New York Rangers: How many roster spots will be open next season?

COLUMBUS, OH – NOVEMEBER 10: Fredrik Claesson #33 of the New York Rangers and Mika Zibanejad #93 celebrate after defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-4 in a shootout on November 10, 2018 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Since the New York Rangers are rebuilding, they will definitely lose some members this season. How many spots will be up for grabs next year?

When a team enters a rebuilding stage, not many players become stationary parts of the team for long periods of time. More players are likely to be traded than ever, in exchange for more draft picks or young players and prospects who can bring a new level of talent to the team.

With a number of contracts expiring this year and trade rumors surrounding the team, the question must be asked; how many roster spots will become vacant between now and next year? More importantly, who will take those spots?

The forwards

In the current New York Rangers forward group, there are five who will become either restricted free agents or unrestricted free agents at the end of this season. The UFA’s are  Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes and Cody McLeod.  The RFA’s are  Pavel Buchenevich, and Cristoval “Boo” Nieves.

Buchnevich and Nieves will most likely get new deals with the Rangers with the only question being term and length.  Zuccarello and Hayes have been the subject of trade rumors for the past few months and it appears their days are numbered. The Rangers would also deal McLeod if anyone wants him.

Assuming that Hayes and Zuccarello are traded at the deadline and McLeod is not re-signed, there will be two open forward spots (center and right wing) and a spot for a depth/fourth line winger. .

The defense

As for the defense, there are four defensemen with expiring contracts.  Only Adam McQuaid is an unrestricted free agent and if he stays healthy, he could be decent trade bait at the deadline.  Frederik Claesson, Anthony DeAngelo and Neal Pionk are the restricted free agents.  Of the three, the Rangers would be happy to entertain deadline offers for Claesson and DeAngelo and will definitely re-sign Pionk.  If DeAngelo stays, he will most likely be re-signed to a short term deal as he hasn’t proven he is worth a longterm commitment.

There is the question of a buyout for Marc Staal or Brendan Smith.  Both have two more years on their contracts.  The preference for New York would be to find takers for one or both while the Rangers would eat some of their salaries.

It’s very possible that the 2019-20 team will have the same contingent of defensemen, minus McQuaid.  The big difference will be that some current players will be fighting for ice time as some prospects become NHL-ready.

The forward pipeline

Replacing the vacant slots on the forward lines from within the organization won’t be easy.  Steve Fogarty and Tim Gettinger are options based on their work in the AHL.  Matt Beleskey has one more year on his contract and is always a depth option. Vinni Lettieri hasn’t impressed in several stays in New York.  Free agent signee Ville Meskanen is a left winger who has been making strides in his first season in North America and could be another option.

Hartford’s leading scorers are Peter Holland and Cole Schneider.  Both are UFA’s after this season and it remains to be seen if the Rangers feel they have a future in the NHL or are  career AHL players.

Two possible additions to the forward lines are Russian.  Artemi Panarin has declared he will not sign an extension with Columbus and intends to test the free agent waters.  As with every other Russian free agent, the Rangers are always mentioned as a destination.

More likely to make it to Broadway at some point next season is 2018 first round pick Vitali Kravtsov.  His KHL contract expires after this season and his agent has hinted that he is ready to move to North America. The question is whether as a 19-year old he is ready to play in the NHL or will he need some seasoning in the AHL.  He has played two full seasons as a teenager in the second best professional league in the world  so the Rangers will definitely give him a chance to make the leap.

The defense pipeline

Defensively, the Rangers are in a much better situation.  It is believed that Libor Hajek, acquired in the McDonagh deal, is ready to move up to the NHL.  He is a stay at home defenseman who won’t be a big scorer (3 assists in 32 games for Hartford).  John Gilmour, who saw a lot of action with the Rangers last season,  is a leading scorer in Hartford and could be an addition.

Ryan Lindgren is just finishing his first season in the AHL and will get a long look in training camp.

A wild card is Yegor Rykov, acquired from the Devils for Michael Grabner last season.  Rykov is playing for coach Sergei Zubov in Sochi in the KHL and his contract expires in the spring.  We’ll see if he can make the transition to North American.

One organizational issue for the Rangers is a lack of righthanded shooting defensemen.  Other than Kevin Shattenkirk, Pionk and DeAngelo, there are none in the minor league pipeline  Draftees Nils Lundkvist and Joey Keane are both righties, but are a few seasons away.

Despite the likelihood of a sell-off at the trade deadline, it’s likely that the 2019-20 New York Rangers will not look that different than this years’ edition. If the team remains true to form, they will not be a prominent player in the free agent marketplace and next season will be another one of development and growth of young players.

(All contract statistics via CapFriendly)