Now that the Stanley Cup Finals have concluded, its time for us fans to start looking at the offseason and how are we going to improve our rosters so we can compete for a cup next year. I'm going to put a little different spin on that thought by discussing what I would do if I was GM of the Rangers and we had the first overall pick in this year's draft instead of the Isles. The top two candidates to be selected #1 overall are Swedish Defenseman Victor Hedman and Canadien goal scorer John Tavares. Both players bring tons of potential and skill to the table. Obviously, both players have different strengths as well.
First, I will analyze why each player would be appealing to the Rangers and what reasons I may have for drafting or not drafting them. Then I will give my final choice and the reasons I made that choice.
Victor Hedman - He has been likened to Chris Pronger because of his size and skill. He hasn't displayed the same level of nastiness as Pronger but scouts feel that will develop in time as he matures. When Pronger expressed his desire to be traded from Edmonton, I was hopeful that the Rangers could put together a package to bring Chris to Manhattan. Given that, I would love to see a player of Hedman's skill set patrolling the Rangers blue line. One school of thought on how to build a consistent contender is to build your roster from the goal out. With Henrik Lundqvist providing great play in the Rangers net, young starters Marc Staal and Dan Girardi on the blue line already and with former 1st round picks Bobby Sanguinetti and Michael Del Zotto set to join them in a year or two, the Rangers have a good start on that. Adding Hedman would put the Rangers in a category above almost anyone in the league.
John Tavares - Would likely have been the top selection in 2008 ahead of Steven Stamkos had he been born a few weeks earlier. Instead he may be the top pick in 2009. Tavares is a pure offensive force who averaged better than a goal per game in the OHL this past season. He has decent size at 6' and 185 pounds. He played very well at the World Juniors scoring highlight reel goals. Cerainly he could provide the type of offensive firepower that was missing last season after Jagr was sent packing to Europe.
Some negatives about drafting a defensemen #1 overall instead of a forward is that defensemen tend to take longer than forwards to develop and they tend not to have as high a ceiling as a forward. I looked at the #1 overall selections in the NHL between 1990 and 1999. I chose these years because the players drafted during that time have had enough time to fully develop and we can assess more easily how the pick worked out. Here's what I found:
Defenseman were selected #1 overall 4 times; 1992 - Roman Hamrlik, 1994 - Ed Jovanovski, 1995 - Brian Berard, and 1996 - Chris Phillips. Of these players, none seem destined for the Hall of Fame. There are several All-Star appearances sprinkled throughout but I don't beleive that any of these players had the impact expected of a #1 overall pick. Jovanovski has probably had the most impact but when you remember that he was often compared to Scott Stevens leading up to the draft, it seems fair to say that he didn't live up to the lofty expectations. Hamrlik has had a nice career as has Phillips. Berard could have been a real stud if not for a terrible eye injury which nearly forced him to retire. He managed to continue his career but wasn't the same kind of impact player.
Fowards drafted during this time include; 1990 - Owen Nolan, 1991 - Eric Lindros, 1993 - Alexandre Daigle, 1997 - Joe Thornton, 1998 - Vinny Lecavalier, and 1999 - Patrik Stefan. Of these players, 2 were complete busts (Stefan and Daigle), 1 was considered the best player in the league for a portion of his career but injuries caused him to fall short of expectations (Eric Lindros), 1 has had a very good career befitting a top selection (Owen Nolan) and the other two (Thornton and Lecavalier) are two of the top players in the league and seem certain to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
It would appear that drafting a defenseman 1st overall is safer than drafting a forward #1 overall as none of the defensemen drafted could be considered "busts". However, you lose out on upside when going that route. Also, looking back at the player Hedman is most often compared to, Chris Pronger took several seasons to develop into the top defenseman he is today. He played 2 good seasons in Hartford before a trade to St. Louis seemed to open things up for Pronger. It wasn't until his 4th season that Pronger recorded double figures in goals. He didn't average better than .5 points-per-game until his abbreviated 6th NHL season. Forwards often contribute more quickly (at least statistically) than defensemen.
Now for my selection: I would, without a doubt, select Tavares. Why? The Rangers sorely need a sniper of Tavares' quality. Nik Zherdev led all Rangers with only 23 goals while Ryan Callahan and Chris Drury each chipped in with 22. The Rangers need a dynamic offensive player to match up with teams in the east like Pittsburgh, Washington and Philadelphia that all have one or more of those types.
Another reason I would favor Tavares is star quality. New York is the BIGGEST sports market in the US and they need a star player to be the face of the franchise. Right now I would say that Henrik Lundqvist is the face of the Rangers franchise. That's not a bad thing but it doesn't seem quite right for a goalie to be the face of a franchise. By rule, goalies aren't even allowed to wear the Captain's "C". Tavares could be that STAR and the face of the franchise. Just like Ron Duguay, Andy Bathgate and Mark Messier when they wore the Rangers sweater.
I have no doubt that both Hedman and Tavares will be stars in this league. But if the Rangers had the opportunity to select between the two, I would hope they take the "Face", John Tavares.