After being the only team swept out of the NHL’s postseason qualifying round last week, the New York Rangers won the league’s Draft Lottery last night, securing the right to select the consensus top prospect, Quebec prodigy Alexis Lafreniere.
The 18-year-old left wing out of Rimouski, the two-time reigning MVP of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, led all skaters in the league with 112 points in just 52 games last season. In January, he helped Team Canada win gold at the 2020 World Juniors with 12 points, including two assists in the final win over Russia.
The top-ranked North American player, according to NHL’s Central Scouting, Lafreniere could end up being the third QMJHL player selected first overall in the last decade, following Avalanche standout Nathan MacKinnon (in 2013) and Devils forward Nico Hirschier (’17). Lafreniere will join a potent Rangers offense led by winger finalist Artemi Panarin, a Hart Trophy finalist, and center Mika Zibanejad, who broke out for a career-high 41 goals last season. With high-end speed and playmaking vision, Lafreniere will look to have an immediate impact on a team that finished the abbreviated season 37-28-5.
“They’re a really good team with a lot of really good players,” said Lafreniere in a press conference after the lottery. Lafreniere, who’s never been to New York, says he’s excited to play in front of fans who have been starved of a Stanley Cup for 26 years.
Though it remains to be seen how he might affect the Rangers’ top line, it seems Lafreniere has already helped their bottom line. After the team won the lottery, Madison Square Garden Sports Company’s stock rose 4.38% Tuesday, to $166.90.
To New York sports fans, the moment of winning the number one pick was reminiscent of 1985, when the Knicks won the NBA’s first draft lottery. With the pick, they selected Georgetown standout center Patrick Ewing, who went on to a 15-year, Hall of Fame career in Manhattan.
LET'S. GO. pic.twitter.com/ghUDYoBj59
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) August 10, 2020
This year’s NHL Draft Lottery, slightly modified because of the season hiatus, took place in two phases. The first included the seven teams that did not make the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, along with eight placeholders, which would represent the teams that were eliminated before the official playoffs began. When a placeholder team won the top pick, a second lottery was scheduled for Aug. 10.
The Rangers, who had an equal 12.5% chance of winning as any of the other seven eliminated teams, got the top pick for just the second time in franchise history. The Blueshirts last had the No. 1 overall choice in 1965 and took Andre Veilleux, a winger who never ended up playing in the NHL.
New York has, however, had recent draft luck; the Rangers will have a Top 10 pick for the fourth consecutive year. Last season, they took Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko with the second pick.
“Any team will be excited to have the first pick, normally first picks pan out well in the NHL…. Fans should be excited,” said Bob Gutkowski, former CEO of Madison Square Garden.
The 2020 NHL Draft will take place in Montreal on Oct. 9-10, after being postponed due to concerns around the coronavirus.