Rangers offseason evaluation includes No. 2 center

The New York Rangers are formulating plans for the offseason that include decisions about upcoming unrestricted free agents, who played big roles during their run to the Eastern Conference Finals, and young players who may be poised for bigger roles.

“Now we’re going to dive deep and look back,” the general manager said Chris Drury said Wednesday. “It’s still pretty fresh, but we’ll do everything we can to get better and get back into the playoffs.”

The Rangers season ended with a 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Conference Finals at the Amalie Arena on June 11. The biggest question coming into her offseason is who will be her No. 2 back center Mika Zibanejad.

Ryan Strome has been in that role for the past three seasons, playing left wing Artemi Panarin. Acquired the Rangers Andrew Copp by the Winnipeg Jets on March 21, and although Copp prefers to be a center, he was right wing on that line.

Strome and Copp are potential UFAs, along with forwards Kevin Rooney, Tyler moth, Frank Vatrano and Greg McKeggand defender Justin Brown.

Drury didn’t hamper any of their chances of returning and said he wasn’t talking about contract negotiations.

Strome said on Monday that he prefers to re-sign with Rangers. He has 195 points (71 goals, 124 assists) in 263 games, including 54 points (21 goals, 33 assists) in 74 games this season since his acquisition from the Edmonton Oilers on November 16, 2018.

Video: NHL Now for the Rangers outlook for the offseason

“Ryan is a great person and a great player,” said Drury. “He has definitely found a home here. We’re glad he wants to be here. We think the world of him, both on and off the ice.”

Copp said he would have further talks with Drury and manager Gerard Gallant about a long-term role and mentioned an interest in a four to five-year deal, while adding that he likes the direction Rangers are going and feels that there is still unfinished business after losing to the Blitz. He had 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in 16 regular-season games for New York and 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 20 Stanley Cup playoff games.

“He has fitted in very well,” said Drury. “He’s a very versatile player. He can [play] both wings and middle. That’s a good thing to have with any lineup. We are thrilled with the work he was able to come and do. We’ll find out what happens next here in the off-season shortly.”

Filip Chytil is also a potential fit as the No. 2 center after the 22-year-old had a strong postseason as a third-row center, at times between 20-year-olds Alexis Lafreniere and 21 years old Kapo Kakko. It became known as the “Kid Line”.

Chytil scored seven goals in 20 playoff games after scoring eight goals in 67 regular-season games.

“It was definitely a big step for ‘Fil,'” said Drury. “It certainly showed us a different level.”

Drury said he feels the same way about 2020 NHL draft pick Lafreniere, who could switch to the right wing next season to play more consistently with the top-six forward group after spending his first two seasons on the left side has played wings. Lafreniere had nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 20 playoff games. He had 31 points (19 goals, 12 assists) in 79 regular-season games.

“If he ends up playing in the top six on the right, I think we’ll be a pretty good team,” said Drury.

It’s possible Kakko, an upcoming limited free agent, could be a top-six right winger for Rangers next season despite being a healthy scratch for Game 6 against the Lightning. Drury said he had a good chat with Kakko before returning home to Finland on Tuesday.

“I and the staff obviously have a lot of faith in his future,” Drury said.

Kakko said on Monday that scratching will be a motivation for him.

“I want to show that I’m better than that, as if you should put me in the lineup, I’m a good player,” Kakko said. “I’ll be a better player when I come back here next season.”

Rangers also need to determine if there is a suitable striker Vitaly Kravtsov, who signed a one-year contract on Monday after playing in the Kontinental Hockey League that season. The 2018 NHL draft pick was loaned to Traktor by the Rangers after he failed to make the NHL draft after training camp. He had 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 19 KHL games.

“I don’t think we’ve ever deviated from our stance that he’s a world talent,” Drury said. “We’re delighted to have him back and to be part of the group.”

Leave a Comment