seen him go without a goal for the final 10 games of the regular season.

The Rangers are probably as healthy as any team can expect to be at this time of the season. Marc Staal appears ready to return to action and should be given the task of shutting down Crosby.

Injured defenseman Kevin Klein was not on the ice as the Rangers returned to practice on Tuesday – and he did not practice on Wednesday either. Coach Alain Vigneault has let it be known that Klein must return to practice before getting back into the lineup. On the plus side, Matt Hunwick has not looked out of place.

Even with Letang on the sidelines, the Penguins power play has enough offensive power to make the Rangers pay for any undisciplined play. As good as the Penguins power play has been (10th in the NHL), their penalty killing has been even better finishing third in the league.

As a comparison, the Blueshirts power play limped home as the 21st rated man advantage while their penalty killing was again a bright spot – sixth in the NHL.

As the Nashville Predators can attest in their Game 1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, special team play can swing the momentum of a game.

The 2014-2015 NHL season has really been a season within a season for both squads. Earlier in the year, the Rangers trailed the Penguins by as many as 13 points. While the Rangers gathered steam and finished strong (despite the lackluster home finale against Ottawa), Pittsburgh limped home with a 4-9-2 record (including five losses in a row) and needed to win their final game of the season against Buffalo just to qualify for the playoffs.

With the Penguins facing the possibility of playing such an inexperienced defense, it is imperative that the Rangers make the Pittsburgh blueliners uncomfortable in their own end. The Blueshirts will need to ratchet up their forechecking in order to force the Penguins defense into turnovers that can be converted into scoring chances because Fleury has been solid in goal this year – posting an NHL best 10 shutouts on the season.

The Rangers will also help their case by staying out of the penalty box. The Rangers were able to overcome the Penguins last year by limiting the likes of Crosby and Malkin. It was a strategy that the Rangers followed during their regular season success against Pittsburgh.

Malkin and Nick Spaling paced the Pittsburgh offense with three points each, with Malkin being the lone Penguin with more than one goal.

Prediction: I predict that I will be suffering from agita, aggravation and many sleepless nights – and I hope it last well over two months.

As for the series, I see the Rangers winning it in six games as their speed and forechecking will provide too much for the Penguins defenseman to handle. If the Blueshirts can hold serve during the first two games at MSG, they might be able to do themselves a favor and wrap up the series in five. My advice for the Rangers is for them to seize their home ice advantage and not give Pittsburgh any chance to avenge last season’s playoff collapse.

The interesting point will be to see what the loser of this series does moving forward. Does the losing team’s management decide that the organization has one more run in them as currently constituted, or does management decide that the current roster has taken the team as far as it can and that major changes are the next step in the organization’s evolutionary process.

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GM Glen Sather was able to channel his inner Harry Houdini at the NHL Trade Deadline after all. With limited cap space going into the final days of trading, the 71-year-old Slats wheeled-and-dealed like a GM half his age. Granted the price was steep, but it had to be if Sather wanted to land an impact player – while managing a payroll with little salary cap flexibility.

With the acquisition of Keith Yandle from the Arizona Coyotes, Sather pushed all of chips to the middle of table and declared himself all-in. Only time will tell if Slats is playing with a royal flush or if he was bluffing. The one thing we do know is that the Rangers are a better team now after the deadline than they were before it.

I have to admit that my first thought on the Yandle deal was the Rangers gave up too much of their future. After having some time to digest the ramifications of the trade, I still believe that. However, when you look closer at the Rangers you realize that they are a team whose future is now.

While they have enough young players to get them beyond the next couple of years, time is not on the side of Henrik Lundqvist. The King just turned 33-years-old and, while that is not ancient in terms of goaltenders, he is on the backend of his career and his (and the Rangers) window to win is closing.

While his injury was a freak one, it does show how fragile the Rangers window of opportunity is. As well as Cam Talbot has played, the Blueshirts need Lundqvist in goal, at his best, come playoff time.

