10 Players the Rangers Could Target in a Trade to Fix Their Wing Depth

Adam Herman@@AdamZHermanContributor INovember 20, 2021

10 Players the Rangers Could Target in a Trade to Fix Their Wing Depth

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Heading into the 2021 offseason, the New York Rangers were nothing if not loaded on the wings—so much so that Pavel Buchnevich was traded to St. Louis Blues, in part to open up room on the roster for other players. 

    But a lot can change in a short window. Top prospect Vitali Kravtsov refused to report to the AHL and demanded a trade after not making the opening-night roster. Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko have been inconsistent. Barclay Goodrow has struggled to live up to his contract even despite being given first-line minutes. Sammy Blais, acquired in the Buchnevich trade, is out for the season with an ACL injury. 

    Suddenly, the wings have gone from a well-stocked position to one in need of reinforcements. In fact, TSN's Darren Dreger reported Thursday that the Rangers are "on the hunt" for a middle-six forward.

    The Rangers have more than $7.3 million in cap space and assets with which to part in a trade, but general manager Chris Drury is at the mercy of whatever the market is offering. If he's looking to make a big splash now, his options may be limited and the price may be at a premium compared to closer to the trade deadline. If he's willing to settle for a more complementary piece, then he may have more options.

    Here are 10 players the Rangers could consider acquiring to bolster their forward group.  

Reilly Smith or Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Nothing formally links the Rangers with the Vegas Golden Knights in trade discussions, but the circumstantial evidence is so overwhelming that it almost makes too much sense.

    Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault have come up on the rumor mill multiple times over the past year, with Daily Faceoff's Frank Seravalli deeming both "available" in late July. Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant was in charge of Vegas for parts of three seasons in which both Smith and Marchessault played the best hockey of their careers. This season, Smith, a right wing, has six goals and six assists in 17 games, while Marchessault has nine goals and four assists in 15 games.

    Vegas recently made a big acquisition in Jack Eichel, who could be ready to play as soon as February. When he does return to the ice, the Golden Knights will have to make moves to become cap-compliant. Smith and Marchessault therefore top the list of potential sacrifices. Though both hold $5 million cap hits, Smith is the more likely acquisition for the Rangers, as his expiring contract may be preferable to Marchessault's, which lasts through 2024 and may not fit the team's plans beyond 2022.

    If one of the two is indeed Drury's target, then he might have to wait. Vegas is cap-compliant until Eichel is healthy and will be in no rush to further pull apart a roster blighted by injuries to players such as Max Pacioretty and William Karlsson as the team sits fourth in the Pacific Division.

Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Vladimir Tarasenko's name comes with regretful connotations in New York, as the Rangers infamously passed on him at 10th overall in the 2010 NHL draft in favor of Dylan McIlrath. Could this be a chance at redemption? Tarasenko requested a trade from the Blues during the offseason, but a poor 2020-21 season, his contract and shoulder injuries severely limited interest.

    The winger looks to be back in form, with seven goals and seven assists in 16 games to start the season. Of course, that will only feed the Blues' desire to keep him, but Tarasenko still wants out, as The Athletic's Jeremy Rutherford said on The Jeff Marek Show.

    Perhaps this is an opportunity for the Rangers to solve two problems at once. Kravtsov is playing in the KHL following his own trade request, and The Athletic's Arthur Staple reported that Pavel Buchnevich's departure to St. Louis hit him hard. The Blues are holding up OK for now, sitting third in the Central Division, but if the team starts to falter, then perhaps there's a path for swapping mutually disgruntled Russian wingers.

    Admittedly, this move would be too ambitious if the Rangers are searching for a middle-six forward.

Phil Kessel, Arizona Coyotes

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Look up "lame duck" in the dictionary and you'll find Phil Kessel. The two-time Stanley Cup champion is biding his time on a rebuilding Arizona Coyotes team that has won two of its 17 games this season. He's a pending unrestricted free agent, and it's only a matter of time before he's traded to a playoff team. 

    Kessel still has some game left in him, but he was never a complete player to begin with and is even more limited now he's 34. He has just three goals and five assists in 17 games, although the Coyotes' incompetence has to be taken into account.

    However, he doesn't exactly seem like a great fit for the Rangers at face value. He's not going to beat out the team's top weapons for power-play time, and a sheltered point-producer doesn't exactly fit the team's third line identity. Kessel's remaining value comes off rush offense, but the Rangers are transitioning more toward a cycle offense.

Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Rickard Rakell posted back-to-back 30-goal seasons in 2016-17 and 2017-18. He's calmed down since then but still provides reliable value as a scoring winger, scoring at an 18-goals-per-82-games pace the past three seasons. Although Rakell traditionally plays left wing, he is a right-handed shot and likely could be moved to his natural side.

