Rangers Ramp up Rebuild With Fox Deal

Having practiced the patience he has preached for more than a year now, it appears that New York Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton is ready to put the pedal down on his club’s rebuild – even if only in a measured way.

For last week’s acquisition of defense prospect Adam Fox from the Carolina Hurricanes for the club’s second-round draft pick this year and a conditional third-rounder next year should signal a desire to push the pace – again, at least somewhat – in paying fair-market price for a highly sought-after player that he could have signed as a free agent after next season.

Rumors had swirled that Fox, a native of Jericho, Long Island, was not going to sign with any team other than the Rangers after completing his senior season at Harvard University and becoming an unrestricted free agent next August. Gorton, though, wasn’t prepared to chance it, and clearly wasn’t interested in waiting around.

Jeff Gorton
Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

“We think Adam is ready to play now,” the GM said. “People talk about a year from now, but a lot can happen in a year, or 16 months. That comes with a lot of ‘if’s.’ So for me, it was easy. We wanted him here and we didn’t want to wait. We want to get moving.”

Fox is a top right-side defense prospect – the type of commodity that doesn’t grow on trees. With an opportunity to shore up the future of the backline on the right, Gorton clearly didn’t think twice before he struck.

Fox the Future Anchor of Right Side of Blue Line?

The third-round pick in 2020 becomes a second should Fox play in 30 NHL games next season – a scenario that, barring injury or complete ineffectiveness – seems likely to come to pass. Despite that, Gorton isn’t exactly mortgaging the future. With nine draft choices this year, including two first-rounders and two second-rounders even after trading their own second for Fox, the Rangers remain in prime position to keep adding young assets through the draft.

Gorton obviously feels Fox might be as good if not better than nearly anyone they could select in June.

“The biggest thing is the skill,” Gorton said. “We’re trying, as we move this thing forward and rebuild the team, we’re looking at players that can make a difference, and this guy has high-end skill. He can really move a puck, his power-play ability is really good, he can run a power play, he has always played well in big games.

“Overall the talent level is really high – the kind of player that’s difficult to get. I think it’s really exciting to see how he can grow with what we have here already.”

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Fox topped the nation in 2018-19 with 1.45 points per game, the first defenseman in a quarter-century to do so. His 48 points (nine goals, 39 assists) in 33 games for the Crimson nearly doubled his output from the season before.

Now, the right side of the Rangers’ blue line, which includes fading veteran Kevin Shattenkirk, talented-but-troubled Tony DeAngelo and Neal Pionk, seems immeasurably strengthened. Expect Fox to be given every opportunity to make the team and play extensively in 2019-20.

After all, team management has made it apparent that it’s time to move this construction project forward. Forward Vitali Kravtsov, the ninth-overall pick last year, is signed and on his way from the KHL, as is wunderkind goaltending prospect Igor Shesterkin. Kravtsov’s goal will be to find a spot in the opening-night lineup, while Shesterkin is expected to engage Alexandar Georgiev in a battle for the backup spot behind Henrik Lundqvist, and more importantly, the inside track on being the one to succeed The King in the coming seasons.

Fox Highlights Big Group of Incoming Rangers Talent

The Rangers are sure to take a run at unrestricted free agent Artemi Panarin on July 1, and with Panarin’s Columbus Blue Jackets having been eliminated from the playoffs, team president and old friend John Davidson could be coming home shortly to fill outgoing Rangers president Glen Sather’s shoes in what would appear to be a natural fit.

Oh, and there’s that second-overall draft pick, too, with Finnish forward Kaapo Kakko the likely selection. Like Fox, Kravtsov and highly regarded defense prospects Libor Hajek and Ryan Lindgren, along with others, the expectation will be for Kakko – or Jack Hughes, should the New Jersey Devils stunningly pass on the expected No. 1 overall selection – to be in a Blueshirt on opening night.

Finland's Kaapo Kakko
Finland’s Kaapo Kakko (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

The 2018-19 season saw the Rangers wade into the waters of rebuilding, a campaign that highlighted the shrewd decision to hire David Quinn as coach while at the same time exposing the lineup’s deficiencies and just how far the Blueshirts had to go for a return to consistent contention.

More will be expected in Season 2 of the project, with another influx of desperately needed young talent that in theory includes more elite prospects this time around. Fox’s addition should make it apparent that the front office is expecting its methodical approach to the roster teardown to start to bear fruit – and soon.