The core of the Rangers have already experienced two visits to the Eastern Conference Final and one to the Stanley Cup Final. There comes a time when an organization needs to make one final push in order to get over that final hurdle and reach the promised land of a championship.

Rangers fans only need to look back at the Emile Francis Rangers of the late 60s and early 70s. As good (and sometimes great) as those teams were, they were unable to take the final step(s) and win the Stanley Cup.

Their best chance came in 1971-1972 when Jean Ratelle’s broken ankle prevented the Rangers from taking on the Boston Bruins at 100% capacity.

At the same time, Francis never could identify that missing piece or two that would have vaulted the Rangers from also-rans to champions.

In 1994, Neil Smith gambled on restructuring the roster of what was the best team in hockey at the trade deadline. The Blueshirts paid a price in terms of losing prospects and young/talented players, but that was not on any Rangers fans minds at 10:58pm on June 14, 1994.

That is where the Rangers stand now, except Sather went for broke without turning over his roster like Smith did in 1994.

Sather was able to acquire Yandle, James Sheppard, Carl Klingberg and Chris Summers without too much disruption to his regular lineup. John Moore never quite took ownership of the sixth d-men spot and Lee Stempniak’s spot in the lineup was tenuous at best so trading him cleared a little salary space.

Actually if the figures at NHLNumbers.com are correct, the Rangers have about $750,000 worth of cap space open.

This year Klingberg and Summers will provide the Hartford Wolf Pack with some experience and serve as a modicum of insurance if the injury bug hits the Blueshirts in a bad way.

It goes without saying that Yandle is the key to Sather’s deadline dealings. Most hockey experts point to the offensive defenseman as being the reason why the Rangers appear to be big winners (at least in the present tense) at the trade deadline. When you have noted Rangers dissenters like Mike Milbury and Greg Wyshynski praising your moves, you know you have done something right.

USA Today’s Kevin Allen listed the Rangers first among NHL teams when reviewing the deadline transactions. Allen wrote, “General manager Glen Sather landed the biggest difference-maker in the marketplace when he acquired offensively gifted defenseman Keith Yandle from the Arizona Coyotes. He is among the NHL’s best puck movers and power play point men. Sather paid a heavy price, but this gives the Rangers a defense that includes Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Kevin Klein, Dan Boyle and Yandle. No Eastern Conference team has a more skilled defense than the Rangers.”

Much has been made about Yandle’s horrible plus/minus numbers with the Coyotes. Fortunately for me, I take those number with a grain of salt. If four players on the ice are doing their job defensively and one player misses a defensive assignment – everyone one the ice gets a minus.

If plus/minus is such a great stat then explain to me how Marek Malik led the NHL in plus/minus during the 2003/2004 season. Actually, he tied for the lead with future Ranger Martin St. Louis – both players were +35.

If plus/minus is such a great stat then that must mean Calgary’s T.J. Brodie is the best defenseman in the NHL because his +23 is tops in the league.

The other thing to remember is that Yandle was probably matched up against the opposing team’s best line. That will not often be the case with the Rangers.

Yandle’s acquisition does show that Sather swung and missed with his signing of Dan Boyle. Whether it was his early season health problems and broken hand, Boyle has not given the Rangers the kind of play they were looking for – especially on the power play. They expected him to struggle in the defensive end, but not as much as he has offensively.

If Sather is going to address his cadre of UFAs and RFAs he might have to look to trade Boyle during the summer. He could probably swap Boyle for another veteran UFA-to-be blueliner who is making similar money ($4.5 million), but that doesn’t help the Rangers achieve salary cap space.

It is possible Sather can move Boyle in a salary dump, but that is going to require the team to include prospects and/or draft picks as an enticement.

That is the case in the Yandle deal. Yes, losing Anthony Duclair and the conditional 2016 first round draft pick is a hefty price for a team whose next first round draft pick will most likely be made by a GM not named Sather, but it was a necessary evil in order to get Arizona to retain half of his salary cap hit for the remaining year and change on Yandle’s contract. Heck, if next season turns out to be a disaster, Yandle will become a very hot bargaining chip with a cap hit of about $2.6 million.

