It’s time to start dreaming about this new Rangers crop

You didn’t even have to squint to be able to see the future of the Rangers on the ice at Chelsea Piers in Stamford during Monday’s first day of prospect camp.

And quite likely, important pieces of the present, as well.

There among the first group were Kaapo Kakko, Igor Shesterkin, K’Andre Miller and Morgan Barron. And in the second group of the split-squad workouts and drills were Adam Fox, Vitali Kravtsov and Yegor Rykov. You could imagine all of them finding their way to Broadway within the next couple of seasons, and all but collegians Miller (Wisconsin sophomore) and Barron (Cornell junior) pulling on the Blueshirt at some point during 2019-20.

“It’s always a great day when you see them on the ice for the first time,” said Jeff Gorton, the general manager whose work assembled the group of young athletes. “We’ve made a number of high picks the last few years and to see them on the ice, it’s exciting.

“I think there are a lot of players here who think they have a chance to make the team. It shows you how far development camp has come over the years.”

Oh, you think?

In 2016, prospect camp featured zero first-rounders, three second-rounders and six third-rounders. Those nine picks have yielded two Rangers, Pavel Buchnevich and Boo Nieves, with Sean Day and Steven Fogarty and Ryan Gropp still in the organization.

This year’s camp features four first-rounders, three seconds and four thirds. Plus Shesterkin, a fourth-rounder in 2014, and Rykov, a Devils’ fifth-rounder in 2016.

Again, let’s trace back to 2016. That draft marked the fourth straight in which the Blueshirts had traded away their first-rounder, this one having gone to the Coyotes in the deal for Keith Yandle. The second-rounder was gone, too, sent to Carolina as part of the trade for Eric Staal. Day, at 81st overall, represented the club’s first pick.

And yet, the Rangers have four players on their roster who were among the first 66 chosen that year. For Gorton hasn’t merely been stockpiling picks to the count of six first-rounders over the past three drafts, he has been adding kids chosen in the top rounds as part of the rental returns for players such as Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Grabner and Kevin Hayes.

So, from the Class of ’16, the Rangers present Brett Howden (27th) and Libor Hajek (37th) from Tampa Bay; Ryan Lindgren (49th) from Boston; and Fox, (66th) from Carolina in exchange for a pair of seconds. And Rykov went 132nd that year to New Jersey.

What appeared to be a wasted year has turned into something quite different. Of course, so have the Rangers, who should become one of the NHL’s youngest teams over the next couple of seasons. Of course, there is more to it than that. Being young isn’t a talent. Everyone is young once. Being young and talented, well that is different. The Blueshirts are going to be both.

Kakko, who’s experienced a whirlwind since his second-overall selection Friday, was a center of attention. So was Shesterkin, who flashed personality during his media interview through which he used Nick Bobrov, the club’s director of European scouting, as an interpreter. So was Kravtsov, last year’s ninth-overall pick, who smiled and cracked jokes throughout the media interview he conducted in English.

It doesn’t take a seer to see this trio of Europeans on Broadway this season in important roles.

Kravtsov impressed at last year’s prospect camp. Kakko has inspired Kaapomania in Rangerstown ever since his signal performance at the World Championships that ended a month ago. Shesterkin, though out of sight in the KHL, has never been out of mind. He has been expected for years to become Henrik Lundqvist’s heir to the throne, even as Alex Georgiev has been making his case to change the line of succession.

“No matter what, I have to prove quite a bit,” Shesterkin said. “I’m very far from the pinnacle I envision for myself. So I have a lot of work to do.

“I’ll do everything I can to play well. It’s up to the staff to see where I fit.”

Not to rush things or raise the level of expectations that are pretty well through the roof anyway for the 23-year-old goaltender, but Sergei Nemchinov, the popular 1994 Cup winner, dropped by to take in the workouts. He is quite familiar with Shesterkin’s game.

“A lot like Mike [Richter],” he said. “Great skater, explosive. Reads the game very well.”

Again, this will all play out. There is no rush, even if these prime kids are all in a hurry, and why not? It is prospect camp for the Rangers, whose prospects seem pretty darn good.

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