The New York Rangers are formulating offseason plans that will include decisions on pending unrestricted free agents who played big roles during their run to the Eastern Conference Final and young players who might be ready for bigger roles.
“We’re doing a deep dive now and looking back,” general manager Chris Drury Wednesday said. “It’s still pretty fresh, but we’re going to do everything we can to be better and to get back in the playoffs.”
The Rangers’ season ended with a 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the conference final at Amalie Arena on June 11. The biggest question early in their offseason is who will be their No. 2 center behind Mika Zibanejad.
Ryan Strome has been in that role the past three seasons, playing with left wing Artemi Panarin. The Rangers acquired Andrew Copp from the Winnipeg Jets on March 21, and although Copp’s preference is to be a center, he was the right wing on that line.
Strome and Copp are potential UFAs, along with forwards Kevin Rooney, Tyler Motte, Frank Vatrano and Greg McKeggand defenseman justin brown.
Drury didn’t handicap any of their chances to return, saying he doesn’t talk about contract negotiations.
Strome said Monday that his preference is to re-sign with the 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 being acquired in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 16, 2018.
Video: NHL Now on the Rangers’ offseason outlook
“Ryan is a terrific person and a terrific player,” Drury said. “He’s definitely made a home here. We’re excited that he wants to be here. We think the world of him both on and off the ice.”
Copp said he will have further discussions with Drury and coach Gerard Gallant about a long-term role, mentioning an interest in a four- to five-year contract, while adding he likes the direction the Rangers are headed and feels there is unfinished business after losing to the Lightning. 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 fit in extremely well,” Drury said. “He’s a very versatile player. He can [play] both wings and center. That’s a good thing to have with any lineup. We’re excited with the job he was able to come in and do. We’ll figure out what’s next here shortly in the offseason.”
Filip Chytil also is a potential fit as the No. 2 center after the 22-year-old had a strong postseason as the center on the third line, at times between 20-year-old Alexis Lafreniere and 21-year-old Kaapo 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,'” Drury said. “Certainly showed us a different level.”
Drury said he feels the same way about Lafreniere, the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft who next season could move to right wing to play with the top-six forward group on a more permanent basis after playing his first two seasons at left wing. 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 on the right in the top six, I think we’ll be a pretty good team,” Drury said.
It’s possible Kakko, a pending restricted free agent, could be a top-six right wing for the Rangers to start next season even though he was a healthy scratch for Game 6 against the Lightning. Drury said he had a good talk with Kakko before he returned home to Finland on Tuesday.
“There’s obviously a lot of belief from me and the staff what his future holds,” Drury said.
Kakko said Monday that getting scratched will be motivation for him.
“I want to show I’m better than that, like you should put me in the lineup, I’m a good player,” Kakko said. “I’m going to be a better player when I get back over here next season.”
The Rangers also have to determine if there is a fit for forward Vitaly Kravtsov, who signed a one-year contract Monday after playing this season in the Kontinental Hockey League. The No. 9 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft was loaned by the Rangers to Traktor after he did not make the NHL roster coming out of training camp. He had 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 19 KHL games.
“I don’t think we ever wavered from our stance that he’s an all-world talent,” Drury said. “We’re excited to have him back and be part of the group.”