On Tuesday night, as NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly drew the card to determine that the Buffalo Sabres would pick at the seventh spot in the 2019 NHL Draft, the reality dawned Rangers fans: The Blueshirts would be guaranteed a top-three pick in the draft for the first time in the lottery era.
Minutes later, the news got even better as New York learned it will select second overall at the draft festivities in Vancouver on June 21, jumping six spots ahead of their projected selection slot.
Rangers fans worldwide were certainly were elated. But there was perhaps no one more excited than Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton.
"The initial reaction when you see that you're in the top three is pretty exciting, right?" Gorton told NYRangers.com. "You come here, you're hoping for the best, you have good feelings, we're bringing nice [good luck charms] to help us along - but when you see you're in the top three, it's a rush, and then you want to get as high as you can. So your heart starts racing as soon as you see Chicago go by you.
"Fortunate for us, we're leaving here with the No. 2 pick."
Currently projected as the top two prospects in the 2019 Draft by NHL Central Scouting are Jack Hughes - a center from the U.S. National Team Development Program - and Kaapo Kakko, a Finnish right wing who compiled one of the best seasons ever by a teenager in Finnish Elite League history.
No matter who it is, the Rangers are guaranteed to get a great player in just over two months.
"It's huge - I think it's opportunity," Gorton said. "It's a great opportunity for us to draft in the second position in an unbelievable draft. So we're excited about the caliber player made available to us. Like I've said a few times since it happened, we've never picked this high, and sixth obviously was going to be a good spot, too, but second will afford us some different looks and thought processes as we go through this over the next couple months."
Gorton emphasized that the Rangers haven't made any decisions as to who they might select with the No. 2 overall pick. He and his staff have yet to commence their evaluation process that will determine the club's wants and needs, but no matter who the Rangers select, Gorton is confident it will be a top-tier player.
"I know from our scouts and having seen some of these players that it's a great draft and it's a great opportunity for us," Gorton said. "To think about the Rangers never having a top three pick in their franchise [history] - that's incredible. The opportunity to get a player of the caliber we're going to have the opportunity to get is great for us to move this thing along, and really excited."
Last year, Gorton brought a good luck charm with him to Toronto for the 2018 Draft Lottery. This year, he brought something else: a shield representing New York City Police Detective Steven McDonald, who is the namesake of the Rangers' beloved Extra Effort Award. McDonald, a lifelong Rangers supporter, became emblematic of the Rangers' credo of going above and beyond the call of duty in order to achieve greatness.
The shield, it seems, did just the trick this year.
"It just felt lucky, from the moment the idea came, to have that opportunity," Gorton said. "The relationship we have with their family, the relationship we've had with Steven and his speeches and everything - it's incredible. It must be exciting for them, too, to know they had a huge part of [the draft lottery]."
Just over one year ago, Gorton and his team announced their intentions retool the Rangers roster in an effort to create a team that could contend for years to come. He did not deny that Tuesday's turn of events has the potential to accelerate those plans significantly.
"If you look around the league at how some of the successful teams have done it, and how most of the teams in the league have won the Cup - there's not much of a secret to their success and where they've taken their players," he said. "So we have an opportunity to go up there and draft really high, second overall, so it's going to help. There's no question about that."
When Daly announced that the Rangers would select second overall, there were plenty of thoughts running through Gorton's head. But chief among them was what this news means to the fans.
"For me, my first thought was the fans and how great and how supportive they've been since we announced what we were going to do - the letter and the press conference to announce that we were basically going to rebuild our team," Gorton said. "It's only been a little over a year, and it feels a little longer sometimes, but when you have a night like tonight and you get the second pick overall, I think it's great for the fans because they've been so supportive. Now it's something for them to really look forward to as we head into late June."
With the NHL Scouting Combine about eight weeks away and the draft four weeks after that, Gorton and his team have plenty of time to assess and plan. They will attend the U-18 World Championship that begins April 18th in Sweden. Due to a scheduling change, the draft lottery occurred before U-18s this year, so the Rangers brass will have an even better opportunity to evaluate the talent in front of them.
From there, there will be decisions to be made. But for now, Gorton is enjoying this - the excitement, the adrenaline rush that comes with being awarded the No. 2 overall pick in the NHL Draft for the first time since the lottery was instituted.
"Everyone's excited. My phone's buzzing in my back pocket - I haven't seen it yet, but I can tell by the buzz that it's pretty exciting.
"This is a great day for the Rangers. We're really excited. Our fans have been incredible from the moment we announced our rebuild, and it's great for them to see us go to No. 2. So I'm just really happy."