Rangers focus on center position on Day 2 of NHL draft

MONTREAL – Maybe it worked out that way, but the Rangers used half of their six picks in rounds 2-6 of the 2022 NHL Draft at the Bell Center on Friday on crosses – which is coincidentally the position the club should address on the current roster.

With a pool brimming with defensive prospects, Rangers took just one defender this year and opted to round out the organization’s forward roster with three centers, as well as a winger. There is still a question mark hanging over Rangers’ second-row center position, which looks increasingly unlikely to be filled by long-serving roster Ryan Strome or the acquisition of Andrew Copp.

“There’s always a premium on crosses, that’s probably one of the toughest positions to play obviously,” said John Lilley, director of player personnel and director of amateur scouting for Rangers. “So we targeted a few center players along the way and the way the list came down, those were the players we picked. So we’re excited to have all of these players in the pipeline and bringing them to development camp.

It’s unclear which of Rangers’ selections on Friday will attend development camp, which kicks off Monday at the MSG training center in Tarrytown.

Adam Sykora is all smiles after being picked by the Rangers in the second round of the NHL Draft.
Adam Sykora is all smiles after being picked by the Rangers in the second round of the NHL Draft.
NHLI via Getty Images

Rangers made their first draft pick in the second round at No. 63, taking Slovakian left winger Adam Sykora. While he didn’t expect to be drafted by Rangers, Sykora was delighted to be selected in the second round.

When asked to name the player he models his game on, Sykora answered Brad Marchand of the Bruins without hesitation.

“He’s like a rat and he’s not afraid of [taller] players,” he said with a smile. “I try to play that way.”

Sykora said he tries to play a physical game, bring energy to the ice and land a lot of hits. His father, Roman Sykora, played for Tri City in the Western Hockey League. The 17-year-old recently competed for the Slovak side in the World Championship, scoring two goals and providing one assist in six games.

“What a special kid,” said Slovakia men’s national team head coach Craig Ramsey. “I was so happy to have taken it at 17 [to World Championships]. He didn’t play the first two games, then he stepped in and played so hard. When he scored his first goal, the whole bench went crazy because he’s such a good boy. He sat on the bench the first game he played.

“There were power plays and penalty kills and he didn’t play for a while and I gave him a little hug and said, ‘I’ll get you out, don’t worry.’ And he’s ready and he just said, ‘You don’t have to worry about me, coach.’ And then he hit the boards and yelled at his teammates, he always smiles and he always makes other people happy and he encourages everyone.

The Rangers then eliminated Bryce McConnell-Barker, a Canadian center from the Ontario Hockey League, in the third round at 97th overall – one of two picks in this draft acquired during the trade of Alexander Georgiev with the Avalanche. McConnell-Barker, 18, is coming off a 49-point OHL season with the Soo Greyhounds that included one goal and four assists in 10 playoff games.

“I would say I’m a two-way center,” said McConnell-Barker, who added that he models his game after the Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron and the Lightning’s Ondrej Palat. “I would say I’m really good defensively in my own area and I can also produce and put up points and score goals and make great plays when I need to. I also think that I work very hard and what is really important to me is that I give everything I can.

Minnesota native Noah Laba, also a center, fell to Rangers in the fourth round at No. 111. Rangers acquired the Golden Knights’ pick as part of the Brett Howden deal, but he belonged to the origin at the Jets. Laba, who was not present on Friday, committed to Colgate for the 2022-23 NCAA season after back-to-back campaigns with the Lincoln Stars of the United Hockey League.

Rangers concluded the second draft of the Chris Drury scheme by selecting defender Vittorio Mancini, left winger Maxim Barbashev and center Zakary Karpa, whose father, Dave Karpa, played two seasons with Rangers from 2001 to 2003.

“I thought we had added to a good pool of prospects,” Lilley said. “I have depth, center players, bigger players with high competition. I think all around we’ve added some good parts and we’re looking forward to dev camp.

Rangers draft pick

Adam Sykora

Position: left wing
Written: 2nd round, 63rd overall
Height: 5 feet 11 inches
Lester: 174 pounds
Club: Slovakia national team
What there is to know: Sykora turned heads with Team Slovakia at the World Championship. It is considered an undersized pest that also has speed. Despite his experience in the centre, Sykora is mainly seen as a left winger.

Bryce McConnell-Barker

Position: Center
Written: 3rd round, 97th overall
Height: 6 feet 1
Lester: 194 pounds
Club: Soo Greyhounds (OHL)
What there is to know: McConnell-Barker is a left-handed shooter who is a two-way player and a capable scorer.

Noah Laba

Position: Center
Written: 4th round, 111th overall
Height: 6 feet 1
Lester: 181 pounds
Club: Lincoln Stars (USHL)
What there is to know: Laba, who has 24 goals and 34 assists in 96 games with the Stars, has joined Colgate. He was also named to the 2020-21 USHL Academic All-Star Team.

Vittorio Mancini

Position: Right defender
Written: 5th round, 159th overall
Height: 6 feet 4 inches
Lester: 215
Club: University of Nebraska-Omaha
What there is to know: Mancini is a tough defender who can make an impact on even strength play.

Maxim Barbaschev

Position: left wing
Written: 5th round, 161st overall
Height: 6 feet 1
Lester: 183 pounds
Club: Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
What there is to know: Barbashev brings a physical presence on the ice, emphasizing hitting and winning battles in front of the net for position.

Zakary Karpa

Position: Center
Written: 6th round, 191st overall
Height: 6 feet 2 inches
Lester: 190 pounds
Club: Harvard
What there is to know: Karpa excels at skating and is a solid defensive center who has an attacking edge.

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