Before Monday’s NHL lottery, Jeff Gorton reached out to Patti Ann McDonald with a request.
Today’s head of the New York Rangers hoped that she would lend him his deceased’s trademark for the evening.
Steven McDonald was a New York City police officer – and a big fan of Blueshirts. He was shot in July 1986, leaving him paralyzed until his death on January 10, 2017.
Last year, Gorton carried the McDonald’s brand with him to the lottery drawing. The result was the overall election No. 2, which turned out to be Kaapo Kakko.
This year, with the Rangers vying for the No. 1 pick, Gorton once again had the mark in their possession.
“We have an award named after him that goes to basically the hardest working guy on our team – and it fits,” he said of McDonald. “Good luck, I do not know. I begin to believe in them.”
LAFRENIERE: 3 things to know about Rangers’ No. 1 potential pick
LOTTERY: Rangers country number 1 choice and chance to draft Alexis Lafrenière
Whether the McDonald’s brand had a hand in it or not, luck has really been on Rangers’ side since their remodel began in early 2018.
Getting Kakko was a franchise-changing moment, as was last summer’s decision by Artemi Panarin to take less money to come to New York.
Now the Rangers have perhaps their greatest luck yet – the franchise’s first No. 1 overall pick since 1965 and a chance to work out one of the most coveted prospects of the past five years, Canadian leader Alexis Lafrenière.
“Once I saw (Rangers’ ping-pong ball) come out on top, there were a lot of different emotions you go through,” Gorton said. “Going back to the letter (to fans) a couple of years ago, we wrote, talked about our remodel and tried to do things the right way. But we knew we needed luck and happiness is on our side tonight.”
“Things come together”
The fantastic lottery result – seven other teams had an equal chance of winning 12.5% - came just six days after Rangers were the first team to be eliminated from the NHL qualifiers.
“Leaving the bubble first hurts,” Gorton said. “There are still seven teams in the hotel and you walk past them all. They all take coffee out and take you on your bus. Usually you lose, you get off the rink, you fly home. This one, you’re right there with everyone these teams and you are the first out.When we flew home it was a tough feeling to lose as we did and be swept away.We have been going through it for a few days to try to find out what is next and what we need change. “
The Rangers were able to make the playoffs due to strong pressure in the second half. During their hottest stretch, they went 16-6.
Resistance was an encouraging sign from a team that spent much of the season with the youngest roster in the league – but the ugly three-game sweep this month on the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes put a damper on the positive vibes.
Gorton admitted that the short series would have a “fairly significant” impact on Rangers’ season plans.
“Even though it was three games that we lost, I just think we have to consider a lot of things that we could do differently as we move forward to become a harder team to play against,” he said. “I do not want to end the 70 matches and how far we came as a team and where we were before the break. We were in a good place. We won games.
“Many young guys did good things. Panarin had a special year. Mika (Zibanejad) had a special year. (Igor) Shesterkin had come. There were so many good things – (Adam) Fox – that happened. I do not dismiss it at all. , and I’m excited about it all, but at the same time I think we should be joking about saying, “Why were we taken out so easily?”
Rangers’ biggest question against Carolina was that the offense, which was ranked fifth in the league during the regular season, managed only four goals in three games. Lafrenière, who led the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 112 points (35 goals and 77 assists) in 52 games this season, would certainly help in that regard.
It is difficult to find a weakness in his game. Size, skating, competitiveness, hockey IQ, game opportunity – the scouts say he has it all.
Gorton did not want to tip his hand and noted that “we take some time here and let everything end” before making a final decision. And while it’s fair to say with the news still fresh, GM knows he just hit the jackpot.
“I feel like things are coming together,” Gorton said. “There’s a lot of work left to do, and we do not want to go ahead of ourselves, but I think it’s a good night for Ranger fans to be excited.”
What that means for 2020-21
Rangers are still building – and will still be very young in 2020-21 – but this is shaping up to be a dynamic list for next season.
They have advanced forward in Panarin, Zibanejad, Kakko and, without anticipating anything unforeseen, Lafrenière. They have secured important role players in the future Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba. Young talent has come to Fox, Filip Chytil and Ryan Lindgren, with more on the way in Vitali Kravtsov, Morgan Barron and K’Andre Miller. And they have one of the best young goals in the game in Shesterkin.
Their luck or luck or whatever you want to call the last two lotteries should yield results, with the expectations of being a better show in the 2020-21 playoffs.
There are still important decisions to be made. Gorton will have to decide what to do with important limited free agents in the future Ryan Strome, defender Tony DeAngelo and goalkeeper Alexandar Georgiev, as well as the unlimited free agent Jesper Fast.
Honestly, it does not seem to be the prudent thing to make costly long-term contracts this season. The flat salary is an immediate concern, and as we go beyond next season, other key players – such as Zibanejad, Shesterkin and Fox – will be crucial in unlocking.
There is also the question of what Rangers need to add. Their center depth is missing and the left side of their defense is aging.
And for all their offensive skill, the organization thinks about the type of players they need to be ready for the playoff hockey brand that just overwhelmed them. This means physical, pre-controlling players who can skate, defend and create productive disruptions on the offensive end.
Gorton admitted that sweeping against Canes is an important factor, but he keeps his plans “closer to the west.”
“I understand that you have to ask the questions,” he said. “But if I just continued this conversation and told them all our holes and what we need to do and what to do, it probably won’t help me in the market when I call.”
He’s really had a bit of luck, but he also deserves credit – and some confidence – for landing players who have accelerated this rebuild, especially industries that provided Zibanejad, Fox and lots of capital.
And while there are many questions we will continue to ask in the coming weeks and months, think about the possibilities now that the No. 1 choice belongs to Rangers.
Just for fun – because all of this is a lot of fun – here’s a far too early look at some potential 2020-21 lines.
Line 1 → Panarin – Zibanejad – Kakko
Line 2 → Kreider – Chytil or new addition – Pavel Buchnevich
Row 3 → Lafrenière – Strome or new addition – Barron, Kravtsov or Julien Gauthier
Rad 4 → Brendan Lemieux – Brett Howden or new addition – Barron, Kravtsov or Julien Gauthier
Happy or not, it feels like a pretty good starting point with the season still almost four months away.
Vincent Z. Mercogliano is the New York Rangers beat reporter for the USA TODAY Network. Read more about his work at lohud.com/sports/rangers/ and follow him on Twitter @vzmercogliano.