Re-Grading New York Rangers's Last 5 First-Round Draft Picks

Jeremy FuchsCorrespondent IIIJune 23, 2013

Re-Grading New York Rangers's Last 5 First-Round Draft Picks

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    The 2013 NHL draft is almost upon us. In order to predict how the New York Rangers will fare in this year's draft, it's wise to look back.

    The last five first-round draft picks have produced a lot of promising young talent, as well as major contributors for the Rangers.

    Were these five selections wise? Could they have selected someone better?

    We'll re-grade the last five first-round draft picks to give a sense of how good the Rangers are at drafting. 

2012: Brady Skjei

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    The jury is largely still out on Brady Skjei. The 19-year-old just finished his freshman year at the University of Minnesota, where he played 36 games, scoring one goal and adding two assists.

    Despite his relative inexperience, Skjei has garnered nice reviews from the scouting community. Hockey's Future describes him as a nice two-way prospect:

    Skjei is a two-way defenseman whose game is stronger on the defensive side than it is on offense. 

    He plays a sound game in his own end of the ice, although he does not make use of his big frame. Skjei is a very good skater for a player of his size, but it isn't a skill that he relies on up to this point in his career. 

    Skjei definitely has some outstanding traits, but he is not yet the complete package. At this stage, he appears to be a lower pairing defender when he reaches his full potential.

    He has also garnered some comparisons to Ryan McDonagh. Rangers assistant GM Jeff Gorton told ESPN, according to Katie Strang, that the two are both good skaters, saying: “I think that’s a fair comparison. He’s a tremendous skater, he has size and a lot of potential.” 

    Skjei was invited to the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp, where he will be among 40 players competing for a spot on the U.S. National Junior team playing in the World Junior Championships at the end of the year.

    It's a bit unfair to give a grade on Skjei, as he still a bit of an unknown. He didn't embarrass himself in his freshman year at Minnesota, and he did finish the season plus-11. But he's only 19, and he simply needs more experience.

    Based on his potential, however, we'll give the pick a grade of B.

2011: J.T. Miller

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    J.T. Miller is a promising young player who could play a significant role next season.

    At just 20 years old, Miller played in 26 games with the Rangers this season, scoring two goals and adding two assists.

    He played just over 13 minutes a game, and while it was clear that he's raw in his own zone, Miller showed a lot of promise and poise.

    Buffalo Sabres coach, and Miller's former U.S. National Development Team coach, Ron Rolston, described Miller as an "exceptional talent," according to Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News:

    I know there’s been a lot of great people along that path that have helped (Miller) in that way,just the professionalism of things and how he conducts himself off the ice with his teammates, on the ice. But he’s an exceptional talent.

    The sky’s the limit for him in what he can do and his ability. He skates, he’s extremely competitive. He can finish. He can make plays. He’ll sacrifice for his teammates. So I think in terms of a total package, that’s a home run, for me.

    Miller projects as a top-six center who can play in every situation. With a more wide-open offensive system expected under Alain Vigneault, Miller could see more playing time. He proved he can be a goal scorer in juniors and in the AHL, and there's no reason to believe he won't be a goal scorer in the NHL.

    It's prudent to remember that Miller was playing in junior hockey just a year ago. There will be growing pains. But in 26 NHL games, Miller did show what kind of player he will be. With a full training camp and a more offensively minded system, Miller could quickly become an important aspect of this team.

    For those reasons, we'll give the pick a grade of A-. 

2010: Dylan McIlrath

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    Dylan McIlrath has battled injuries, which has stunted his development.

    However, he showed in his first full season in the AHL that he can be a menacing, intimidating force on the blue line. McIlrath, in 45 games, had five assists, was plus-six and had a remarkable 125 penalty minutes.

    McIlrath will compete for a spot on the blue line this year and has a pretty decent chance of suiting up in New York. 

    The downside of McIlrath is that it's taken him some time to develop. Injuries have played a part, but some of the players selected below him in the 2010 draft are already making an impact.