    The 28-year-old, a pending unrestricted free agent on the rebuilding Anaheim Ducks, entered the season as an obvious trade candidate. The situation has become complicated since. In the bigger picture, long-time general manager Bob Murray recently resigned following allegations of improper conduct, and the Ducks are surprisingly surging with an 8-1-1 record in their past 10 games. Could new management elect to hold on to Rakell if the team stays in the playoff hunt?

    It's worth noting, too, that Rakell is out with a shoulder injury. If he is a target for the Rangers, it likely won't be until later in the season.

J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks

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    Rich Lam/Associated Press

    This is outside the box and unlikely, but it's worth at least the thought experiment. At some point the Vancouver Canucks are going to admit the team is fundamentally broken and blow up the roster. Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson aren't going anywhere, but Miller is 28 and becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2023. His departure is a reasonable expectation, and Vancouver could bring in a number of assets by trading him.

    Miller is a first-line talent—well above what the Rangers are reportedly in the market for—but the team is also brimming with cap space for this season and was expected to make a big move over the summer. With experience at all three forward positions, Miller could slot in on the wing this season and, if the Rangers move on from pending free agent Ryan Strome, assume the second-line center role in 2022-23.

    Even as the team around him collapses, Miller is thriving, with seven goals and 11 assists in 17 games while creating a lot of offensive zone time. If the Canucks move him, it won't be until later in the season, and it would cost the Rangers a heavy package of picks and prospects. But if the Rangers continue to rank high in the standings and want to make a big push for the next two seasons, then reuniting with their 2011 first-round pick has enough merit to at least ponder.

Artturi Lehkonen, Montreal Canadiens

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    Francois Lacasse/Getty Images

    Of all the players on the list, Artturi Lehkonen is the one who most comfortably fits the mold of the player the Rangers might be willing to settle for. Lehkonen has never been a major offensive producer, with a career-high 31 points in 2018-19, but he holds his own enough in the offensive zone to justify top-nine usage and is one of the best defensive wingers in the NHL. He was a big part of Montreal's shutdown line during their run to the Stanley Cup Final last season.

    Lehkonen will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. The Canadiens are off to a horrendous start (4-13-2) and, unlike Vancouver, don't appear in denial about where the franchise is headed. He'll surely be trade deadline bait, and the Rangers may be able to convince Montreal to move him even sooner in return for an improved trade package.

Ilya Mikheyev, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Peter Power/Associated Press

    Former KHL star Ilya Mikheyev signed with Toronto in 2019 and has quietly played well for the Maple Leafs, all things considered. Fifteen goals and 25 assists in 93 games is solid production considering he's averaged below 15 minutes per game and almost never features on the power play.

    In fact, Mikheyev himself feels he is deserving of more and requested a trade from the Leafs in the offseason, per Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman. General manager Kyle Dubas rebuffed that request, and a broken thumb in preseason has since left the winger on the shelf. He'll likely return in December, but Toronto's depth chart isn't any more forgiving than it was when Mikheyev first made his request.

    If Toronto can't find minutes for him or Mikheyev presses the issue, the Leafs may have no choice but to move him. On the Rangers, Mikheyev would have a path to top-nine minutes and an opportunity on the second power-play unit, with the cost of acquisition perhaps merely a mid-round draft pick.

Blake Comeau, Dallas Stars

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    For years, Blake Comeau was a Ranger Killer. He's scored 14 goals in 37 career games against the Blueshirts. He's scored no more than eight against any other NHL team.

    Maybe the unlikely villain could become part of the solution. Now 35, Comeau is no longer the player he once was. Last season, he scored just four goals in 54 games and, after one in six games this season, Dallas waived and demoted him to its AHL affiliate, arguably scapegoating the veteran for the team's struggles. It's probably unfair to him because he's still an NHL-caliber winger. He's competent defensively, gets in on the forecheck and will cycle pucks back to the point.

    With Comeau, you trade appeal for pragmatism. He's a third-liner at most at this stage of his career, with even that being a stretch. But he has a $1 million cap hit, and after waiving him, Dallas would likely give him up for little, if any, return. The Rangers' depth is being tested, and they could do worse than bringing in Comeau as a Band-Aid while waiting for better options to appear as the season progresses.

Colin Blackwell, Seattle Kraken

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    Steph Chambers/Getty Images

    Hello, old friend. After a career year with the Rangers last season in which he scored 12 goals and added 10 assists in 42 games, Colin Blackwell was selected by the Seattle Kraken in July's expansion draft. Blackwell began the season on injured reserved and has since struggled to find a meaningful opportunity in Seattle. Averaging under 11 minutes on a fourth line that doesn't complement his offensive skill set.

    Blackwell's success in New York last season is unlikely to be repeatable as he's not going to shoot 18.8 percent again. Furthermore, there's a different head coach with new systems. But he's familiar with the environment and a number of players with whom he found chemistry last season. Maybe Seattle would be willing to move him back to the Rangers for a different depth player or late-round draft pick.

                 

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