When general manager Jeff Gorton opted not to make a trade before Monday’s deadline, that meant the Rangers were going to ride out the final 15 games of the regular season with the same roster that got them to this point in the playoff race.
And that was fine with coach David Quinn.
"I think it's a sign to our team and everybody in that locker room that we feel really good about where we're at, and the direction we're going,’’ Quinn said Tuesday morning, before the Rangers took on the Devils at the Prudential Center in Newark. "We like the way we've been playing lately.’’
Gorton did make one addition to the Rangers’ group, signing 20-year-old defenseman Zac Jones, fresh off his All-Tournament performance in the NCAA hockey championship won by his UMass team on Saturday, to an entry-level contract. Jones wasn’t in the lineup Tuesday, but he is available whenever Quinn needs him. The team will no doubt bring up some players from its AHL Hartford affiliate at some point, too.
Tuesday’s was the first of four consecutive matchups against the Devils, with the teams meeting Thursday night and Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, before going back to Newark Sunday afternoon. The Rangers entered the game four points behind the Boston Bruins for the fourth and final playoff spot in the East Division. The Bruins played last-place Buffalo Tuesday.
The Devils, after their trade deadline selloff — they dealt forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac to the Islanders last week, then traded defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to Edmonton and lost defenseman Sami Vatanen to Dallas off waivers Monday — are now the youngest team in the NHL, at an average age of 24.8.
But Quinn insisted that his team, which had been the youngest in the NHL most of the season but is now the third-youngest, could not afford to take the Lindy Ruff-coached Devils lightly.
"Teams that are in the situation the Devils are, are very dangerous,’’ he said. "There's not a lot of pressure on them. They've made a lot of moves in the last few days, and these teams are the dangerous teams. They've got nothing to lose, and we've got to be ready.’’
In speaking to the media after the deadline on Monday, Gorton said he was happy with the play of the still-developing Rangers, and saw no sense in trading for a rental player at the deadline, one who might slightly upgrade the talent and experience on the roster but at the same time might take playing time away from young players Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere, Vitali Kravtsov and Libor Hajek.
Lafreniere, 19, Kakko, 20, and Chytil, 21, have been making a difference as the team’s third line, and Kravtsov, 21, has been so impressive in his first five games after coming over from Russia that Quinn put him on the first line, with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich, for the last two periods of Sunday’s game against the Islanders. Kravtsov practiced Monday with Zibanejad and Buchnevich, though Chris Kreider, normally the left wing on that line, did not practice, because of what the team described as "maintenance.’’
Quinn wouldn’t say if he planned to start Kravtsov with Zibanejad and Buchnevich against the Devils but said he likes what he’s seen from the No. 9 pick overall in the 2018 draft.
"I liked him, period, regardless of who was playing with,’’ Quinn said of Kravtsov. "His game continues to move forward. He's obviously a highly skilled guy with a great hockey IQ, but the thing I love about him is how hard he's competing and how he's using his body.
"But I did like him with Mika and Buchie.’’