Future uncertain for Blake Wheeler, Rangers unrestricted free agents

NHL: New York Rangers at Ottawa Senators
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

There are five players on the current New York Rangers roster that can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. And there’s a chance none will return to the Rangers next season.

The group includes forwards Blake Wheeler, Alex Wennberg and Jack Roslovic, and defensemen Erik Gustafsson and Chad Ruhwedel.

Wheeler, who will be 38 next season and is coming off a tough knee injury that sidelined him three months, could retire.

“I don’t know,” Wheeler said Tuesday at break-up day, when asked if he wants to play next season.

“I still love the game, still love to play,” he added, though referencing his desire to be home for his three children, including an 11-year-old son entering middle school.

Wheeler had 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) in 54 regular-season games during his first season with New York. He returned from his injury to play Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Florida Panthers, taking a key penalty in overtime that set up Florida’s game-winning goal.

The 16-year veteran has 321 goals and 943 points in 1,172 NHL games.

Wennberg, who was acquired from the Seattle Kraken ahead of the NHL trade deadline, said he enjoyed his time with the Rangers and has interest in re-signing.

“I would love to stay,” Wennberg explained. “That’s something we’ll discuss in the future. It’s good memories so far from this place. I would definitely want to come back here.”

Despite a lack of offensive production, Wennberg seemed to be a good fit with the Rangers. He was a key penalty killer and filled the third-line center role which was an area that New York was desperately searching for prior to the deadline because of Filip Chytil’s injury absence. With Chytil now healthy, there may not be a spot for Wennberg on this roster.

Wennberg notched one goal and four assists in 18 regular-season games with the Rangers after the trade. In 16 playoff games, he had one goal and one assist. His goal, of course, was the memorable overtime winner in Game 3 of the conference final, New York’s final win of the postseason.

“It’s been awesome,” Wennberg said. “Obviously disappointed with the ending, but time has been flying here. Coming to a good team, meeting new guys, and being a part of the New York Rangers was amazing. It would be a little nicer to win the whole thing, but I see this whole perspective from a really positive note for myself.”

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Rangers could part ways with all unrestricted free agents

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Carolina Hurricanes at New York Rangers
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Roslovic, the other deadline acquisition for New York, is also a pending UFA. Similar to Wennberg, his status is currently unknown going forward.

Roslovic had three goals and five assists in 19 regular-season games after being acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets. He had a solid start to the playoffs, with five points in his first five games, but had just three assists in the remaining 11.

He did not really fill the role of a first-line right wing, as many have tried and failed alongside Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. He was better in a depth role, but struggled to find consistency.

Gustafsson had a solid season for the Rangers. He earned 31 points in his first season with New York, and played a large when Adam Fox missed a month due to a knee injury in November. He has been a solid depth defenseman, playing alongside Braden Schneider for the majority of the season

In the playoffs, he logged three assists, and averaged 18:09 in ice time. He is another player who would like to stay in New York, but is uncertain as to what the future holds.

“Obviously, I love playing here,” Gustafsson said. “I can’t see into the future, but I have family and stuff like that. I have to see what’s happening. I love playing here, and I love the group in here. We’ll see what happens.”

Gustafsson signed to a very friendly $825,000 contract with the Rangers, and could be looking for a raise.

Ruhwedel played sparingly after being acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins and not at all in the postseason.

General manager Chris Drury has some important decisions to make here this summer. As seen in the playoffs, depth pieces can make or break a championship team, especially when the top players begin to struggle. But it would be a surprise if any of the five UFAs return next season.

Dane Walsh is a life-long fan of the New York Rangers. Growing up in the tri-state area, Dane has... More about Dane Walsh

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