The New York Rangers won’t reveal who they will select with the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft even though Rimouski forward Alexis Lafreniere is the consensus choice to be the first player chosen.
“On the first pick, tune in at 7 o’clock Tuesday and we’ll tell you exactly what we’re going to do,” Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said Friday.
The first round of the 2020 NHL Draft will be Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS). Rounds 2-7 are Wednesday (11:30 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN1). The draft will be held virtually.
[RELATED: Complete 2020 NHL Draft coverage]
New York won the No. 1 pick in the Second Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery on Aug. 10. The First Phase of the lottery, held June 26, included the seven teams that were not part of the NHL Return to Play Plan and eight placeholder teams.
The Rangers will have the No. 1 pick for the second time in their history; they selected forward Andre Veilleux with the top selection in the 1965 NHL Draft.
Gorton said New York has received interest from other teams regarding a potential trade of the top pick.
“I’ve taken calls on it, that’s the job,” Gorton said. “We’ll listen to anything, but we’re comfortable picking first overall. … We look forward to Tuesday. I’ll always take the calls, but I would say our eye is on taking the pick right now.”
The Rangers are “really impressed” with Lafreniere, Gorton said.
The left wing (6-foot-1, 193 pounds) is No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters. He led the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 112 points (35 goals, 77 assists) in 52 games and was named the Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year.
“We’ve had a few [Zoom video chats] with him, obviously we’ve done our homework on him, we’ve talked to a lot of people around him,” Gorton said. “He’s a really humble kid that gives credit to everybody around him. He’s a good family kid. He works really hard. He’s really focused.
“Obviously he’s in a different situation where he’s been considered a high pick for a very long time that’s now extended into a few more months, so it’s a little bit of a crazy process for him. Like a lot of the kids in the top part of this draft, they’re all great kids, really focused on what they’re trying to do and we’ve been nothing but impressed.”
Gorton, though, said it’s too early to say where Lafreniere would fit with the Rangers if they select him, especially because they have Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider as their top two left wings.
Panarin was a finalist for the Hart Trophy this season as the most valuable player in the NHL, when he led the Rangers and was tied for third in the League with 95 points (32 goals, 63 assists). Kreider was third on the Rangers with 24 goals.
Panarin is signed for six more seasons. Kreider signed a seven-year contract extension Feb. 24.
“What we learn with young players is they’re all different and in some cases they’re more ready for that kind of role than others,” Gorton said. “But you have to be very careful about penciling them into certain spots, your top six and whatnot. I think training camp, when it comes, will go a long way to tell us where our young players are and whether they’re ready for certain roles.”
Gorton said the same will be true for right wing Kaapo Kakko, who was the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and scored 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in 66 games as a rookie this season.
“When he comes back, is he going to be ready for that [top-six] role?” Gorton said. “That’ll be up to him on the ice, the coaching staff, how they feel about him, how far he’s come. You’re always hoping and wishful that these guys are ready for certain things. But ultimately on the ice we’ll let those guys dictate where it spits out.”
Gorton said New York also is focused on the trade and free-agent market, which opens Oct. 9, and could look to add a defenseman, especially after trading defenseman Marc Staal to the Detroit Red Wings on Sept. 26.
The Rangers have four NHL defensemen signed for next season: Jacob Trouba, Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren and Brendan Smith.
Defenseman Tony DeAngelo can become a restricted free agent Oct. 9, along with forwards Ryan Strome, Brendan Lemieux and Phillip Di Giuseppe, and goalie Alexandar Georgiev.
New York also has defenseman prospects Libor Hajek, K’Andre Miller, Yegor Rykov, Matthew Robertson and Tarmo Reunanen, each of whom could make a push to be on the NHL roster.
“I think it would be nice to add a guy that has been around to add to our youth a little bit, to give them some experience,” Gorton said. “We’ll see what players are available that fit that M.O. We’re definitely going to look at the defense.”
The Rangers have not re-signed forward Jesper Fast, who can become an unrestricted free agent.
“We’ll continue to try to see if there is something there to keep him here,” Gorton said. “Certainly possible he does hit the open market.”