MONTREAL — Maybe it just worked out this way, but the Rangers used half of their six picks in rounds 2-6 of the 2022 NHL Draft at Bell Centre on Friday on centers — which is coincidentally the position the club needs to address on the current roster.
With an overflowing pool of prospects on defense, the Rangers took only one defensemen this year and opted to pad out the organization’s forward group with three centers, as well as a wing. There is still a question mark hovering over the Rangers’ second-line center job, which is looking less and less likely to be filled by either longtime lineup staple Ryan Strome or trade-deadline acquisition Andrew Copp.
“There’s always a premium on centers, it’s probably one of the hardest positions to play obviously,” said John Lilley, the Rangers’ Director of Player Personnel and Director of Amateur Scouting. “So we targeted a few centermen along the way and the way the list fell, those are the players we selected. So we’re excited to get all these players in the pipeline and get them to development camp.”
It is unclear which of the Rangers’ selections on Friday will participate in development camp, which will commence Monday at the MSG Training Center in Tarrytown.
The Rangers made their first pick of the draft in the second round at No. 63, taking Slovakian left wing Adam Sykora. While he didn’t expect to be drafted by the Rangers, Sykora was thrilled to be taken in the second round.
Asked to name the player he models his game after, Sykora without hesitation said the Bruins’ Brad Marchand.
“He’s like a rat and he isn’t scared of [taller] players,” he said with a smile. “I try to play that way.”
Sykora said he tries to play a physical game, bring energy to the ice and land a lot of hits. His father, Roman Sykora, played for Tri City in the Western Hockey League. The 17-year-old most recently competed for Team Slovakia at the World Championship, scoring two goals and dishing an assist in six games.
“What a special kid,” Slovakia men’s national team head coach Craig Ramsey said. “I was so happy I took him as a 17-year-old [to World Championships]. He didn’t play the first two games and then he stepped in and just played so hard. When he scored his first goal, the whole bench went crazy because he’s such a great kid. He sat on the bench the first game he played.
“There was power plays and penalty-killing and he didn’t play for a while and I gave him a little hug and I said, ‘I’ll get you out there, don’t worry.’ And he’s ready and he just said, ‘You don’t have to worry about me coach.’ And then he banged the boards and yelled at his teammates.He’s always smiling and he’s always making other people happy and he cheers for everybody.”
The Rangers then took Bryce McConnell-Barker, a Canadian center out of the Ontario Hockey League, in the third round at No. 97 — one of the two picks in this draft acquired in the Alexandar Georgiev trade with the Avalanche. The 18-year-old McConnell-Barker is coming off a 49-point season in the OHL with the Soo Greyhounds, which included a goal and four assists in 10 playoff games.
“I’d say I’m a two-way centerman,” said McConnell-Barker, who added that he models his game after the Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron and the Lightning’s Ondrej Palat. “I’d say I’m really good defensively in my own zone and I can also produce and put up points and score goals and make nice plays when I need to. I also think I work really hard and the really big thing about me is that I give it my all.”
Minnesota native Noah Laba, also a center, fell to the Rangers in the fourth round at No. 111. The Rangers acquired the pick from the Golden Knights as part of the Brett Howden deal, but it originally belonged to the Jets. Laba, who was not in attendance on Friday, is committed to Colgate for the 2022-23 NCAA season after back-to-back campaigns with the United Hockey League’s Lincoln Stars.
The Rangers wrapped up the second draft of the Chris Drury regime by selecting defenseman Vittorio Mancini, left wing Maxim Barbashev and center Zakary Karpa, whose father, Dave Karpa, played two seasons with the Rangers from 2001-03.
“I thought we added to a good prospect pool,” Lilley said. “Got some depth, got some centermen, some bigger players with high compete. I think all around, we added some good pieces and we look forward to development camp.”
Rangers draft picks
Position: Left wing
Drafted: 2nd round, 63rd overall
Weight: 174 pounds
Club: Slovakia national team
What to know: Sykora turned heads with Team Slovakia at the World Championship. He’s considered an undersized pest who also has speed. Despite having experience at center, Sykora is primarily seen as a left wing.
Drafted: 3rd round, 97th overall
Club: Soo Greyhounds (OHL)
What to know: McConnell-Barker is a lefty shot who is a two-way player and a capable goal scorer.
Drafted: 4th round, 111th-overall
Weight: 181 pounds
Club: Lincoln Stars (USHL)
What to know: Laba, who compiled 24 goals and 34 assists in 96 games for the Stars, is committed to Colgate. He was also named to the 2020-21 USHL All-Academic Team.
Position: Right defenseman
Drafted: 5th round, 159th overall
Club: University of Nebraska-Omaha
What to know: Mancini is a big-bodied blueliner who can make an impact during even-strength play.
Position: Left wing
Drafted: 5th round, 161st overall
Weight: 183 pounds
Club: Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
What to know: Barbashev brings a physical presence to the ice, with an emphasis on landing hits and winning battles in front of the net for position.
Drafted: 6th round, 191st overall
Weight: 190 pounds
What to know: Karpa excels in skating and is a strong defensive center who has an offensive upside.