Vitali Kravtsov poses for a photo with team representatives after being selected as the ninth overall pick by the New York Rangers in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center in Dallas.

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Hartnett: Rangers Take Long-Term Approach With Trio Of 1st-Rounders

Fans Will Have To Wait To See Picks In NHL

Sean Hartnett
June 23, 2018 - 9:21 am
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The Rangers held firm at ninth overall and elected to pass on sniping wing Oliver Wahlstrom and a pair of highly touted defensemen, Evan Bouchard and Noah Dobson. Instead, the Blueshirts drafted 18-year-old Russian right wing Vitali Kravtsov.

Making the bold decision to draft Kravtsov is based on the Rangers’ faith in their European scouts. At last year’s draft in Chicago, the Rangers selected Swedish center Lias Andersson at seventh overall – earlier than most pre-draft projections.

The same holds true for Kratsov, though he was ranked third overall among international skaters by NHL Central Scouting. This is a case of the Rangers really liking a player and trusting their reports from European scouts.

Kravtsov is projected to develop into a top-six scoring wing, though it is unclear when he will leave the Kontinental Hockey League. He has one year remaining on his contract with Traktor Chelyabinsk.

MORE: Rangers Draft Russian Winger Vitali Kravtsov With 9th Overall Pick

At 6 feet 3 inches and 184 pounds, Kravtsov impressed during the KHL playoffs against big-bodied veteran pros. Kravtsov registered 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 16 games during the 2018 Gagarin Cup. His 11 points were the most a KHL junior player under the age of 20 has registered in a single playoff year in league history.

Notably, Kravtsov captured the Alexei Cherepanov Award as 2017-18 KHL Rookie of the Year. The award was named in memory of Cherepanov, the Rangers’ 2007 first-round pick who died of heart failure at age 19. Cherepanov collapsed on the Avangard Omsk bench next to former Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr. Attempts were made to revive Cherepanov in the team dressing room, but he was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Kravtsov’s greatest strength is his hockey IQ. He is known to have a knack for reading the play and finding space to exploit opponents. The Russian wing can score from long range and carry the puck in tight areas to light the lamp from up close.

Wahlstrom and Dobson were selected by the rival Islanders in back-to-back selections at 11th and 12th overall, respectively.

RANGERS MOVE UP TO CHOOSE FAST-SKATING MILLER AT NO. 22, TAKE LUNDKVIST AT NO. 28

The Rangers opted to trade their 26th and 48th overall picks to the Ottawa Senators to move up to number 22, using the pick to select American defenseman K’Andre Miller. The left-hander is listed at 6-4 and 198 pounds.

Miller was a product of the United States National Team Development Program and is committed to the University of Wisconsin. After making the switch from forward to defenseman, Miller adapted well to his new position and possesses the skillset of the prototypical modern defenseman.

He’s an excellent skater, who loves to join the rush and packs a heavy shot. This could be a real draft steal if he’s able to continue making big strides forward in his development at Wisconsin under the watch of former Ranger/Badgers head coach Tony Granato. Miller said he styles his play after Roman Josi and Seth Jones. If his finished product is close to either of these NHL All-Stars, the Rangers will have a bona fide franchise defenseman.

The Rangers would later take another defenseman known for his puck-moving ability in Nils Lundkvist at 28th overall. Lundkvist skated in 28 regular season games for Lulea of the Swedish Hockey League at the tender age of 17, collecting two goals and three assists. He also appeared in two SHL playoff games. The right-handed blue liner is listed at 5-11 and 172 pounds.

Lundkvist appears to have plenty of upside, though onlookers have noted the need for him to improve his defensive play. At 17, time is on his side, and his fast rise in the SHL is the reason why he sneaked into the first round.

Rangers fans will need to be patient with each of these first-rounders. The Blueshirts are very much building for the future, and each of these picks fit into the long-term approach. Check back Monday for my entire review of the Rangers’ 2018 draft.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey​