Should the Rangers Trade the 1st Overall Pick?

Let me explain…

I see huge value at drafting 1st overall.  This is the most likely position to draft from to obtain a future superstar.  You have your pick of every player in the draft.  The pick is normally a consensus one that every team would choose 1st overall.  And, in the past 30 years, 1st overall has turned into a star approximately 80% of the time. Why would I trade it? To start, I would not just trade it for the sake of trading it. It would be for a very specific deal and that would be for Ottawa’s 3rd and 5th overall picks. As well, I would use those picks in a very specific way, capitalizing on the obvious elite talent in the top 10 of the 2020 draft. This is the deal I would make because I think the Rangers could come out further ahead than keeping 1st overall and drafting Lafrenière.

This concept of trading up to acquire the 1st overall pick, or at least pursuing the idea, comes up every few years.  In 2013, the Flames with three first round picks, 6th overall and two picks in the 20s, were rumored to have offered all three picks to Colorado in exchange for 1st overall, which would have been Nathan MacKinnon. Colorado quickly declined the deal and drafted MacKinnon, who has turned into a franchise center. The Flames drafted Sean Monahan, Emile Poirier and Morgan Klimchuk in the draft. Monahan has worked out as a formidable top 6 center but Poirier and Klimchuk only played nine games between the two. Both won’t be making the NHL. Colorado was right to turn down this deal.  MacKinnon worked out much better than the three picks that were offered.  However, because two of the 1st rounders were deep 1st round picks, the Flames ended up with two players with less than a 50% shot of making the NHL. If the deal involved multiple picks inside the top 5 or top 10, would Colorado have considered it?

From the other side of the coin, one of the only examples of a team trading up to draft twice inside the top 5 was the famous Sedin trade.  Brian Burke, in 1999, seeing that the Sedins had a telekinetic relationship and would be much better as a duo, he decided he needed to draft both. The Canucks already owned the 3rd overall pick. He then traded Bryan McCabe and a 2000 1st to Chicago for 4th overall. Then traded 4th overall and two 3rd picks to Tampa for 1st overall. Then made one final deal with Atlanta to give them the 1st overall pick (as they promised to take Stefan) and then the Canucks drafted the Sedins back to back at 2nd and 3rd. Out of the draft, the Canucks not only got twins but elite players with substantial star probability, at the draft. What if the Rangers could pull off something kind of like this? Might it be worth it? Well it’s very possible, in this draft especially.

Let’s go back to Lafrenière for a moment. I think very highly of Alexis Lafrenière.  He has all the elite makings of a 1st overall pick and he shows up very well in the Hockey Prospecting model, as a near lock star. His development pattern in the model resembles Taylor Hall, Steven Stamkos and Matthew Tkachuk.  I have no red flags about Lafrenière. I believe he will go 1st overall and I believe he deserves to go 1st overall.

However, this is a very deep draft and I project there to be approximately 10 stars and 58 NHLers that will emerge from this draft, which puts it in the category for the best draft in modern history. Lafrenière looks to be one of those 10 stars and has one of the highest scores in the model. That leaves nine more.  What if instead of selecting one superstar, the Rangers obtain two stars for that 1st overall pick or at least one star and one very good NHLer.

Like most drafts, I’m projecting some of those stars haven’t presented themselves yet.  They are still developing and will emerge as stars in the next 2 or 3 years.  However, there’s six players already presenting themselves as likely stars (Lafrenière, Byfield, Rossi, Perfetti, Perreault and Jarvis). And four of those six high-likelihood stars are projected to go in the top 10. The players in question are Lafrenière, Byfield, Rossi and Perfetti. What if there was a near 100% certainty you could get two of those players with picks 3 and 5, would a team do it? Would you rather the equivalent of Taylor Hall or Jason Spezza and Daniel Briere. Would you rather Steven Stamkos or Daniel Briere and Andrei Svechnikov. These are the possibilities on the table.

Let’s assume the Rangers make the deal and are determined to get two of the four high-likelihood stars mentioned above. What does it look like…

Lafrenière, as mentioned above, looks like this and profiles like Hall, Stamkos and Tkachuk. You’d be giving him up at 1st overall. Tough pill to swallow.

At 2nd overall, either Quinton Byfield or Tim Stutzle are most likely to go at this spot. While Stutzle looks good, he’s ranked 10th in the model, the three other players mentioned are on another level. The Kings are rumored to be interested in both players. Based on what I’ve observed about how the Kings draft, I don’t think they will pass on Byfield, but, for this exercise, let’s assume they take Stutzle. At 3rd overall, all of Byfield, Rossi and Perfetti are available. Byfield is the obvious choice here. One of the youngest players in the draft, with incredible size and skill and good speed as well. Players that look just like this are very rare. The last two to have the same profile as well as size and age were Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza.

At 4th overall, let’s assume the Red Wings take one of the other high-likelihood stars. They’ve been rumored to be interested in Cole Perfetti so let’s assume they take him. Rossi falls to the Rangers at 5th overall. A very rare, elite development pattern. The last player to look like this was Daniel Briere before that it was Alexander Daigle and before that it was Eric Lindros.

Or, Rossi goes to Detroit and the Rangers get Perfetti. Players that look like this often go in the top 3. He compares with players like Owen Nolan, Tyler Seguin, Elias Lindholm and Andrei Svechnikov.

The other scenario is Byfield goes second overall. However, Stutzle is now left available. So in this case perhaps the Rangers shock the hockey world by taking Marco Rossi 3rd overall and throw everything out of whack. The Red Wings are unable to pass on Stutzle at 4th overall and the Rangers end up with Perfetti with the 5th overall pick as well.

We can see that in these scenarios there’s a very strong likelihood the Rangers are ending up with two stars or at least one star and one that could be close to a star. Furthermore, by selecting these players you’re not reaching for players that are ranked much later. All of these players are ranked and expected to go in the top 10. Top 10 picks that look like this are even more likely to turn into stars. So by making such a deal with the Senators, the Rangers will pass on Lafrenière but what they could end up with could be much more in the long-run.

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