BUFFALO -- The New York Rangers are unlikely to trade the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and are counting the days until they hope to add a franchise player, general manager Jeff Gorton said Tuesday.
Center Jack Hughes and right wing Kaapo Kakko are the projected top two players in the Draft, to be held June 21-22 in Vancouver. Gorton said the chance to land one of them means the Rangers are unlikely to trade the pick.
Hughes (5-foot-10, 170 pounds), led USA Hockey's National Team Development Program Under-18 team with 112 points (34 goals, 78 assists) in 50 games, and set the NTDP career record for assists (154) and points (228) in two seasons (110 games) at the program. He is projected to be the No. 1 pick, which is held by the New Jersey Devils.
Kakko (6-2, 194), a right wing with TPS in Liiga, had 38 points (22 goals, 16 assists) in 45 games despite being the youngest player on a team that averaged 25.43 years in age. The 18-year-old is No. 1 in Central Scouting's final ranking of international skaters.
The Rangers finished 32-36-14, 20 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
In a wide-ranging interview with NHL.com at the 2019 NHL Scouting Combine, Gorton discussed why the Rangers are unlikely to trade down, the future of goalie Henrik Lundqvist and the excitement of the organization and fan base about the ongoing rebuild.
Let's start with the obvious: Surely you'll continue to get offers for the No. 2 pick at the Draft. Are you going to keep it?
I think it's fair to say we are going to take that pick. It's our job, my job in particular, to listen to anything anybody will say when the phone rings on any of those things. But we're in a pretty good spot. We know we're going to get a pretty good player. So like I said, the opportunity to pick this high at the highest the Rangers have ever picked, that's where we want to be.
How much anticipation is there within the organization and the fan base to get to Vancouver and make the selection?
I think the opportunity to get a franchise player, it's hard to do. The opportunity to have the opportunity to get the type of player we're going to get, our fans know it. They can sense it, and I don't think the draft can come fast enough right now.
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Has the fact that you moved up from No. 6 to No. 2 in the Draft Lottery sunk in yet?
Yeah. Listen, the whole thing is exciting. Like I mentioned after it happened, we've never been in this position in the history of the franchise. It's a long time. So the ability to pick second and the opportunity to get a player that's going to be available, it's going to be exciting for everybody.
Henrik Lundqvist earlier this month told Expressen, a newspaper in Sweden, that he would like to finish his career with the Rangers "but if the club has other ideas, I know I'll have to listen." What is your take on Lundqvist's future?
Hank has two more years and we're prepared that he's going to be a Ranger. We'll move forward like that. I think that if you look over the season, the first part of the year was great, second part not as good, he made the All-Star team. … So we know that Hank's still a good goalie. Obviously what we're doing, we're going to need goaltending. We're acting like Hank's back and wants to be back.
Lundqvist (Sweden), Hughes (U.S.) and Kakko (Finland) all took part in the recent 2019 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia. Lundqvist aside, what did you think of the performances of the two draft-eligible kids?
They were [impressive] for sure. Worlds is not everything, but it's a good glimpse of talent and to see some of these young kids play with NHL All-Stars and see how they did, it's exciting. It's a good tournament. It's fun to watch. Interesting outcome with the ending there (Finland defeated Canada 3-1 to win the gold medal), but it's great.
Management sent out a letter to fans in February about the need for a rebuild and how some familiar names might be traded to bring in younger players and draft picks. Among the guys you moved out were Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes and Adam McQuaid. How has this entire process worked out to date, both for the team and its supporters?
When we started out, the letter and everything that goes into it, you know what you're going to have to do, you're going to have to trade some pretty important players from the Rangers who have been there and have done good things for us. But you also know you're going to need some luck here along the way, like winning the Lottery. I mean, we didn't get No. 1, but we still felt we'd won the Lottery by going from No. 6 to No. 2. It's pumped in some adrenaline to the organization. The fans are really excited. You try to tell them what you are going to do. You try to go out and make these moves and show them. This really helps. They're able to watch some of these players too and how they're doing. They've been following them pretty closely too. You can tell it's a pretty exciting time for the Rangers.
What kind of expectations do you have for the Rangers in 2019-20?
It sounds cliché, but I think for us, we need to get better every day. We need our young players to have big summers. We need a guy like Mika (Zibanejad) to go to another level, which he went to another one this year. So I think we're looking for our veteran players to establish the way we want to play and show that. But we need our young players to get better, and the only way we're going to go where we want to go is [if] we get better every day.
Finally, how confident are you that David Quinn, in his second year with the Rangers, is the right coach to develop this young roster?
I think it's a good fit. When we set out to get a coach, we were looking for a high energy guy who would get the respect of his players right away. I think that's what we're seeing. I think he's done a really good job. I think he established a lot about where we want to go and how we want to play. And he had buy-in from everyone. And we're just going to continue to build off that.
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