June 20th and 21st, 2019 have the opportunity to go down as one of the most influential nights in the history of both tenants of the world’s most famous arena. It’s the first year player draft days for both the NBA and the NHL and both the Knicks and Rangers are picking at premier positions with potential elite players guaranteed to be available for them.
On the 20th, the Knicks were picking 3rd overall and they selected Duke wing RJ Barrett. Barrett was a first team all American as a freshman last season and he set a ACC record for points by a freshman in a single season. He is an excellent scorer and I can see him eventually being able to be a number 1 option for a contender.
He is also a willing and capable passer as shown by how he averaged 4.3 assists per game which is a good number for a secondary playmaker whose first instinct is to score. His rebounding was also phenomenal, averaging 7.6 rebounds per game which paints him as an active and willing rebounder for a wing. Defensively he has the length and athleticism to be a good defender, maybe not the guy you put on an opponent’s number 1 option but he shouldn’t be a liability out there.
He does need some work on his efficiency though. At Duke he played in a very iso heavy offense where he had to create a lot of his own offense and that kind of system leads to a lot of inefficiency (for reference look at the Mike Woodson Knicks and how Carmelo Anthony was used on offense after the year Jason Kidd was there and acted as a player and offensive coordinator).
He also needs to work on his shooting efficiency across the board and on going to the right when cutting to the rim to at least keep defenders honest. All in all he is a great talent for a team that has been starving for a prospect of his caliber for decades.
Now onto the Rangers and their selection of Kaapo Kakko at 2nd overall. He played last season at HC TPS of the top Finnish league (SM-Liiga). Playing against grown men, he put up 22 goals and 16 assists in 45 regular season games which led the team in goals and put him third on the team in points as a 17 year old and then added 4 goals and an assist in 5 playoff games. He has already, at the tender age of 18, grown into a man’s body for hockey at 6’2 and 192 pounds.
In terms of play style, Kakko to me seems a lot like a young Rick Nash. He’s big and could be eventually considered a power forward, but he is incredibly elusive and agile for a skater of his size. He has an incredibly accurate shot so he can definitely be a guy who has 40 goal potential in the NHL.
He isn’t the best playmaker but he isn’t bad at it either. The biggest part of his game though is that he plays at the net and right now in the NHL you need to play at the net and get in the goalie’s face as a team to consistently score and at the IIHF World Championships he showed his ability to do just that against NHL level talent.
So there it is, Madison Square Garden now has 2 hope bringing youngsters to be the face of their respective franchises. Neither one should be expected to carry their teams to greatness yet, but they should be seen as the crowned jewels of rebuilding both franchises into future winners.
They will both have help along the way with Barrett teaming with Mitchell Robinson and Kakko coming over at the same time as prospects like Vitali Kravtsov, Igor Shestyorkin and Adam Fox so they’re now Barrett and Kakko need to be the leaders of the next generation of MSG stars.