The New York Rangers held the No. 20 overall pick and seven total picks in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. With several organizational needs that had to be filled, the Rangers selected four forwards and three defensemen for a balanced approach to developing young players. While four of the seven players have gone on to play in games for the Rangers, two have had a significant impact and only one is still currently with the team. There were some high-potential players selected in this draft and only a couple of them panned out, yet this draft class provided some of the cement that has built up the current New York team.
With the No. 20 overall pick, the Rangers selected defenseman Michael Del Zotto. Average size at 6-foot and well built, Del Zotto was considered a step below the top tier of defensemen in a draft class that features current NHL players Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian and Alex Pietrangelo. He was the puck mover that the Rangers have needed since Brian Leetch retired, and Del Zotto surprised by making the squad as a 19-year-old only one year after he was drafted. He went on to have an impressive rookie year where he registered 37 points in 80 NHL games. He was a hot and cold player who would have great games and awful ones which led to an AHL stint in his sophomore season. He ultimately did not fit into the plans of new head coach Alain Vigneault and was traded to the Nashville Predators for reliable defender Kevin Klein.
With their second pick in the draft, No. 51 overall, the Rangers selected a player very familiar to Rangers fans: Derek Stepan. Stepan would go on to play two years at the University of Wisconsin before turning pro where he had an immediate impact. Scoring a hat trick in his first professional game, he would go on to have a solid rookie season that saw him score a total of 21 times and register 45 points. Stepan has since been one of the Rangers’ most reliable players, often centering the first line. He has made a formidable combination with Rick Nash and Chris Kreider this season and has been known to boost the play of those who are on his line. Though that has not been the case in the 2013-14 season for the most part, most players have gone through cold streaks in their careers. Stepan has the talent and ability to make it through his current drought and continue to be the producer that the Rangers need him to be.
The next three picks all had strong potential and all played in the NHL, though none had much impact in New York. Big winger Evgeny Grachev was hyped coming out of Juniors where he scored 40 goals and 80 points in 60 games, but a lot of that can be attributed to both his large size playing against Junior players and his linemate Matt Duchene. Things did not pan out well for Grachev following that season, only making one eight-game cameo for the top club. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues after his second pro year. Tomas Kundratek followed Grachev in the pecking order and was a pleasant surprise, providing reliable defense in Juniors and in the AHL. He was traded to the Washington Capitals for veteran AHL forward Francois Bouchard. Kundratek went on to have several stints with the Capitals, though he has not been able to stick. Dale Weise was an off-the-board pick in the fourth round, yet he surprised many when he turned pro and played well in preseason. He played ten games for the Rangers and was claimed on waivers by the Vancouver Canucks. He now plays with the Montreal Canadiens after being traded for Raphael Diaz.
The Rangers’ final two picks, Chris Doyle and Mitch Gaulton, are no longer Rangers property. Neither is currently playing professional hockey.
While the Rangers only got two NHL players out of their draft class, they were two very important players. Stepan currently plays a scoring role with the club while Del Zotto was a part of the power play and improved the offensive ability of the back end until he was traded. The Rangers should look to improve on their drafting success to improve the roster in the years to come. Players with the impact of current Rangers such as Stepan and Del Zotto can build a strong NHL team.