The Rangers are not on John Tavares’ short list of teams in his career-altering free agency decision this July, but that does not mean their chances of securing another All-Star talent are over. New York’s three first-round draft selections this past June, along with key players returning from injury to begin the 2018-19 season, have the future looking brighter than ever.
With the proposed roster rebuild at The Garden in full swing, many believe that this July will be stagnant for the Blueshirts. Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton did not pull any major strings on draft day, and it appears, as of now, that the franchise will likely remain calm as the NHL enters the free agent frenzy period this summer.
Gorton Plays It Cool
The three first-round selections in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft have high upside for the Rangers moving forward and also have the potential to crack the lineup within the next two seasons. New York’s management believes that they nailed this year’s draft and have steered the ship in the right direction for the future.
First-round, ninth overall selection Vitali Kravtsov has been compared to current Washington Capitals star forward Evgeny Kuznetsov. His size and playmaking ability make him one of the most highly-touted prospects in the entire 2018 class. Whether he decides to leave the KHL and sign with the Rangers this year is still uncertain, but if he does head back overseas, then he could possibly log some high-end minutes in the KHL this year.
The other two first-rounders; K’Andre Miller (USNTDP) and Nils Lundkvist (Lulea HF, Sweden), are both defensemen and will continue to develop before signing with the Rangers in the future.
With David Quinn taking over as the 35th head coach in franchise history, the Rangers might want him to develop their younger talent and plan for the future. If Gorton believes that his best option is to save cap space and plan to target a free agent in the summer of 2019, then New York is going to have a quiet July.
The Rangers Target a Goal Scorer
With the possibility of having two or more rookies crack the lineup on opening night this October, the Rangers are still faced with offensive scoring questions. Will one of these up-and-coming players produce on the score sheet? Will Chris Kreider stay healthy for a full season? Who is going to step up and lead the team?
A lot of uncertainties still remain, which is why New York could target a game-changing free-agent. Although the pool of forwards to choose from is slim, the Rangers could potentially go after James Neal or James van Riemsdyk.
In his 10-year career in the NHL, Neal has scored over 20 goals in every single season. He has tallied 190 goals over the past seven years combined during the regular season, averaging 27 goals per year in that span. He has proven that it does not matter what city he plays in, who his linemates are or what his role is on the team—Real Deal James Neal can find the back of the net.
The 30-year-old veteran from Whitby, Ontario might be a stretch for New York to acquire, but if he is chasing money as opposed to his first ring, then the Rangers will have a legitimate shot in free agency.
JVR, on the other hand, is also a possible target for the Blueshirts. In his six seasons with the Leafs, he has accumulated 154 goals and 294 points. If you discount his injury-shortened 2015-16 campaign, over his last five full seasons he is averaging 24.5 goals per season. Not only is he a guaranteed 20-plus goal-scorer, but he is coming off of statistically his best scoring season with 36 tallies.
Van Riemsdyk is one of the most skilled players in the game today around the front of the net, especially on the power play. The Rangers ranked 14th in the league a season ago with the man-advantage, and JVR could help push this rebuilding squad inside the top 10.
Like Neal, money will not be an issue, but ring chasing could hinder the Rangers’ potential of landing one of the top offensive free agents this summer.
New York Trades for Erik Karlsson
It is no secret that the league’s most skilled defenseman wants out of the nation’s capital. The Senators reportedly tried to deal their Norris Trophy blueliner at the deadline this past February, but the trade failed to be completed. Combine that with the most recent debacle with former teammate Mike Hoffman and his girlfriend, and you have an unhappy superstar looking for a fresh start.
The Rangers have both the cap space and market size to make a trade for one of the best players in the NHL today. Not only would Karlsson change the dynamic of the Rangers franchise, but he would give them one of the league’s deepest back-ends. With Kevin Shattenkirk coming back from injury to start the 2018-19 season, New York would have two of the most offensive-defensemen in the game.
Add these two scoring threats alongside rising stars Brady Skjei and Neal Pionk, as well as stay-at-home veteran leader Marc Staal, and the Rangers would bolster one of the deeper top-six blue lines in the Eastern Conference.
The price for the Swedish superstar will be extremely high, and the Rangers will have to give up a combination of draft picks, prospects and current players on their roster. Luckily for New York, the organization checks all three of those boxes. Whatever Ottawa is looking for, the Rangers will have to throw the kitchen sink their way if they truly want to land this once-in-a-generation talent.
Karlsson will control his own fate and future destination, but if he believes that he can succeed and win his first Stanley Cup in the Big Apple, then do not count out the possibility of him suiting up for the red, white and blue this fall.
There is no secret formula to creating a successful rebuild, especially with the lottery system in place. However, one thing that is certain is that it’s worth at least exploring the possibility of adding a proven star that becomes available in free agency.
Former Division 1 hockey player at Colgate University. Covering the New York Rangers for THW and isportsweb.com.