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Rangers’ new players will get chance to prove themselves

FILE - In this Dec. 23, 2017, file

FILE - In this Dec. 23, 2017, file photo, Tampa Bay Lightning center Vladislav Namestnikov (90) cuts in front of Minnesota Wild center Matt Cullen (7) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. The New York Rangers have acquired three players, including Namestnikov, plus a first-round pick in this year Äôs draft and a conditional first-rounder in 2019. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File) Credit: AP / Chris O’Meara

There are 19 more games to get used to the new names — for Ryan McDonagh to be replaced by Rob O’Gara, and Rick Nash to give way to Vladislav Namestnikov. But even as it seems that the biggest names in Rangers hockey have been dispatched to playoff teams, general manager Jeff Gorton said there’s still a reason to watch, and a very good reason for the front office to be interested.

“There’s plenty of opportunity here for guys to step up and show that they’re NHL players,” Gorton said shortly after Monday’s blockbuster trade, which sent McDonagh and J.T. Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Namestnikov, a pair of prospects and draft picks.

“We have a lot of young guys in the lineup — defensemen, our backup goalie now moving forward, some new players in [Ryan] Spooner and Namestnikov,” he added. “For guys that have been here, they have to cement their place here and show that they want to be part of it. For young players, they need to prove they belong in the league, that we should be looking at them for next year. As we’re moving forward, we’re going to be looking for anything and everything that makes us better.”

On Wednesday, that will mean a slew of new players up against the Canucks, kicking off a Western Canada trip to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. It also means new lines and pairings — Spooner, who came in from the Bruins as part of the Rick Nash trade, skated on the third line Sunday with Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast, and tallied two assists. O’Gara, who came from the Bruins in the trade that sent Nick Holden to Boston, played close to 20 minutes in each of the last two games after spending the majority of the season in the AHL.

“He’s very good on the power play,” Gorton said of Spooner. “He can play on both wings. He can play center.”

There’s also little doubt there will be plenty of Namestnikov — he’s in the middle of a career season with 20 goals, and, Gorton said, he was intrigued by his versatility. Namestnikov, a center, played wing this season with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.

And then there are the prospects Gorton is intrigued by. Defenseman Yegor Rykov came from the Devils in the trade for Michael Grabner, and the Rangers picked up defenseman Ryan Lindgren from the Bruins in the Nash trade (they also picked up veteran Matt Beleskey, who’s spent the majority of the season in the AHL). For McDonagh and Miller, the Rangers got forward Brett Howden and defenseman Libor Hajek.

“Defense is an area where I think, it’s a very important piece of where we need to go as far as building our team,” Gorton said shortly after the Nash trade. People may ask, ‘Why did you get another defenseman?’ Basically, he’s the guy that we like. We really liked him a lot for a while.”

Hajek, 20, Gorton said Monday, “is a defenseman we’ve liked for a long time going back to the draft.

“He’s really come into his own as player, as someone who has an offensive side, defensive side, is a physical player, can skate, he plays the game the way the game is played today.”

And Howden, 19, one of the few forwards acquired, is “a center we’ve coveted for a while,” Gorton said.

“He’s a big guy, rangy, a good skater,” he said. “We like his upside and skill, but we also like his character. We like the fact that he plays against the better players, that he can check and do a lot of different things. [He’s] a real good person. We’re really happy with him and his ability and his future.”

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