Rangers general manager Chris Drury started making moves even before the NHL Draft got started Friday. Hours before it began on ESPN2, he traded top-line right wing Pavel Buchnevich to the St. Louis Blues for forward Sammy Blais and a second-round pick in the 2022 draft.
That trade was not the one that Rangers fans were hoping for, though. Fans had been eagerly awaiting a blockbuster deal for Buffalo Sabres superstar Jack Eichel. That didn’t materialize Friday, and when the Rangers’ turn to make their selection came up at No. 16 overall, they took rugged left wing Brennan Othmann from the Flint Firebirds of the OHL.
Because the OHL did not play this season, Othmann played in Switzerland with EHC Olten, for whom he had seven goals and nine assists in 34 games.
University of Michigan defenseman Owen Power went No. 1 overall in the draft to the Sabres, and college teammate Matthew Beniers went second overall to the expansion Seattle Kraken. A third Michigan player, Kent Johnson, went No. 5 overall to the Columbus Blue Jackets, one spot after U.S. National Team Development Program defenseman Luke Hughes — who plans to attend Michigan in the fall — went to the Devils. He will join his brother, Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in 2019.
Huntington native Matthew Coronato, who scored 48 goals in 51 games for the Chicago Steel of the USHL and is headed for Harvard in the fall, was chosen by the Calgary Flames with the No. 13 selection.
The Rangers are determined to add grit and toughness. Othmann, a 6-foot, 174-pounder who can play left or right wing, described himself as "an offensive player who likes to put the puck in the back of the net, but at the same time, I play a physical game and I get under guys’ skins.’’
Asked what player he would compare his style to, he named two: Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk and Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor.
"I just think what [Tkachuk] brings to Calgary is a physical game, leadership and gets under guys’ skins,’’ Othmann said. "You love him on your team. You hate playing against him. And that’s exactly what I bring and hope to bring to the New York Rangers.’’
Buchnevich, 26, enjoyed the finest season of his five-year NHL career in 2021, scoring 20 goals and a career-high 48 points in 54 games. But as a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, he was due for a significant raise over the prorated $3.5 million he earned in 2021. And with the Rangers needing to keep salary-cap space open for potential contract extensions for players such as Mika Zibanejad and Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox — plus a need to open up ice time among the top six forwards for youngsters such as Kaapo Kakko and Vitaly Kravtsov — Drury almost had to trade Buchnevich.
"You know, there’s only so much cap space to go around, there’s only so much ice time to go around,’’ Drury said. "I feel pretty good — very good with our depth at winger, with some recent obviously early draft picks we’ve had [and] with some other veterans we’ve signed.’’
Blais, a 6-2, 205-pounder who had career highs in goals (eight) and assists (seven) in 36 games for the Blues in 2021, will give the Rangers some more bite in the bottom six forwards.
"He brings a lot of size, a good physical edge. I think he’s got some offensive upside,’’ Drury said. "And like Barclay [Goodrow, whom the Rangers signed Thursday to a six-year, $21.85 million contract], he’s another guy that walks in a room with having a ton of playoff experience and also has a Stanley Cup ring [with St. Louis in 2019].’’
Goodrow was introduced to the local media in a Zoom call Friday morning. He promised to give the Rangers the grit and toughness they are looking for.
"I’m not signing here to be a player that I’m not,’’ he said. "I’m not a guy who’s going to score 30 goals or put up a ton of points. I’m the guy who’s going to be hard to play against, who’s going to kill penalties, who’s going to generate momentum for my team, who’s going to stick up for his teammates, who’s going to have leadership. I’ve learned what it takes to win at this level, and I know the mindset you need to have to win.’’