Sheppard’s acquisition really came out of nowhere – a lot like Yandle’s when you really think about it. The Rangers were linked to the likes of Antoine Vermette, Mike Santorelli and Tyler Bozak.

While Sheppard was playing on San Jose’s third line, you can expect that he will start out on the fourth line given the success the Carl Hagelin-J.T. Miller-Kevin Hayes line has been having. Sheppard can play any of the forward positions and has won 50% of his faceoffs this year.

Originally drafted 9th overall by Minnesota in 2006, Sheppard is now on his third NHL team. While has proven to be better than expected defensively, he has been a disappointment offensively (he is more of playmaker than goal scorer) and he needs to use his size (6-1/215) more than he does. You figure he will be highly motivated because he is an UFA at the end of the season.

International Scouting Service rated him as their 7th best prospect in the 2006 NHL Draft and compared his style of play to Joe Thornton. The praised his poise, leadership and overall hockey sense but cautioned his skating needed work.

Looking to next year, Klingberg and Summers could serve as cheap members of the “Black Aces”. Klingberg is a RFA with a relatively low cap hit this year ($650,000) while Summers has one more year on a deal that carries a $600,000 cap hit.

Klingberg was a 2nd round pick (#34) in 2009 of the then Atlanta Thrashers. ISS rated him as their 32nd best prospect and praised him for his size, physical play and his shot. They characterized him as a playmaking power forward whose style of play compared to that of Ryan Getzlaf. ISS also listed him second only to Zack Kassian among prospects in the “Tough as Nails” category. The 6-3/205 can play either wing.

Summers was drafted in the 4th round (#105) in 2005 by the Coyotes. ISS rated the center/defenseman as their 70th best prospect. While playing forward and defense as part of the U.S. National Development Team, ISS projected 6-2/209 blueliner as an offensive d-man who needed to work on his defensive zone coverage.

Scouting reports (from The Hockey News) on the four newest Rangers can be found at the end of this article.

In addition to all of the scouting the Rangers did in reference to the four newcomers, the Blueshirts have additional connections to three of the four players. Ulf Samuelsson was Yandle’s coach with the Coyotes from 2006 through 2011 and Ulf also worked with Summers while they were in Phoenix.

One additional connection the Rangers have to the two former Coyotes is that Rangers consultant Mike Barnett was the GM who drafted both players for the Coyotes.

The team has another connection with Summers who was a teammate of Carl Hagelin at the University of Michigan from 2007/08 through 2009/10.

Doug Risebrough, currently a consultant to GM Glen Sather, was the GM of the Wild when Sheppard was drafted in the first round by Minnesota.

With the Rangers trading away so many draft picks, the team will have to be even more aggressive when it comes to undrafted free agency. There is additional pressure on the Blueshirts scouts to find the next Kevin Hayes in collegiate hockey, the next Dan Girardi in Major Juniors and the next Mats Zuccarello in Europe.

Sather pointed to Hayes’ development as one of the reasons why he believed he could include Duclair in the Yandle trade.

When all is said and done, in terms of the moves made at the 2015 Trade Deadline, I will say now what I said in 1994 – the Rangers had better win the Stanley Cup.

CARL KLINGBERG (RW)
Assets: Oozes a power forward mentality and some sound scoring acumen. Has good size and work ethic. Is adept at playing sound defensively from either wing position.
Flaws: While he has scoring ability, the jury is still out on his long-range upside as a point producer at the highest level. Also needs to bring more consistency to his game.
Career Potential: Big depth winger with a little upside.

CHRIS SUMMERS (D)
Assets: Displays shutdown ability and has a good frame for the blueline position in the NHL. Is at his best when he keeps the game safe and simple.
Flaws: Doesn’t have high-end offensive talent, so he needs to continue adding more strength to better handle his defensive responsibilities.
Career Potential: Depth defensive defenseman.

