Rangers Have 3 Free Agents to Target if Strome Leaves

Ryan Strome is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) after the 2021-22 season ends. The New York Rangers and the 28-year-old center are attempting to agree to an extension. In 43 games played this year, he has nine goals and 25 assists.

The Mississauga, Ontario native has been significant to the second line for New York and has developed a rapport playing with Artemi Panarin. While Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Igor Shesterkin, Adam Fox, and Panarin consistently are in the spotlight for the team, Strome is one of the underrated players on the team. He creates plenty of scoring chances on the second line and the Rangers’ top power-play unit.

I wrote previously that I think the Rangers’ second-line center will agree to an extension and return in 2022-23. If team president/general manager (GM) Chris Drury and Strome are unable to come to an agreement on an extension this offseason, New York will sign a free agent or acquire a player in a trade to replace him. Here are three free agent forwards the Rangers should target this offseason if Strome leaves.

Rickard Rakell

The former first-round selection in the 2011 NHL Draft by the Anaheim Ducks has an average annual value (AAV) of $3.78 million in 2021-22. Rickard Rakell has 11 goals and 10 assists in 39 games played this year. Strome has an AAV of $4.5 million this year and Drury could sign the Ducks forward to a contract with an AAV slightly less than the amount the Rangers’ center is earning. A three-year contract with a $4 million AAV could be an offer New York’s GM may offer him.

Related: What Will the Ducks Do at the 2022 Trade Deadline?

Rakell has provided value for the franchise in eight of the 10 seasons in which he has played for Anaheim. He would fit on New York’s second or third line. The Sundbyberg, Sweden native’s best season was in 2017-18 in which he posted 34 goals and 35 assists in 77 games played.

Rickard Rakell Ducks
Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He could be traded by GM Pat Verbeek by the deadline so the Ducks can acquire some value in a player or draft pick for the pending UFA. According to Natural Stat Trick, Rakell ranks second among Anaheim forwards in the amount of time played per game (TOI/GP) at 5-on-5 at 14:55. His time on ice (TOI) on the power play ranks third among forwards on the team at 91:34. He has proven he can accumulate several minutes among the players on offense and could be a sufficient replacement for Strome.

Reilly Smith

The Rangers have been rumored as a trade destination for Reilly Smith by the deadline. His stats have remained steady over the course of his career with the Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers, and Vegas Golden Knights. He has an AAV of $5 million this year. It could be challenging for Drury to come to a contract agreement if the GM wants to sign someone with an AAV that is lower than Strome’s current AAV of $4.5 million.

Smith would fit well on New York’s first line with Kreider or Zibanejad or on the second line if he is acquired by the trading deadline. If the Mimico, Ontario native performs well for the Rangers, Drury could consider attempting to keep him beyond 2021-22. The Rangers’ GM could offer the Vegas forward a three- or four-year contract with an AAV between $4.3-$5 million. New York currently has over $17 million in available cap space currently. Signing Smith to a contract with an AAV above $5 million may not be possible with the other Rangers’ players that Drury would like to keep on the roster.

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After a victory against the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 1, Golden Knights head coach Peter DeBoer commented about Smith ending a 10-game goal drought, “No one deserves one more than him and no one wears it harder than him when he’s not chipping them in. Typical Reilly Smith goal. Middle-lane drive, stop at the net, and get things to happen. He deserved one. He could have had two the other night in Tampa. He’s always been a streaky guy, so hopefully this starts another streak.”

The 30-year-old forward is one of the top offensive players for the Golden Knights with 13 goals and 19 assists in 46 games played. Smith leads Vegas’ forwards at even strength in expected goals for (xGF) at 37.44 percent. The xGF stat determines what team is expected to score more goals between considering the difference between expected goals for and expected goals against (xGA). His xGF on the power play ranks third among Vegas’ forwards at 13.20. He remains one of the top options to contribute or score goals for the Golden Knights.

Andrew Copp

The Ann Arbor, Michigan native has an AAV of $3.64 million before his contract ends this year. Andrew Copp is an option for Drury to sign in free agency this offseason if Strome departs New York. The Winnipeg Jet is also a player the Rangers’ GM could consider trading for by the deadline.

Drury could offer Copp a two- or three-year contract with a $4 million AAV. The forward likes to play for Winnipeg based upon his comments last offseason when he agreed to a one-year extension, “I would have liked to maybe get a few more years, but I got a good contract. I’m happy with it. I’m happy with the improvements that the team made in the offseason. Obviously, a few key losses, but a few key additions as well and we think that we’re a team that can go all the way this year. So, I’m really excited to be back and really excited to see what kind of team we’ve got moving forward here.”

Andrew Copp Winnipeg Jets
Andrew Copp, Winnipeg Jets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Copp has a good chance of setting a new career high in goals and assists this season. Given his past comments about being a member of the Jets, a team with interest in signing him may have to overpay to outmatch Winnipeg’s offer. He is 27 years old and appears to gradually improve each year.

The Rangers will have their share of options to replace Strome if he signs elsewhere in free agency. If Drury acquires a forward at the deadline, he could look to re-sign the player depending upon his current salary and age. The Rangers’ GM will look at signing a player who is consistent offensively like the New York center has been.

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