    The Rangers could have selected Cam Fowler, Vladimir Tarasenko or even Beau Bennett. All have made impacts on their respective NHL clubs.

    Still, Rangers fans have to be patient with McIlrath, because he does have a skill set that is desperately needed on the roster. He's a crease-clearer. He will open up lanes for Henrik Lundqvist to see the puck. He will battle in the corners and have some big hits.

    The sooner he can make an impact in New York, the better. If he needs more seasoning in the AHL, then patience could soon run out.

    Because of his stunted development and because of the players selected after him, McIlrath warrants a grade of C-. 

    However, if he does make the team this year and plays a significant role, then his grade will be improved. 

2009: Chris Kreider

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    After a 2012 playoffs where Chris Kreider scored five goals in 18 games, expectations were sky high for 2013.

    It didn't quite work out that way. Bouncing back-and-forth between the AHL and NHL, Kreider scored a combined 14 goals in 71 games.

    When playing with the Rangers, Kreider was often relegated to the fourth line, a role he is not suited for. He was ineffective and averaged a little more than 10 minutes of ice time.

    However, glimpses of that 2012 postseason were shown when Kreider was moved up to a line with Rick Nash and Derek Stepan in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The line was dynamic, and Kreider eventually scored the game-winning, overtime goal.

    His performance on an offensive line like that shows what kind of player he can be. At 6'3", he has the size to be a power forward, but has excellent speed and a wicked slap shot. 

    Kreider is an all-around talent. Under Alain Vigneault's wide-open offensive system, Kreider should see a lot more ice time. He'll be given the chance to have free reign. As Vigneault said in his opening press conference, according to Mike Brehm of USA Today:

    I believe your top skill players have to be given a little latitude.They have to understand the time when you have to play a little higher percentage, but they also have to be given the latitude to make something out of nothing.

    We'll know more about Kreider's future after this season, when he'll be given a chance to play an offensive game. If he can't cut it, then, perhaps, his 2012 postseason was just a mirage.

    However, because of the potential he showed in the latter stages of the postseason, there's no reason Kreider won't succeed.

    His overall 2012 struggles lowers his grade a bit, but the selection still warrants a B+ grade. 

2008: Michael Del Zotto

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    Michael Del Zotto started his NHL career with a bang and looked to be a re-incarnation of Brian Leetch.

    In his rookie season, Del Zotto scored nine goals and had 28 assists. He was a disastrous minus-20, however, which underscored his need for improvement in his own end. 

    His sophomore campaign was a mess, as he played in 47 games, with only two goals and nine assists, before being sent down to the AHL.

    Del Zotto's overall game peaked in 2011-12, where he scored 10 goals, had 31 assists, was plus-20 and played over 22 minutes a game.

    By all accounts, this season was a bit of a step back for Del Zotto. He was overtaken on the depth chart by Anton Stralman and was outplayed by John Moore.

    He had the same number of shots on goal as his rookie season, but scored just three times. To put it another way, in his rookie season, Del Zotto scored on 11.1 percent of his shots. This season, he scored on just 3.7 percent of his shots.

    Del Zotto is not physical in his own zone and looked increasingly less confident with the puck as the season went on.

    He did have surgery for a sports hernia this offseason, which could have limited his effectiveness. It is also possible that he will be able to start the rush more under new coach Alain Vigneault. 

    However, time is running out for Del Zotto. There are five defenseman ahead of him on the depth chart—Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Anton Stralman and John Moore. He will have to fend off Dylan McIlrath, as well as any free-agent acquisition, to keep his roster spot. If he loses that battle, he could be traded.

    This is a crucial season for Del Zotto. He was selected ahead of such defenseman like John Carlson and Slava Voynov in the 2008 NHL draft. His regression is worrisome. If he can't cut it under Vigneault, he should be considered a disappointment. 

    For all these reasons, the selection of Del Zotto warrants a grade of C+.