It was the draft!
In the first round (the only round in which I know anything about the pick), we actually made a surprising, great move, picking a big, scary man named Dylan McIlrath. McIlrath is 18 years old, 6'4", 212 lbs. When he was picked, commentators talked about how surprised they were that we would pick someone known for being tough (McIlrath's nicknames are "Big Mac Truck" and "The Undertaker"), when there was elite talent left on the board. Commentators are dumb. Here's what happened.
When the Rangers picked, there were some highly ranked players left on the table. With the 10th overall pick, the Rangers still had their choice of Cam Fowler (ranked 5th overall) or Brandon Gormley (ranked 6th overall). Instead, they picked McIlrath (ranked 17th). Both Fowler and Gormley. Both are the kind of defenseman the NHL loves to tout - fast, hard shot, offensive-minded defenseman - basically, another "the next Brian Leetch." Commentators, therefore, were dumbfounded when the Rangers, in need of a defensive corps, drafted farther down the list (after all, Central Scouting rankings can't be wrong, right?).
McIlrath, also a defenseman, is actually the kind of defenseman we need. We keep complaining that the Rangers keep trying to bring in offensive defensemen who can "quarterback the power play" - and then it turns out that they're all defensive liabilities. Even if they're not liabilities, you can't build a team with six Brian Leetches. You can build a team with three Brian Leetches, as long as you pair them with three Jeff Beukebooms to scare people away from the Leetches. What the Rangers have been failing to find (or, generally, even look for) is a big, stay-at-home defenseman that will hit people in open ice and scare people off the puck. McIlrath's scouting sheet claims that he is exactly that. Good work, Gordie Clark.
Now, of course, the question becomes: will we eventually give this kid a real chance in the league? I know he's only 18 right now, but drafting a big, stay-at-home defenseman only matters if you actually end up playing him. Sometimes you draft a defenseman in the first round (21st overall in 2006), and then, after only playing him for 5 games in the NHL, trade him to Carolina for 2 draft picks.
Oh, should I have led with that? Sorry. Bobby Sanguinetti works for the Hurricanes now, in exchange for a 6th-round pick this year and a 2nd-rounder next year. I'm not saying that's a bad thing - we never played him anyway, and he certainly wasn't the big, scary stay-at-homer McIlrath could be. But, the point is: these draft picks only matter if they end up earning ice time.
Of the 8 first-round picks we've made since 2003, one now works for Nashville, two for Phoenix, and one for Carolina (of those, only Lauri Korpikoski is on the NHL squad). Of the remaining 4, two are Rangers, one is still very young and in the Rangers system, and one is dead. The dead thing is not our fault, but still - those aren't great numbers. Compare to the Coyotes, who have made 9 first-round picks since 2003, of which 7 are still with the organization (2 on the NHL squad), and the other two are playing for NHL teams. Not sure what that all means, just pointing out the numbers.
For more on our 2nd- through 7th-round picks, quick summaries of our picks can be found here.