The Flyers season just got a bit tougher, next year.
Today the New York Rangers, who were in the draft lottery with all of the other teams eliminated from the play-in series, saw their ping pong ball come up the chute and were awarded the first pick in the NHL draft, which will likely mean they select Alexis Lafreniere, the consensus #1 pick.
The initial draft lottery left the first pick open after a placeholder team was selected. This meant that the 1st pick would go to a team eliminated during the play-in series. The play-ins featured a mix of playoff and non-playoff teams, and several from the Flyers division with the Islanders, Penguins, Rangers, and Hurricanes all competing. The Islanders and Hurricanes moved on to Round 1 of the playoffs, but the Penguins and Rangers didn’t. The eight eligible teams had a 12.5% chance of getting the 1st pick. The Rangers came away with it and the Penguins ended up with the 15th overall pick.
The pick staying in the division is bad enough but going to the Rangers is about as far from ideal as you could get for the Flyers. The Rangers were in the thick of the Wild Card race before the league shut down. They already have Artemi Panarin on the roster, who is nominated for the Hart Trophy as league MVP this year, with 95 points in 69 regular-season games. They also have Mika Zibanejad, a rising star who managed 75 points in just 57 games, 41 of those being goals. There’s young talent upfront that is still getting going as well. Pavel Buchnevich just had his best season ever at 24 and still seems like he could get better, and last year’s 2nd round pick Kaapo Kakko is projected to start making jumps in year 2. Filip Chytil is a 2017 1st rounder who made his Rangers debut last year and tied Kakko in six fewer games of action.
On defense, they have two young offensive defensemen, as Tony DeAngelo (even if you hate him) contributed a pretty undeniable 53 points. There was also rookie Adam Fox, who contributed 42 points and was in the Calder Trophy conversation. Add in a top pair guy like Jacob Truba and you’re halfway to a very solid defensive core.
Lafreniere has had a historic career in major junior hockey. Playing for the Rimouski Oceanic in the QMJHL, he recorded seasons of 80, 105, and 112 points in his juniors career. With top-end elite-level speed and hands, he’s drawn comparisons to Jonathan Huberdeau, who at 27 is already the Florida Panthers all-time leading scorer. also becomes the only player in QMJHL history to win back to back MVP awards, other than noted Flyers foe Sidney Crosby.
As if that isn’t enough, let’s also consider that the Rangers have 3 first-round picks from 2018 still waiting to come up through the ranks, including the highly touted defender K’Andre Miller, and last years 2nd round pick in Matthew Robertson, another very good defensive prospect.
Despite Lafreniere seemingly being a can’t miss kid, the Rangers have Panarin and Chris Krieder locked up at the left wing for a long time. Maybe instead of using it they’ll trade the pick or take a center like Quinton Byfield, probably the 3rd best player coming out this year. Either way, the competition for the Metro division just got more intense. The Rangers rebuild has gone from ahead of schedule to overnight, and the Flyers better be ready.