JAMES SHEPPARD (F)
Assets: Has good size and reach. Can line up either at center or wing. Displays the ability to excel in all three zones and provide leadership at lower levels.
Flaws: Injuries have stunted his NHL development. Is woefully inconsistent in the offensive zone and can take shifts off. Doesn’t use his 6-1 frame enough.
Career Potential: Versatile forward with a little upside, when healthy.

KEITH YANDLE (D)
Assets: Has explosive skating ability, superior offensive instincts, great puckhandling skills and a lethal one-timer. Is very adept at playing the point on the power play. Competes hard, initiates attacks and is everywhere on the ice.
Flaws: Needs to continue adding more bulk, since he can struggle when opposed to the NHL’s biggest forwards. Must tighten up his play without the puck and avoid some occasional bad decisions when he has it (and is pressured).
Career Potential: Excellent offensive defenseman with great mobility.

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Prior to Henrik Lundqvist’s injury, GM Glen Sather needed to be a magician in terms of making a deadline deal given the New York Rangers scarcity of cap space. With Lundqvist out and the Rangers having to factor rookie Mackenzie Skapski’s salary into the cap equation, Sather is going to have to channel his inner Houdini if he wants to make any significant changes by 3pm on March 2.

In an ideal world, Sather would add a third–pair defenseman to team with Dan Boyle, a third line center who is strong on faceoffs and some additional depth among his bottom six forwards.

Since Sather does not operate in a perfect world, at best he might have to settle for a depth defenseman and a depth forward.

Of course, there is the 800-pound gorilla that is looming large as the deadline approaches – will Sather need to make a trade for a veteran goaltender?

While Skapski did win his NHL debut, it would be a lot to ask him to play a few games down the stretch against much tougher competition. Some fans point to Montreal’s Carey Price as example of a 20-year-old steeping into the NHL. The point they forget to make is that Price was a first round draft pick (5th overall) while Skapski was a sixth round draft pick (170th overall).

Just as it would be a lot to ask Skapski to step up, it would be tough to ask Cam Talbot to continue to shoulder the vast majority of games without a veteran backup. There is going to come a time when the Rangers offense is not going to be able to continually bail out the defense and Talbot.

Even if Lundqvist is medically cleared in the next week or two, he is going to need another week or two to get back into game shape. Taking it a step further, having a veteran third string goaltender would prevent a repeat of last year when David LeNeveu was The King’s backup in the Stanley Cup Finals.

You also have to wonder how confident the Rangers are that Lundqvist can stay healthy. Granted losing Lundqvist for the playoffs would be a devastating blow, having a veteran backup would give the team a puncher’s chance in the playoffs.

There are three veteran goaltenders who are playing in the AHL and would fit the bill of a veteran backup. Peter Budaj and Dan Ellis both have NHL experience, but are currently third on their team’s depth charts.

However, Chicago’s Michael Leighton is fourth on the Blackhawks depth chart. Leighton is a veteran of 105 NHL games. His last significant stretch of time in the NHL was during the 2009/10 season when he went 17-9-1 with a 2.83 GAA and a .905 SV% with Philadelphia and Carolina.

Since he is fourth on the depth chart, he should not cost that much in terms of acquiring him and in terms of cap hit (his salary is $550,000).

It is the lack of cap space that is the Rangers most daunting task. Cap Space is at such premium the team decided to carry only 12 forwards during Jesper Fast’s injury rather than call up a forward and further deplete its limited cap space.

When they did call up Oscar Lindberg to replace Rick Nash against Calgary they immediately returned the rookie center rather than eat up any additional cap space.

The lack of salary cap space is not the Rangers only concern come the trade deadline. With the 2015 Draft expected to be strong and deep, teams are looking to stockpile draft picks. The Rangers are hampered because their 2015 Draft cupboard is nowhere near being fully stocked.

The Blueshirts have two second round picks (their own and Tampa Bay’s) and draft picks in the third, fourth and sixth rounds. In addition, there is little to no chance that the Rangers will part with the likes of Pavel Buchnevich, Anthony Duclair or Brady Skjei – especially for a rental. The organization would have to literally be blown away to include one their prized prospects in a deal.

