Rangers Could Trade Kravtsov, Kakko or Lafreniere Soon

New York Rangers president and general manager (GM) Chris Drury may have to make a tough decision between now and the trade deadline, as he might have to part ways with one of his young and talented forwards for a high-end veteran player to bring home the Stanley Cup. However, he certainly won’t get rid of the coveted youngsters who were drafted ninth, second, and first overall in three consecutive years for a small price. Let’s look at if or how any of these players might find themselves elsewhere by March 3.

Vitali Kravtsov

Vitali Kravtsov has had a roller coaster of a time with the Rangers since he was drafted ninth overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, and his story or possible trade is the most intriguing. He found himself on the outside looking in as their 2019-20 training camp finished. Instead of reporting to the Rangers’ American Hockey League affiliate Hartford Wolf Pack, he exercised his European out clause. He returned to Russia to play for his former Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) team, Traktor.

Vitali Kravtsov, New York Rangers
Vitali Kravtsov, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Then, the 6-foot-3, 182-pound forward played the entire 2020-21 KHL season with Traktor and appeared in 20 games with the Rangers after that. Changes were made quickly as the season ended, and Drury was already GM during the team’s annual exit meeting. Kravtsov and Drury apparently butted heads during their meeting.

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The Russian-born forward was back in training camp for the start of the 2021-22 season. He suffered an injury during camp and was designated for assignment in Hartford, but he refused to go again. Drury granted his agent permission to seek out possible trade destinations. A trade never happened, and the Rangers ended up signing Kravtsov to a standard one-year contract extension shortly before the 2022 Draft. Many speculated they signed him to use him in a trade; however, that’s never been confirmed.

Fast forward to Jan. 2023, and Kravtsov has played in 20 of the Rangers’ 40 games this season. He has two goals and three assists and has been either a healthy scratch or injured on several occasions. That brings us to the point that he may not have much trade value at the moment. Maybe Drury has tried to move him but can’t get enough in return?

Kaapo Kakko

Kaapo Kakko’s story is less complicated than Kravtsov’s. He’s played in all 40 of the Rangers’ games this season and has over 150 more career NHL games than Kravtsov. So far, he has nine goals and nine assists for the Blueshirts this season and has moved up and down the lineup.

Kaapo Kakko New York Rangers
Kaapo Kakko, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

He has a lot of upside, and the Rangers likely won’t feel comfortable parting with him unless the price is exactly right. The 6-foot-2, 208-pound 21-year-old forward probably provides more value in most teams’ eyes around the league than Kravtsov. Plus, he’s a former second-overall pick who was sandwiched between Jack Hughes and Kirby Dach.

Alexis Lafreniere

You would think Alexis Lafreniere, a recent first-overall pick for the Rangers, might be off-limits. However, the former two-time Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Player of the Year hasn’t produced to a level most thought he would by now. He’s had limited playing time on many nights and almost no time with the first power play (PP) unit. Lafreniere has only five goals and 12 assists in 39 games this season. Plus, he was a healthy scratch recently, which led to some speculation and the Vancouver Canucks expressing interest, according to Canucks’ insider Rick Dhaliwal.

First-overall picks aren’t immune to being traded; the Edmonton Oilers traded two in the last decade or so, but it doesn’t happen often. One thing to consider as far as the Canucks go is that their assistant GM, Emilie Castonguay is Lafreniere’s former agent. Another potential destination could be the Montreal Canadiens since they need more talent, and it’s close to Lafreniere’s hometown of St-Eustache, QC. Maybe Marty St. Louis could be the answer to Lafreniere’s early struggles like he was for Cole Caufield last season? However, the Canadiens may not have what the Rangers are looking for. Maybe Drury could work a three-way trade with the Habs and a team like the Chicago Blackhawks?

However, let’s say Drury is asking for a potential 2023 lottery pick and a top-three or top-six forward as a starting point; the Habs would give up their chance at Connor Bedard, a player many see as a generational talent. Bedard is coming off a record-setting World Junior Championship (WJC), where he led Team Canada to a gold medal. The Canadiens are currently in 27th out of 32 teams and would be involved in the draft lottery for the number one pick if the season ended today. Another wrinkle to throw in the mix here is that the Canadiens also have the struggling Florida Panthers’ first-round pick, so that might allow the Habs to feel more comfortable giving up a lottery selection if the Panthers continue to play like they have thus far. However, trading away any shot at Bedard is probably crazy.

Drury Has Big Decision to Make

Drury will need to decide which way to go sooner rather than later. Moving Kravtsov to bring in a piece they need makes the most sense. However, his value is probably at an all-time low. Kakko would likely provide a better return but would it be enough? You would think Lafreniere would be coveted around the NHL as far as being a former first-overall pick and his pedigree coming into the league. But does Drury have the guts to trade him? We’ll have to wait and see.

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