The core players for the New York Rangers, which include Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox and Artemi Panarin, among others, are signed to long-term deals for the next several years. The Blueshirts are now focusing on adding options to their team that can provide depth to the elite members of their roster. The team has a mix of players who will be restricted free agents (RFA) and unrestricted free agents (UFA) over the next two offseasons. Here are three free agents on the Rangers roster who will return for the 2022-23 season.
The 28-year-old Mississauga, Ontario native is a reliable player who has developed a rapport playing on the second line with Panarin the last few seasons. Ryan Strome has earned playing time on the Rangers’ first power-play unit with Fox, Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Panarin due to his skills in creating offensive plays or capitalizing on goal-scoring chances. While the pending UFA will command an expensive average-annual value (AAV), he has produced for the franchise and proved his worth to the Blueshirts.
Strome, in 26 games this season, has a stat line of six goals, 15 assists and 21 points, including eight power-play points (PPP). He is not among the top two or three players in offensive categories on the roster but is right below the elite players on the team. He will miss some games per season due to injury, but he’s played nearly a full season several times through his career, including all 56 games in the shortened 2020-21 campaign.
The Rangers’ extensions with players such as Fox and Zibanejad that begin next season may make it likely Strome does not re-sign with the team. President/general manager Chris Drury will make an effort to come to a contract agreement with the nine-year player. He is one of the team’s six alternate captains and has earned his spot as a dependable depth piece for the Blueshirts.
Morgan Barron of the Hartford Wolf Pack is currently the team’s best option with the organization who would provide the Rangers with depth at center should Strome sign with another team during the offseason. The 23-year-old Barron is tied for the team lead with four power-play goals (PPG) and tied for second on the Wolf Pack with eight goals. He has played in seven games for the Rangers over the last two seasons and has one goal during that time.
The Rangers drafted Kaapo Kakko with the second overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, so the team has an investment in the third-year forward. Although he has not reached the potential of being considered a core member of the Blueshirts according to his goals and assists totals, the 20-year-old has the talent to be a depth piece for the team, as he has spent time this year on each of the Rangers’ top three lines.
Kakko has spent time this season playing on the Panarin-Strome line and the top line featuring Kreider and Zibanejad. He has played well sporadically throughout his three years in the NHL. During this season, the Turku, Finland native played his best hockey through the Rangers winning streak during November.
For the year, he has five goals and five assists in 26 games played. Kakko’s first season was the most productive of his career, as he experienced a drop in his offensive numbers during the shortened 2020-21 campaign with 17 points in 48 games. Depending on what other players Drury re-signs, Kakko could end up being a trade candidate after the season.
The future of Sammy Blais with the Rangers is to be determined, given his season-ending injury back in November. The fifth-year player was acquired last offseason from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Pavel Buchnevich and a second-round pick in the 2022 draft. Drury acquired the 25-year-old with the intention of bringing toughness to the Blueshirts.
Head coach Gerard Gallant has utilized Blais on different line combinations, including the Kreider-Zibanejad line, in order to provide balance through the lineup. His offensive totals are low, but he made a good impression through his style of play during the 14 games he played with the organization. Drury should consider offering him an extension for a few more years in order to keep the forward on the Blueshirts.
Drury will have some decisions to consider after his first season as the Rangers’ President/general manager concludes. After 30 games played, it remains to be determined how the individual seasons will pan out for those players on the roster who will be UFAs and RFAs. Depending on how the Rangers’ season finishes will have much to do with how the roster gets evaluated and what weaknesses Drury will still need to address for the team to contend for the Stanley Cup.