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Rangers to add some more grit with free-agent defenseman Patrik Nemeth

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Patrik Nemeth (24) in the

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Patrik Nemeth (24) in the first period of Game 2 of an Stanley Cup first-round playoff series Wednesday, May 19, 2021, in Denver.  Credit: AP/David Zalubowski

The NHL’s free-agent frenzy begins at noon Wednesday, but the Rangers have done quite a bit of their work already, so don’t expect GM Chris Drury to make too big a splash as far as acquiring any big names.

Drury has already agreed to a deal with veteran defenseman Patrik Nemeth, a development first reported by the New York Post and confirmed by Newsday. Nemeth, 29, is believed to have agreed to a deal worth in the $2.5 million range as far as average annual salary. The 6-3, 228-pound, lefthanded shot would presumably slot in as the third-pair lefty, and presumably partner with and mentor rookie Nils Lundkvist, a 2018 first-round pick who is coming over from Sweden this fall and favored to make the opening night roster.

Drury has been trying to remake the Rangers into a harder, grittier team, and Nemeth, who played 52 games in 2021 for Detroit and Colorado, will help with that. But Drury has also already landed former Tampa Bay Lightning forward Barclay Goodrow, whose rights were acquired in a trade July 17 and who signed a six-year, $21.85 million contract on Thursday. And on Friday, hours before the NHL draft, Drury traded first-line winger Pavel Buchnevich to St. Louis for grinder Sammy Blais and a 2022 draft pick.

According to CapFriendly, the Rangers have $21.875 million in available space under the NHL’s $81.5 million salary cap. But they do have some restricted free agents to sign — No. 1 goaltender Igor Shesterkin is an RFA with arbitration rights and likely to get a contract that would pay him in the $5 million range — and they will need to leave space to sign No. 1 center Mika Zibanejad and Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Adam Fox to contract extensions.

Fox, the Jericho native, figures to get a deal in the same ballpark as Colorado’s Cale Makar, who just agreed to a contract with the Colorado Avalanche that will pay him an average of $9 million a year.

There is also still the possibility that the Rangers could be in the mix to trade for disgruntled Buffalo Sabres star Jack Eichel, who carries a cap hit of $10 million per year. So they would need space to absorb his contract, in case that pans out.

All of which means Drury will have to be careful how he spends on free agents. Most likely, the Rangers will still be looking to add a depth defenseman, a veteran to serve as the seventh man, and they still could be in the hunt to add a little more grit to their bottom two lines. There was chatter that the Rangers might be interested in signing Islanders free agent Casey Cizikas, though the addition of Goodrow may have lessened that possibility.

3 potential targets for the Rangers

1. D Patrik Nemeth. He’s already agreed to a deal to come aboard as a reasonably priced, third-pair veteran.

2. C Philip Danault. Ryan Strome’s name has been out there as a player a lot of teams want. If the Rangers move Strome, Danault would be an interesting possibility as a replacement.

3. F Blake Coleman. If the Rangers still want a little more grit — and are willing to pay for it — he could reunite with his Tampa linemate Goodrow.

Rangers' preseason schedule

Sunday, Sept. 26 vs. Islanders at Madison Square Garden

Tuesday, Sept. 28 vs. Boston at Madison Square Garden

Friday, Oct. 1 at New Jersey at Prudential Center

Saturday, Oct. 2 at Boston at TD Garden

Wednesday, Oct. 6 vs. New Jersey at Madison Square Garden

Saturday, Oct. 9 at NY Islanders at TBA

New York Sports