The New York Rangers drafted Ryan Gropp in 2015, a costly mistake. The World Junior Championship proved how many better choices there were.
When the New York Rangers traded Carl Hagelin to move up in the 2015 NHL Draft, those that followed the draft rankings couldn’t have been more caught off guard when their selection.
With players like Daniel Sprong, Jeremy Bracco, and Oliver Kylington available, amongst others, the choice seemed obvious. Despite this, the Rangers took their man, Ryan Gropp of the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds, 41st overall.
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Ryan Gropp’s skill set is very similar to that of James Neal. He has some deceptive speed for a big player (6’3, 205 lbs) and has a very quick release on his shot. He was the second leading scorer on Seattle last year, recording 34 goals and 36 assists for 70 points in 66 games. Rangers management was expecting a big 2016-17 season from him.
He hit a snag when, despite expectations that he would join the Hartford Wolfpack for his 20 year old season, he was sent back to Seattle as an overage player. Normally, 20 year old players with histories as scorers dominate their junior leagues, often doubling their average point production and scoring over 100 points.
This pattern has been observed in drafted talents, as well as undrafted players such as Dryden Hunt and Dane Fox. With this in mind, the Rangers were expecting Gropp to have an explosive final junior season.
So far, it has gone the exact opposite way, with Gropp’s production decreasing for Seattle this year. So far, through 33 games, Gropp has recorded 10 goals and 16 assists for 26 points, currently fifth on the team in scoring.
It’s concerning that most of this production came after Matt Barzal was returned to Seattle by the Islanders. This confirmed curiosities that Gropp was, at least somewhat, a product of Barzal’s incredible skill.
The 2017 World Junior Championship has come and gone, and some players that were selected after Ryan Gropp in 2015 played for their nation’s team this year. Some of those that the New York Rangers could have selected are:
Bracco was selected 61st overall by Toronto in 2015. He is currently dominating for Kitchener of the OHL, scoring 51 points in 27 games. The diminutive but highly skilled forward scored 3 goals and added 2 assists in 7 games for Team USA in the tournament, helping them win gold.
The big power forward Greenway, the 50th overall pick in 2015 by Minnesota, currently plays for Boston University, where he is a point per game through 17 games of his sophomore year. Greenway recorded 3 goals and 5 assists for 8 points in 7 games for Team USA.
Kylington is a smart, smooth skating defenseman currently in his second season for Calgary’s AHL affiliate, the Stockton Heat. He recorded 4 assists for Team Sweden in the World Junior Championship. He was drafted 60th overall in 2015.
The 55th overall pick in 2015 by Nashville, Trenin scored 2 goals and 2 assists for Team Russia. He currently plays for the QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympiques, where he has recorded 14 goals and 19 assists for 33 points in 28 games.
The versatile Blake Speers, taken 67th overall, and who started the 2016-17 season with the Devils, played for Team Canada in the tournament, where he recorded 1 goal and 2 assists on the way to a silver medal.
Taken 96th overall by Carolina, Roy is a big power forward standing at 6’4, 207 lbs. He has been a big goal scorer for the QMJHL’s Chicoutimi Sagueneens over the past two years, of which he is now their captain. He recorded 3 goals and 1 assist for Team Canada.
It can be argued that Daniel Sprong would likely have been playing in the tournament as well, had he not recently been injured. Sprong was taken 42nd overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins, and recently recovered from shoulder surgery. He has played two games for the Charlottetown Islanders this season.
Hindsight is 20/20, and its easy to criticize draft picks years after they have been made. With that being said, this draft pick was off the board; Gropp was ranked 71st overall at the time, and the Rangers drafted him with the 41st pick.
It;s likely that the Rangers could have drafted someone else, and still acquired Gropp later on. Had the Rangers taken the best player available at that time, the prospect pool would be stronger.