With limited cap space and limited resources, the Rangers will have to be very creative as the trade deadline nears. If they want a more experienced backup to Talbot they could recall Yann Danis from Hartford. Danis is a journeyman goaltender who played 43 of his 53 NHL games with the Islanders and Devils during the 2008/09 and 2009/10 seasons.

There is one problem with Danis and it is the reason he is not backing up Talbot at this very moment. Danis is signed to a Player Tryout (PTO) contract with Hartford. In order to play for the Rangers the team would have to sign him to an NHL contract and add him to their 50-man reserve list. Currently, the list stands at 48 and would limit the Blueshirts ability to add multiple players unless they traded a player who is on their reserve list.

With the Rangers have to face the prospect of re-signing a myriad of restricted and unrestricted free agents, the team is not going to make a trade for as player who has multiple years on his contract. In other words, fans who had hoped to see the likes of a Martin Hanzal or Evander Kane in a Rangers uniform were dreaming. The Rangers are shopping in the aisle of UFAs to be – unless someone is willing to take on a Dan Boyle while giving the Rangers and upgrade on defense.

Of course, there is a long shot way of trading for a player with multiple years remaining on his contract. You would have to find a team that is willing to retain part of the player’s cap hit on their books – much like Toronto did when they dealt Daniel Winnik to Pittsburgh. The problem with this scenario is that the Rangers would have to offer a mighty big enticement to get a team to keep a multiple year cap hit – and that brings us back to the Rangers lacking a first round draft pick and being unwilling to trade their elite prospects.

In other words, don’t hold your breath.

With the Rangers options limited – both in terms of cap space and trade ammunition – the Blueshirts might only be able to fill one of their non-goaltending needs. It is a matter of deciding what gives the Rangers their biggest bang for their buck.

Do they take a look at Columbus’ Mark Letestu in an attempt to bring in a center who wins 53% of his faceoffs or do they go against conventional wisdom and strengthen their defense by bringing in someone like Jeff Petry?

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.ca writes that Patrick Kane’s shoulder/collarbone injury puts Chicago GM Stan Bowman in a position where he can place his star on LTIR and use the cap savings to chase down the likes of Antoine Vermette. Reports state that Kane will be out 12 weeks after having his fractured left clavicle repaired.

Friedman also chimed in on the Mats Zuccarello situation in his latest “30 Thoughts” column when he said, “The simple move for New York is to keep him, make a playoff run and take their chances later. But, there are rumours they will consider trading him, see what they can get and, if necessary, flip that for something else. I can’t prove or disprove those rumblings, but they’re out there.

The problem with moving Zuccarello is that his status as an UFA means you are not going to get full value for him. The Rangers would have to include a pretty good prospect in any deal if they want to bring back a player of equal value.

That is what the Rangers did last year when Sather sent the two first round draft picks to Tampa Bay. Of course, Slats could have, and should have, bargained harder because Lightning GM Steve Yzerman was between a rock and a hard place because Marty St. Louis has his eyes set on Broadway and the Blueshirts.

When you factor in the Rangers lack of cap space and what teams have been asking/trading for, Sather is going to have be a miracle worker at the deadline if he is going to make a meaningful trade.

The idea that the Rangers are in on Toronto center Tyler Bozak doesn’t make sense given his $4.2 million cap hit over the next three years. Even if the Maple Leafs agreed to retain part of Bozak’s salary (like they did with sending Daniel Winnik to Pittsburgh), the Blueshirts would still be hard pressed to find enough of an enticement to get Toronto to retain part of the cap hit.

Bozak’s style of play would be suited to a third line center with the Rangers. He is strong at both ends of the ice and is solid on faceoffs. The problem is that his contract is far too prohibitive for a team who has so many UFAs and RFAs and so little cap space.

The best Rangers fans can probably expect is Sather to make one or two smaller depth-type deals. It is far more likely to see Slats bring in a Raphael Diaz than a Martin St. Louis. Sather can make those type of deals and still keep the Rangers in good cap shape moving forward – all while trading away fringe-type prospects.

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