So the Rangers now have three first round picks this year, and a possible first round pick. As it stands right now, the best pick will be their own this year, projecting to be a top 10 pick. As of February 27th, they have the 7th worst record in the league, though some of the teams they are "chasing" have played fewer than the 63 games already completed by New York.
The Coyotes and Sabres lead the race to the worst finish with 46 and 49 points with 62 and 63 games completed respectively. The chances of the Rangers catching either team, while mathematically possible, is rather improbable.
At 52 points from 61 games, it's also unlikely that New York will finish worse than the Senators, so more likely they're focusing the Canadiens (56 from 62 games), Oilers (58 from 62) and tonight's opponents, Vancouver, who have 55 points from 63.
They also will have to keep an eye on Chicago (62 points in 63 games), Florida (62 points in 59 games) and Detroit (62 points in 62 games). The Hurricanse (64 in 62) and Islanders (65 in 63) also are "within reach" to some extent.
So assuming the Rangers do finish around 7th, that gives the team a 6.7%, or 1 in 15 chance of closing stealing the 1st pick, a 7% chance of 2nd which extends to 7.2% for 3rd. If they can get all the way to 4th, then those numbers raise to 9.5%/9.5%/9.6% respectively. You can track the odds here.
While the Rangers "control" their own destiny to some extent, the other two picks from Boston and Tampa will rely on how the other teams finish.
Here's the Pick distribution for teams making the playoffs:
- Teams that do not win their division and are knocked out in the first round or second rounds are awarded draft picks 16-23
- Teams that won their division but do not play in the Conference Final get 24-27
- The losing team in the Conference Final get picks 28-29
- The Cup losing team gets 30
- Cup Winning team gets 31
So, with Boston and Tampa almost both certainly making the playoffs, then the best the Rangers could hope for are picks 16 and 17. This however is very unlickly to occur, as the teams currently sit 6th and 1st overall in the standings, and Boston has some games in hand.
Additionally complicating factors, is Tampa also currently leads the Atlantic Division, though they could still be caught by both the Bruins and Maple Leafs.
In the case where the Maple Leafs won the division, and the Lightning and Bruins both failed to qualify for the Conference Finals, then the Rangers would most likely be looking at picks 21 and 22 (perhaps a little higher if either team struggles in the remains of the regular season).
This scenario however would mean the best the Rangers could do would be 31st in 2019, as the Lightning would need to win the Cup next season in order for the conditional 2nd to be converted to a 1st.
So, realistically the Rangers are probably better off if the Lightning were to win this year, meaning winning the Cup, the Division and keeping the Bruins out of the Conference Finals would be their best path this year, and failing dramatically next year - though unlikely - would result in the best pick next year.
Now you know who to cheer for - if you didn't already. Go Lightning for the Cup, and hope that Boston tails off for the remainder of this year. Then hope for the Lightning to struggle next year, though they will largely have the same roster as the one that's been so successful this season.