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Rangers, with No. 2 pick in NHL Draft, look forward to eventful offseason

Young core, nine selections have players excited about future

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

KOSICE, Slovakia -- After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second straight season, some members of the New York Rangers playing in the 2019 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia are optimistic their young core of players and having the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft can help them quickly right the ship.

"I'm really excited about the culture that we've built [in New York]," said forward Chris Kreider, who is representing the United States. 

The Rangers finished 20 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference this season, the first for coach David Quinn.  

It's been only positives for New York since.

At the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery on April 9, they were awarded the No. 2 pick behind the New Jersey Devils. That means they will likely get to select either center Jack Hughes, who is No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2019 draft, or forward Kaapo Kakko, who is No. 1 in Central Scouting's final ranking of International skaters.

Video: Devils win Draft Lottery, Rangers and Hawks rise

They acquired 21-year-old defenseman Adam Fox, a finalist this season for the Hobey Baker Award, awarded to the best player in NCAA men's ice hockey, in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes on April 30, and hired John Davidson on May 17 to be their president.

Davidson, who will be introduced at a press conference Wednesday, takes over for Glen Sather, who announced April 4 he was relinquishing his role. Formerly the president of hockey operations for the Columbus Blue Jackets (2012-19) and St. Louis Blues (2006-12), Davidson is well-known at Madison Square Garden, having played for the Rangers and cultivated his Hall of Fame broadcasting career with them for 23 years (1983-2006).

The key for New York, though, is getting either Hughes or Kakko with the No. 2 pick. That's the potential game changer in a rebuilding plan that is 15 1/2 months old.

The Rangers also have the No. 20 pick, which they acquired in the trade that sent center Kevin Hayes to the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 25, two second-round picks and nine in total.

"We have a big draft coming up," said goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who is representing Sweden at Worlds. "Hopefully it's a quick turnaround. You never know. This draft is obviously important with so many picks."

Video: OTT@NYR: Lundqvist, Lemieux keep the puck out

The Rangers selected 10 players in the 2018 NHL Draft, including forward Vitali Kravtsov (No. 9), defenseman K'Andre Miller (No. 22) and defenseman Nils Lundkvist (No. 28) in the first round.

Kravtsov and top goalie prospect Igor Shesterkin each signed their entry-level contracts May 3. Miller is expected to play at least one more season at the University of Wisconsin and Lundkvist will play at least one more season in the Swedish Hockey League.

"We've begun to build the structure that we're playing, the coaching staff, and the players that we have there currently," Kreider said. "Whoever we take [in the draft], hopefully they put in the work and they show up in camp ready to contribute."

One big question that still needs to be answered is if Kreider will be a part of it. The 28-year-old forward has one year left on a four-year contract he signed July 22, 2016. 

Video: CBJ@NYR: Zibanejad fakes shot, sets up Kreider

Kreider tied an NHL career-high with 28 goals in 79 games this season but played most of the second half with a lower-body injury that limited him to four goals in 27 games from Feb. 6 to the end of the season.

The Rangers have to decide if Kreider is going to be part of their future beyond next season. If they don't think he will be, he could be traded in the offseason because they do not want to be sellers prior to the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline. They've done that this season and last season, trading defensemen Ryan McDonagh, Adam McQuaid and Nick Holden as well as forwards J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Michael Grabner, Mats Zuccarello and Hayes.

"Chris is a goal-scorer, and they're hard to find," Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said at their breakup day April 7. "We'll figure out what's the appropriate way to go here."

Gorton also said the Rangers will do what they can within reason to try to improve from outside the organization, which opens the possibility of them being players in the free agent market and the potential to explore trades.

"It's an interesting summer for the organization and exciting times as well for everybody to see where we go from here," Lundqvist said.

Part of the excitement stems from the growth the Rangers saw from their young group of forwards this season. 

Mika Zibanejad had an NHL career-high 74 points (30 goals, 44 assists) in 82 games, solidifying himself as New York's No. 1 center. The 26-year-old is signed for three more seasons.

Video: NYR@BOS: Zibanejad reaches 30-goal mark

Pavel Buchnevich scored nine goals in his first 38 games, but the 24-year-old came on in the second half to finish with an NHL career-high 21 goals in 64 games, scoring 12 in his final 26.

Rookie forwards Filip Chytil (19), Brett Howden (21) and Lias Andersson also showed growth this season.

Chytil, the No. 21 pick in the 2017 draft, had 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) in his first full NHL season. Howden had 23 points (six goals, 17 assists) in 66 games as a rookie. Andersson, selected No. 7 in 2017, played 42 games and had six points (two goals, four assists).

The Rangers will expect more from Chytil and Andersson next season. However, they must determine if Chytil is a center or a left wing. If he's a center, how do they slot him with Howden and Andersson on their center depth chart? Are they second, third and fourth behind Zibanejad?

"It's a big offseason," said Chytil, who is playing for the Czech Republic at Worlds. "We need to prepare as much as we can. We want to make the playoffs next season. We were disappointed we didn't make it. It's a long offseason. It can be a good offseason ahead of us. We need to prepare. We have a great room.

"We draft with the second overall pick. We have a lot of good young guys. We have a good core. We have good core players for us and good leadership.

"Next season we'll be better and hopefully we'll make playoffs." senior writer Dan Rosen contributed to this story.

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