Brennan Othmann among 3 players who could crack Rangers lineup next season

Brennan Othmann Credit: Hartford Wolf Pack

The New York Rangers have big decisions to make if they want to keep moving in the right direction after falling in the Eastern Conference Final to the Florida Panthers.

With a hair over $12 million in salary-cap space (according to PuckPedia), New York must look to develop players that are on entry-level contracts in order to fill the inevitable gaps that will form after retaining their most crucial pieces with expensive deals.

Eating up the majority of that future budget will be goalie Igor Shesterkin, who is eligible for a contract extension July 1.

It’s fair to say that Shesterkin was New York’s best player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and their most valuable moving forward.

If there was a Vezina trophy for just the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Shesterkin would win it by a landslide. He boasted a 2.34 goal-against average and a .927 save percentage in the postseason, which only scratches the surface in how brilliant he was in defeat against the Panthers.

There’s a good chance Shesterkin will become the richest goalie in the NHL, likely exceeding $11 million a year (Carey Price is the highest-paid at $10.5 million annually). Keep in mind that Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox all make at least $8 million per season.

Plus, Ryan Lindgren, a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer, is due a raise from his $3 million average annual value.

There’ll be openings with the expected departures of unrestricted free agents Alex Wennberg, Jack Roslovic, Erik Gustafsson and Blake Wheeler. So, opportunity is there for some youngsters to find their way into the lineup.

Here are three players on entry-level contracts that find regular playing time on Broadway next season.

Related: Rangers All-Star believes Alexis Lafreniere is ‘superstar in the making’

1. Brennan Othmann

NHL: Preseason-New York Islanders at New York Rangers
Jessica Alcheh-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Jessica Alcheh-USA TODAY Sports

Brennan Othmann is exactly the type of player the Rangers are missing in their lineup.

The 21-year-old forward scored 21 goals and tallied 49 points in 67 games with the Rangers’ AHL affiliate in Hartford, but demonstrated all the right tools that the Rangers were sorely lacking in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

At 6-feet and 186 pounds, he’s no Matt Rempe, but Othmann is physical and agitates opponents, all while possessing the skill of a top-nine forward. The upside says top six-forward for the 2021 first-round pick who scored 50 goals in 66 OHL games in 2021-22 with Flint.

Othmann got his feet wet in the NHL this season, too. He played three games with the Blueshirts, totaling only 27:15 of total ice time. But the skill was evident in his NHL debut when he had five shots on goal against the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 4.

Oh, and did we mention he’s physical?

Just take a look at this hit he made in the 2023 Memorial Cup against the Seattle Thunderbirds:

Othmann will need some time to find his NHL footing, not unlike Will Cuylle, who could be looking at a lineup promotion next season after a strong rookie campaign on the third line.

There’s a reason Othmann was an untouchable before this year’s NHL trade deadline and we might get a chance to see why the Rangers are so high on him as early as next season.

2. Zac Jones

NHL: Preseason-Boston Bruins at New York Rangers
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Zac Jones appears poised to grab a top-six role on the Rangers blue line, if given the chance. Should UFA Erik Gustafsson not be re-signed and no veteran top-six replacement is brought in, the job is there for the taking. At worst, it’d appear the Rangers could let Jones battle a veteran for a role on the third pairing.

Jones played an NHL career-high 31 games this season, making the most of his chances when Jacob Trouba, Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox were sidelined with injuries. He moves the puck well, is a good skater and seems capable of playing regularly.

He does need more consistency in his defensive game, however.

The aftermath of Trouba’s ankle injury left some scratching their heads as to why Jones didn’t get an opportunity in the playoffs when the Rangers captain was laboring at times with his game.

With what we know now, it’s an interesting argument in hindsight, but unfortunately holds little weight.

The one thing Jones lacks is size, something the Rangers desperately needed in those final two playoff series. The 5-foot-10 defenseman likely would’ve been targeted by the heavy Panthers in the conference final, though his smarts and quick outlet passes may have been helpful.

But if your captain says he can play, he’s going to play.

Pairing Jones alongside Trouba is an intriguing option in 2024-25, as their playing styles could compliment one another nicely. 

3. Matt Rempe

NHL: St. Louis Blues at New York Rangers
Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Certainly the Garden Faithful would love it if Matt Rempe lands a regular role on the fourth line next season. And Rempe made it clear on breakup day that’s his goal this offseason.

The “REM-PE!” chants were deafening this season, as he quickly made a name for himself as a hard-hitting, energetic behemoth with a good attitude and an even better right hook. The 21-year-old rookie even scored New York’s first goal of the 2024 playoffs in the first round against the Washington Capitals.

After exploding onto the scene in front of 79,000 fans outdoors at MetLife Stadium against the Islanders, Rempe’s skillset began to develop more, despite a chronic lack of ice time.

Only once in the playoffs did he play more than 10 minutes, and Rempe only saw 2:43 of ice time in Game 6 against the Panthers.

Even for a fourth liner, that’s low. And arguably a waste of a lineup spot in the playoffs. But Rempe has not earned the complete trust of coach Peter Laviolette just yet.

A few areas Rempe will need to improve on are his skating and limiting penalty minutes, likely by being able to control his 6-foot-8 frame better.

In 17 regular-season games, the Calgary native found himself in the penalty box for a whopping 71 minutes. That staggering number will come down as he hones his craft and becomes a better skater and now that he won’t look to fight as often.

Nick Palmer is a beat reporter and journalist specializing in NHL and MLB. Throughout his time at Fordham University's... More about Nick Palmer

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