New Rangers President and General Manager Chris Drury has kept a relatively low profile since being elevated to his new position two months ago. He did fire coach David Quinn, hired new coach Gerard Gallant, hired old college teammate Mike Grier to a front office position, and quietly started to reshape the organization’s team directory.
But Drury’s summer is about to get really busy.
On July 21, the NHL will hold its expansion draft to stock the roster of the league’s 32nd team, the Seattle Kraken, which begins play in this coming season. On July 24 and 25, the NHL’s annual entry draft will take place, and then, on July 28, free agency begins.
And Drury, by the way, still has to hire assistant coaches for Gallant’s staff, plus hire an assistant GM, as well as filling some other front office and scouting positions.
Drury, elevated from his associate GM position after the shock firings of President John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton on May 5, is charged with making sure the Rangers make the playoffs next spring after missing the postseason for four straight years. Successfully navigating the expansion draft, entry draft and free agency will be a big key to that.
The expansion draft is first up. The Kraken will select one player from each team, except the Vegas Golden Knights, who entered the league four years ago. That means the Rangers will lose one player.
But it won’t be a core player. The expansion draft rules are the same as they were for Vegas’ entry into the league in 2017: Teams get to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie — or eight skaters and a goalie — with first- and second-year professionals, as well as unsigned draft picks, exempt from the draft.
That means the Rangers don’t need to protect Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox, No. 1 goaltender Igor Shesterkin, All-Rookie Team defenseman K’Andre Miller, forwards Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere, or prospects like defenseman Zac Jones or forward Morgan Barron.
So the Rangers will be able to protect all their core players, and their protected list has no doubt been settled for some time now. But there are always last-minute contingencies to adjust to, and there will be opportunities to improve the roster that come out of the expansion draft.
Projected Rangers protected list:
Forwards (7): Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strome, Pavel Buchnevich, Chris Kreider, Filip Chytil, Brett Howden.
Defensemen (3): Jacob Trouba, Ryan Lindgren, Libor Hajek.
Goaltenders (1): Alexandar Georgiev.
The biggest decision for Drury and Gallant is who the seventh protected forward should be. The choice is between Howden, Colin Blackwell, Kevin Rooney and Julien Gauthier.
Howden, who signed a one-year, $885,000 deal Friday, struggled through a difficult season in which he had just one goal and six assists in 42 games, and missed eight games after being placed on the NHL’s COVID protocol list. His biggest fan, Quinn, is no longer the Rangers’ coach, so whether he fits into Gallant’s plans remains to be seen. He is still just 23, though, is a former first round pick, and is 6-3, 200 pounds.
Projected significant players to be exposed to claim: Tony DeAngelo, Blackwell, Rooney, Gauthier, Keith Kinkaid, Anthony Bitetto.
The best player available is DeAngelo, the defenseman who scored 15 goals and had 53 points in 68 games in 2019-20 and signed a two-year, $9.6 million contract before last season.
DeAngelo was waived after getting into a fight with Georgiev following an OT loss to Pittsburgh in late January. No one was willing to claim him then, and no one wanted him at the trade deadline. He would certainly help the Kraken on the ice, but it’s unlikely they would claim him. If they want him, they can wait for the Rangers to buy him out of the final year of his contract and then attempt to sign him as a free agent at a discounted rate.
The Kraken, then, are more likely to take from the group of Blackwell, Rooney and Gauthier. Blackwell, a journeyman when he signed with the Rangers before last season, surprised everyone by scoring 12 goals and adding 10 assists in 47 games. Rooney, a 6-2, 190-pound, penalty-killing forward, had career highs in goals (eight) and assists (six) in a fourth-line role, and Gauthier, a former first round pick of Carolina, hasn’t lived up to expectations, but is still only 23.
Of course, the Rangers could certainly make some side deals with the Kraken, too. If there’s someone on their exposed list they really don’t want to lose — say they want to hold on to Rooney — they could offer Seattle a draft pick or something to encourage them to take Blackwell or Gauthier, instead.
Or, if, say, Seattle wanted Georgiev, and were willing to make a deal with the Rangers to have them protect Kinkaid and expose Georgiev, Drury might be interested in that. Maybe there’s a player exposed by another team the Rangers want, and Seattle could choose that player and trade him to the Rangers later.