The Rangers’ harsh fall from the postseason was still fresh Monday night when they won the NHL draft lottery to soften the blow.
But the team’s top decision-makers know they can’t let the good fortune of landing the No. 1 pick distract them from the rest of the rebuild that remains.
“I think we’re in a good spot, I really do,” president John Davidson said Tuesday on a Zoom call. “I think when you really stop and think about building a franchise to try to win a championship, you’ve got to have the understanding that it’s a slow-moving, mostly, type of process. You can get lucky like we did, getting the No. 1 pick. That might expedite it, without question. But at the same time, you can’t get ahead of yourself, it just doesn’t work that way. You start getting ahead of yourself, you’re going to make some mistakes and then you’re going to go backwards, and then you’re going to have to start over.”
When the pingpong balls afforded them the chance to select Canadian winger Alexis Lafreniere with the No. 1 pick, the Rangers were still sorting through the post mortem of getting swept by the Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup qualifiers.
The team that had put together a second-half surge to get the Rangers in playoff position — with important strides from their young players and big-time performances from their stars — was not the one that took the ice in Toronto. They were missing Igor Shesterkin for the first two games, but the losses were not on Henrik Lundqvist as the Rangers offense went missing, scoring just four goals in the three-game series.
A self-described optimist, Davidson wanted to focus on the benefit going through the series could have on the Rangers’ young players, 11 of whom made their postseason debuts. It also may have showed management what was missing as it thinks about constructing the roster for the future.
“It was always an eye-opening experience when you get into something new like that, but you also can’t overreact,” Davidson said. “I think the good portion of the season that we played, which got better as we moved along, showed some great signs with a lot of people. I don’t think you can overreact to what happened in Toronto. It was completely abnormal; it was different. And as I had said to a number of people going into it, it was the unknown.
“You have to digest it, analyze it, and then find positives out of it. That’s what that whole thing was to me.”
Davidson pointed to the strong performances of Brett Howden and Kaapo Kakko as positives, as well as the play of defensive prospect K’Andre Miller during training camp, though he was not eligible to play in Toronto.
Those were just more steps in the rebuild that began with the organization’s letter to fans in 2018. Two years later, in addition to a solid young core, the Rangers have a stockpile of prospects and 10 picks in the 2020 draft — which general manager Jeff Gorton could use to acquire more pieces to improve his roster, especially with the salary cap staying flat next season.
But the Rangers won’t be taking any shortcuts in their quest to get to the top.
“It’s not so much patience, it’s just trying to use your smarts, and have a pure understanding of exactly how hard it is to win in this league,” Davidson said. “It’s difficult. I thought that Jeff, and the group with the letter and all that was very, very good. I think the Ranger fans have been fantastic, having the understanding of that’s what the organization’s going to do. We got a big boost [Monday] night with number one. So we’re trending in that direction, but it takes time.
“There will be people who will get frustrated with the idea of not moving fast enough. But that’s just the way it is.”