The Rangers moved aggressively before the NHL trade deadline Monday afternoon, dealing forward Kevin Hayes and defenseman Adam McQuaid and bringing back two players and up to six draft picks over the next two years.
They shipped Hayes, their No. 2 center and third-leading scorer, to Winnipeg for a first-round pick in 2019 and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2020 (which they will get if the Jets win the Stanley Cup), plus 22-year-old winger Brendan Lemieux — the son of former Devils and Colorado Avalanche agitator Claude Lemieux.
Then, about an hour before the 3 p.m. deadline, they sent McQuaid to the Columbus Blue Jackets, getting a fourth-rounder and a seventh-rounder in this summer’s draft plus minor-league defenseman Julius Bergman.
Added to the two draft picks they obtained from the Dallas Stars Saturday night for forward Mats Zuccarello, the Rangers got back quite a haul for their three pending unrestricted free agents: a first-round pick this year; a second-rounder this year and a third-rounder next year that both could become first-round picks; a possible additional fourth-rounder next year, and two young players in Lemieux and Bergman.
Lemieux, who will turn 23 March 15, is expected to step right into the Rangers’ lineup. Bergman, 23, will report to AHL Hartford.
The Rangers now possess 10 picks in the June 21-22 draft, including at least two — and potentially four — first-rounders. That’s a nice stockpile for a club that announced a year ago that it was going into a rebuilding phase, and general manager Jeff Gorton suggested it could be used to speed up the Rangers’ rebuild.
“At some point, with all of our draft picks, we’re going to have to look at the possibility of maybe moving some and getting some NHL players in here,’’ Gorton said on a conference call after the deadline. “We’ve added a lot of assets, [which] gives us some flexibility. And we’ve got some cap flexibility so, I think, a lot of opportunity for our team to get better.’’
Gorton said he looked into trading some players who weren’t on expiring contracts. Forward Chris Kreider reportedly was in demand and forward Vlad Namestnikov, acquired from Tampa Bay in the blockbuster Ryan McDonagh/J.T. Miller trade at last year’s deadline, reportedly drew some interest.
In the end, Gorton decided not to move anyone else. He was asked if not trading Kreider, who is under contract for one more season, means he is committed to re-signing the 27-year-old and not moving him at next year’s deadline.
“Chris has been really good for us,’’ he said. “He’s been a great player; he’s having a great year. As far as what we’re going to do with him, he’s been a real good Ranger and we’ll leave it like that. Obviously, he’s got another year on his contract, and this summer we’ll be able to talk to him, and we’ll do that.’’
The 6-5, 216-pound Hayes had 14 goals and 28 assists in 51 games with the Rangers. The 6-4, 210-pound McQuaid had two goals, three assists and 33 penalty minutes in 36 games.
Lemieux, a 6-1, 210-pound left wing, has nine goals, two assists and 64 penalty minutes in 44 games with Winnipeg. Gorton said he expects him to be at practice Tuesday.
“I would think that we’re going to give him a pretty big opportunity here, with some ice time, and playing up in the lineup and see what he can do for us right away,’’ he said.
Notes & quotes: The Rangers signed forwards Cristoval “Boo’’ Nieves and Steven Fogarty to one-year contracts. Nieves’ deal is worth $700,000, according to capfriendly.com.