The decision will be made for the Rangers by the Devils, so general manager Jeff Gorton won’t have to pick between Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko with the second-overall selection the team gained off its lottery success in Toronto on Tuesday.
But either way New Jersey goes — and watch out for Vancouver putting together a massive offer for the first-overall pick in order to unite Jack Hughes with his brother Quinn — David Quinn knows one thing to be true.
“I became a much better coach [Tuesday] night,” the Rangers coach said by phone, his laughter loud and clear. “I don’t know if I’m going to be booking a flight to Finland this summer, maybe I am, but this is big for us and big for the organization.
“You know what, that final game in Pittsburgh where we won it and by doing so it could have cost us as far as draft position, all the coaches were together in our room and to a man, it was, ‘I don’t care.’ If you do things the right way, you’re going to be rewarded. I believe that’s real.”
Whether it’s Kakko or Hughes, the Rangers will have a real-deal prospect to add to the inventory, a rising tide that will lift all in uniform. The Blueshirts haven’t had the opportunity to inject a top-two pick into the bloodstream in 53 years, since they selected Brad Park in 1966.
“If you look at the history of the league and the draft, elite players traditionally come out of the first two spots,” Quinn said. “And these two young men have been identified by the hockey community as a cut above the rest.
“Having this pick gives you a great shot at getting an impact player, a difference-maker and a game-changer, and there’s an opportunity for that right out of the gate.”
Until the Devils declare — and general manager Ray Shero was pretty darn secretive to the end before going with Nico Hischier over Nolan Patrick with the first-overall pick two years ago — the Rangers won’t know which of the top two will be available to them. So Gorton and the entire crew will do their due diligence in the months leading up to the June 21-22 draft in Vancouver, scouting Hughes at the Under-18s and taking in Kakko at the World Championships.
“Hey, I’ve already started. I’ve been watching a lot of Kaapo clips,” Quinn said. “I’m a lot more familiar with Jack through USA Hockey, but Kaapo, I’ll tell you, he’s impressive.
“He’s got a pro body from the get-go, his release is just superior and he wants to shoot the puck. He sees the play ahead of the play. He skates fast and he plays fast. If he’s our guy, we’re going to have a really, really good one.”
Kakko can play both center and the wing, though he’s probably more ready-made to begin his career on the flank. At 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, the 18-year-old has the developing body of a man, which in some part enabled him to thrive in Finland’s Liiga, where he recorded a record 22 goals for a draft-eligible player, eclipsing by one the mark previously established by Aleksander Barkov in 2012-13.
“His confidence playing with the men was obvious,” one NHL talent evaluator told The Post. “That’s what jumped out at me in addition to his skill. I didn’t necessarily see his best games, either, but he still stood out.
“He’s very competitive, highly motivated and extremely skilled. He’s a goal-scorer with outstanding instincts. He likes to use his body, too.”
Quinn raised the possibility of Kakko or Hughes making the roster and being a key component as soon as next year. But the coach also acknowledged it would be important to keep a lid on immediate expectations and not overhype the No. 2.
“In this day and age, everything is overhyped,” Quinn said. “There’s so much out there now on the internet and in the papers, so many opinions, and these kids read just about all of it. That’s our culture now.
“There’s so much pressure on these guys. I have empathy for them. We don’t want to add to that pressure.”
The Rangers needed that lottery success. The presence of an elite 18-year-old can be a draw for free agents. The building process should naturally accelerate.
“We have our summer meetings in California early in May and that’s when we’ll really get down to it,” Quinn said. “But let me tell you, it’s exciting … very exciting.”
Published at Wed, 10 Apr 2019 23:20:46 +0000