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Gorton views season as positive because 'young players are developing before our eyes'

Jeff Gorton, New York Rangers General Manager, speaks

Jeff Gorton, New York Rangers General Manager, speaks with the media at Madison Square Garden Training Center in Greenburgh, New York, on Sunday, April 7, 2019.  Credit: James Escher

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The Rangers’ rebuild is going according to plan, general manager Jeff Gorton said Sunday. The next step could be an active summer in which the Rangers dive into the free-agent market or start trading some of the draft picks they’ve collected during the past couple of years to try to speed up the timetable.

“We’re at a place where you have to look at everything,’’ Gorton told reporters at breakup day Sunday, a day after the Rangers won their final game of the season, beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime, 4-3, to finish 32-36-14.

“And whether it’s the free-agent market, the trade market, how we do things at the draft — some of the names and things will get moved around at the draft — we’ll look at all those things,’’ he added. “I think we will try to do everything we can to advance it a little bit.’’

So yes, the Rangers might try to sign a free agent such as Artemi Panarin, who scored the winning shootout goal against them Friday night in the Columbus Blue Jackets’ 3-2 victory at the Garden. Panarin also scored in regulation in that game and hit the crossbar twice.

Panarin will be 28 in October, and the 28 goals and 87 points in 79 games he put up this season for the Blue Jackets would look very good in the Rangers’ lineup.

Also potentially on his way is 2018 first-round draft pick Vitali Kravtsov, who had eight goals and 21 points in 50 games for his team in the KHL, Traktor Chelyabinsk. Gorton said the Rangers are in contact with Kravtsov, whose KHL contract will expire at the end of this month, and hope to have him come to North America as soon as possible.

Goaltender Igor Shestyorkin, whose SKA St. Petersburg team beat CSKA, 3-2, on Sunday to force a Game 7 in their playoff series, also could come to North America next season.

The team they’ll be joining is one that Gorton believes will be on the rise.

“For us, it was a positive season,’’ Gorton said of the Rangers’ performance for first-year coach David Quinn. “We played a lot of young players. [We saw] a lot of players developing in front of our eyes. So we’re encouraged with a lot of things we’re seeing. I feel like we’re moving forward with what we’re doing, and I really feel good about our coaching staff and David and what he’s been able to do and establish.’’

The first thing Gorton intends to do is bring a mysterious lucky charm with him to Toronto on Tuesday for the NHL’s draft lottery. The Rangers currently hold the sixth spot in the pre-lottery draft order.

The Rangers have a 7.5 percent chance of winning the first pick overall in the lottery and a 23.3 percent chance of jumping up into the top three picks.

They also could fall back in the selection order, of course, if someone behind them wins the lottery and jumps ahead of them.

Notes & quotes: F Jesper Fast had surgery to repair a damaged ligament in his right thumb. His recovery time is expected to be six weeks and he should be ready to go by the time training camp starts . . . LW Chris Kreider and D Brady Skjei will play for the U.S. team in the World Championships  . D Tony DeAngelo has not been invited by Team USA but said he would go if asked . . . G Henrik Lundqvist and C Mika Zibanejad said they will wait and see before deciding whether to join Sweden’s team, and G Alexandar Georgiev said he is hopeful of getting called up to Russia’s squad.

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