The NHL held its first in-person entry draft since 2019 on Thursday and Friday in Montreal, setting aside the virtual format the league had been forced to use due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In the last two years, scouting went a bit differently. There was more of an emphasis on video, less of an opportunity for club personnel to watch players compete and not nearly as many chances to get acquainted with players. Still, Rangers Director of Player Personnel and Director of Amateur Scouting John Lilley was pleased with the organization’s ability to work around the difficulties of a pandemic world and ultimately piece together a draft class they said they’re proud of.
“I think in general, things have been different for everyone in hockey or non-hockey related the last few years,” Lilley said after the Rangers made six selections Friday in rounds 2-6 on Day 2 of the 2022 NHL Draft at Bell Centre. “I thought our staff did a great job just identifying players last year in shortened seasons and coming into this year with a good list of a place to start framework.
“This year there were a couple pauses and things like that. But for the most part, it was business as usual. Just get on the road, if leagues were shut down for a little bit, we did as much video as we could in that area. And then due diligence, talking to coaches and just all the background information you can get.
“I thought our staff did a good job of getting all the information even when there were some border restrictions and stuff like that.”
The Rangers went from having four picks to six after shipping backup goalie and restricted free agent Alexandar Georgiev to Colorado in exchange for two selections in the 2022 draft and another in 2023. Lilley and his staff ultimately drafted three centers, two wingers and a defenseman.
Three of those players — Noah Laba, Vittorio Mancini and Zakary Karpa — happen to be on the collegiate path to the NHL.
Laba, a center who was born in Minnesota, decommitted from Colgate and rerouted to Colorado College. He likely will report there for the 2022-23 season after spending the past two with the United Hockey League’s Lincoln Stars. The two oldest players the Rangers drafted, 20-year-olds Karpa and Mancini, are both coming off their freshman seasons at their respective colleges.
Karpa had six goals and six assists in 33 games for Harvard last season, while Mancini recorded five assists and 26 penalty minutes in 38 games for Nebraska-Omaha. The expectation is both players will remain in college for the time being.
“I know he’s been on the radar and just for some reason never got selected,” Lilley said of Mancini, who was the only defenseman the Rangers took in the draft this year. “He stuck with it and continued to improve every year and had a good year. He’s a good player. He’s defensive minded, he’s big, he’s long. … He’s a high character young man. Checks out from everyone we’ve talked to along the way, that he’s a really great person and hard worker.”
The Rangers have had pretty good luck with collegiate players. They already have a Harvard alumni, Adam Fox, who played three ECAC seasons before making the leap to the NHL and winning the Norris Trophy in just his second professional season. His partner on defense, Ryan Lindgren, spent two seasons at the University of Minnesota. Another top-four defenseman, K’Andre Miller, also competed in the Big Ten for two seasons at Wisconsin.
Jacob Trouba, Miller’s partner on defense, spent a single season at Michigan. Young defenseman Zac Jones, who is still looking to crack the Rangers lineup full time, went pro after two seasons at Massachusetts-Amherst. Chris Kreider played three seasons at Boston College and Kevin Rooney had four at Providence.
“I think you get time with college players,” Lilley said. “For the most part, you get maybe an extra year or two. We took a couple older guys, so maybe we don’t have the four-year window, but you get three years opposed to two. So time is on their side. I think with college players, they do play a little bit less of a schedule with games.
“So the strength and conditioning can be a bonus as well, just to work on their body so they come out and they can handle the physical demands of an NHL or AHL schedule.”