BUFFALO — For the first time in several years, there’s more than a touch of suspense around the NHL Draft for the Rangers.
Without a first-round pick for the fourth consecutive season, thanks to gambles on trades for Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis and Keith Yandle, the Rangers have some maneuvering in mind as the draft begins Friday night at First Niagara Center.
The Rangers added a fourth-round pick in the 2017 draft when Yandle signed a seven-year, $44.5- million contract with the Panthers on Thursday. In the swap for his negotiating rights, the Blueshirts initially received the Panthers’ sixth-round selection for this weekend’s draft and now have the conditional fourth-rounder because Yandle was locked up by Florida.
That gives the Rangers six selections on the board. They have Nos. 81, 98, 141, 171, 174 and 201, although expected trades could change that order.
Last year, the Rangers traded winger Carl Hagelin and backup goalie Cam Talbot. Will Nash be traded? The buzz still seems centered on whether the Rangers can shed the 32-year-old winger’s $7.8-million cap charge for the next two seasons. Nash scored 15 goals in 60 games last season but missed seven weeks with a bone bruise in his left leg.
The Rangers remained tight-lipped Thursday. General manager Jeff Gorton was in town huddling with the front office, including coach Alain Vigneault, and attended the league’s general managers’ meeting Thursday afternoon, but he was not made available to the New York media.
It remained unclear how much the St. Louis Blues were asking for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who has a salary of $5.2 million and a cap hit of $4.25 million next season before he is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. The Rangers have the 27-year-old defenseman, who was born in Greenwich, Connecticut, on their radar, but the price is said to be high. The Bruins reportedly were rebuffed when they offered the No. 14 overall pick.
As of Thursday, the Rangers had 14 players under contract, with a cap hit of $56,075,000. They include seven forwards (Nash, Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Jesper Fast, Tanner Glass and Oscar Lindberg), five defensemen (Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Klein and Brady Skjei) and goalies Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta.
With the new $73-million salary cap, that leaves $16,925,000 for restricted free agents Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes, presumably rookie Pavel Buchnevich (at $925,000 for his entry-level deal) and at least two more forwards and two defensemen. Teams officially can begin to interview free agents Saturday.