Dallas - Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton described the 2018 NHL Draft as "vital" to the organization Thursday night. And on Saturday, he left Texas confident he and his staff did well with the 10 selections it made, including its three Friday evening.
"Feel great," Gorton told reporters on Saturday after the conclusion of the draft. "Feel like yesterday was obviously a huge day for us with the three picks. Really excited with what we were able to do. Today was more about value and our list and getting guys that had potential and that we were really high on. I think we were able to do that."
The draft is many things, but predictable is not one of them. But with that said. Gorton, Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark and the entire scouting staff lay out a plan for what they hope to accomplish over the seven rounds.
They make their list and do their best to stick to it.
"You never really know, but before the draft starts you sit down with the scouts and Gordie and his staff and go through the scenarios and play them out. I think it's pretty close to what we wanted to do and anticipated," Gorton said. "There's 30 other teams trying to take the best players, too. You're doing the best you can. We really feel confident that we did really well in the first round."
Gorton said he expects 22nd overall pick K'Andre Miller to go to the University of Wisconsin in the fall, and that 28th pick Nils Lundkvist is "probably better suited" to return to the Swedish Hockey League.
But the general manager said there are several different paths for ninth overall pick and reigning Kontinental Hockey League Rookie of the Year Vitali Kravtsov, who could play in North America next season in a similar situation to that of Filip Chytil last year.
"He's a player that wants to be here sooner rather than later," Gorton said of Kravtsov. "So I think that'll help us."
As stated, Gorton and the Rangers were going for value in rounds two through seven on Saturday, beginning with goaltender Olof Lindbom from Djurgardens' junior team in Sweden's SuperElit. He posted a 3.10 GAA and an .897 SV% and was one of just 11 goaltenders younger than 20 to appear in at least 20 games in the League. He helped the organization's under 18 squad win a gold medal and was named the MVP of the playoffs after posting a 1.20 GAA and a .955 Sv% in five games. He also helped Sweden earn bronze at the 2018 World U18 Championship.
"We're trying to take the best players on our list and we had the goalie first overall of all the goalies in the draft by a long shot," Gorton said. "We thought with our history with goalies and who we have in our organization who is able to develop goalies that it would be a good pick."
Four of the team's next five picks were for defensemen, beginning with Jacob Ragnarsson out of Almtuna in Sweden's Allsvenskan in the third round. That selection was followed by American Joey Keane out of Barrie in the Ontario Hockey League, also in the third, and Nico Gross from Oshawa of the OHL in the fourth.
Ragnarsson had 13 points last season, which led all defensemen younger than 19 in Allsvenskan in goals, assists and points.
Keane, meanwhile, had 12 goals and 44 points in 62 games with the Colts on his way to being named to the OHL's Third All-Star team.
At No. 132, the Blueshirts selected Finnish Forward Lauri Pajuniemi in the fourth round out of TPS in Liiga. In 32 games with TSP, Pajuniemi had two goals and five assists, and was ninth among players younger than 19 in points.
"I work hard when I play and I have good skills to score and create space for everybody," Pajuniemi said of his game. He played with goaltender Alexander Georgiev and fellow Finnish prospect Patrik Virta with TPS.
The Rangers went back to defense with Simon Kjellberg in the sixth round out of Rogle in Sweden's SuperElit before making a deal with Carolina to get back into the seventh round to select forward Riley Hughes out of St. Sebastian's School in Massachusetts.
The winger posted 21 goals and 36 points to lead the school in both categories. He's slated to play next season in the United States Hockey League before he begins his college career at Northeastern University in 2019-20.
Of course it's impossible to know exactly how draft picks will pan out. But Gorton feels confident he and his team did well for themselves on a vital weekend.
"I'm never going to sit up here and say we're not excited because we just drafted 10 players and we felt good about every one of them," he said. "Time will tell. I'd be naive to sit here and tell you they're all great because we don't know. We'll find out as we go forward, but we feel really good."