MONTREAL — Maybe it just worked out that way, but Rangers used half of their six picks on centers Friday in Rounds 2-6 of the 2022 NHL draft at Bell Center — which happens to be the position the club needs to address right now roster.
With an overflowing pool of prospects on defense, Rangers took just one defender this year, opting to fill the organization’s forward line with three centers and one wing. There’s still a question mark hanging over the Rangers’ second-line center job, which is becoming less and less likely to be filled by either longtime regular Ryan Strome or trade-deadline takeover Andrew Copp.
“Centers are always a priority, it’s obviously one of the hardest positions to play,” said John Lilley, Rangers’ director of player personnel and director of amateur scouting. “So we targeted a couple of centermen along the way and the way the list came down, those are the players we picked. So we’re excited to get all of these players into the pipeline and get them into development camp.”
It’s unclear which of the Rangers selections will attend Friday’s development camp, which will begin Monday at the MSG training center in Tarrytown.
Rangers scored their first draft pick in the second round in 63rd place, picking up Slovakia left winger Adam Sykora. Despite not expecting to be drafted by Rangers, Sykora was thrilled to be picked into the second round.
When asked about the player he models his game after, Sykora had no hesitation in saying the Bruins’ Brad Marchand.
“He’s like a rat and he’s not scared [taller] Player,” he said with a smile. “I try to play like that.”
Sykora said he tries to play a physical game, put energy on 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 last appeared for Team Slovakia at the World Cup, scoring two goals and one assist in six games.
“What a special kid,” said Craig Ramsey, head coach of the Slovakia men’s national team. “I was so happy I took him when I was 17 [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 bank went crazy because he’s such a great kid. In the first game he was on the bench.
“There were power plays and penalties and he didn’t play for a while and I gave him a little hug and said, ‘I’ll get you out of this, don’t worry.’ And he’s ready and he just said, ‘You don’t have to worry about my coach.’ And then he banged on the boards and yelled at his teammates. He is always smiling and always making others happy and he cheers for everyone.”
The Rangers then picked Bryce McConnell-Barker, a Canadian Ontario Hockey League center, in the third round at number 97 – one of the two picks in that draft, traded from Alexandar Georgiev with the Avalanche. The 18-year-old McConnell-Barker ended a 49-point OHL season with the Soo Greyhounds that included one 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 would say I’m really good defensively in my own zone and I can also produce and collect points, score goals and make good plays when needed. I also think I work really hard and the really great thing about me is that I give it my all.”
Minnesota native Noah Laba, also a center, fell to Rangers in the fourth round in 111th place. The Rangers acquired the pick from the Golden Knights as part of the Brett Howden deal, but it was originally owned by the Jets. Laba, who was absent Friday, is signed to Colgate for the 2022-23 NCAA season after back-to-back campaigns with the United Hockey League’s Lincoln Stars.
Rangers completed the second draft of the Chris Dury regime by selecting defenseman Vittorio Mancini, left wing Maxim Barbashev and center Zakary Karpa, whose father Dave Karpa played two seasons with Rangers from 2001-2003.
“I thought we contributed to a good pool of prospects,” Lilley said. “Got some depth, some centermen, some bigger players with high competition. I think we’ve added some good bits all around and look forward to development camp.”
Rangers draft picks
Position: Left wing
Designed: 2nd round, 63rd overall
Weight: 174 pounds
Association: Slovak national team
What you should know: Sykora caused a stir with Team Slovakia at the World Cup. It is considered an undersized pest that also has speed. Despite experience in the middle, Sykora is primarily considered a left winger.
Designed: 3rd lap, 97th overall
Weight: 194 pounds
Association: Soo Greyhounds (OHL)
What you should know: McConnell-Barker is a left-hander who is a two-way player and a capable goalscorer.
Designed: 4th round, 111th overall
Weight: 181 pounds
Association: Lincoln Stars (USHL)
What you should know: Laba, who has 24 goals and 34 assists in 96 games for the Stars, is signed at Colgate. He was also named to the 2020-21 USHL All-Academic Team.
Position: Right defender
Designed: 5th round, 159th overall
Association: University of Nebraska-Omaha
What you should know: Mancini is a big bodied blueliner who can make an impression at a consistent level.
Position: Left wing
Designed: 5th round, 161st overall
Weight: 183 pounds
Association: Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
What you should know: Barbashev brings a physical presence to the ice with an emphasis on landing hits and fighting off the net for position.
Designed: 6th round, 191st overall
Weight: 190 pounds
What you should know: Karpa excels at skating and is a strong defensive center that has offensive potential.