New York Rangers face tough offseason decision in making a trade for a superstar center

By Anthony Scultore
Mar 17, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) and right wing Pavel Buchnevich (89) celebrate after a 9-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

The Blueshirts were all but mathematically eliminated yesterday from the playoffs. With Boston’s win over the Sabres and their loss to the Flyers it’s almost over. New York’s well known secret is that they are looking to trade for a game breaker at center. The primary target this summer is disgruntled superstar Jack Eichel.

Of course, he isn’t the only one they believe will be available. Another big name could be Florida Panthers’ Aleksander Barkov, or veteran pivot Evgeni Malkin. Either way, the Blueshirts are going big game fishing and they will need the “right” bait.

Trading for a superstar center will cost the Rangers a special player

When it comes to making a deal for Jack Eichel, they are willing to give up a lot to get him as long as it is reasonable. The combination of “four first round draft picks” rumored to be asked by the Sabres is never going to happen. The Rangers have a log jam on the wings, and with LW Chris Kreider unlikely to waive his no move clause to go to the Sabres we need to look at the right side.

It is unlikely Kaapo Kakko would be considered as part of trade for a player like Eichel or Barkov. The second overall pick has shown the size and strength to compete in the NHL this season. The only thing he needs to work on is releasing his shot quicker to start scoring on his chances.

vitali kravtsov
Apr 18, 2021; Newark, New Jersey, USA; New York Rangers right wing Vitali Kravtsov (74) scores a goal past New Jersey Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood (29) during the first period at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Pavel Buchnevich is going to be an RFA with arbitration rights and will be eyeing a deal north of $6 million per season. His cost could make the decision to trade him for a star center that much easier. However, Buchnevich is only 26 years-old, has great chemistry with Mika Zibanejad, and can now kills penalties too. He’s developed into a nearly point a game player with 40 points in 46 contests. There’s no doubt that Kaapo Kakko can develop into a first line winger, but he’s not there yet with the Rangers on the verge of contending.

With that said, the early play of Vitali Kravtsov has been eye opening. His impressive start makes the decision even tougher if they want to retain Buchnevich. Do the Rangers still include Kravtsov in a deal for a stud center? His elite level hockeyIQ combined with his size, speed, puck handling ability and shot aren’t easy to find. The Blueshirts are overloaded at the wings and still have Julien Gauthier in the prospect pool, along with Morgan Barron, and Lauri Pajuniemi. What they don’t have is another elite center, no offense to Ryan Strome.

In the end the Rangers need to make this move

Make no mistake about it, I know the Rangers are going to go hard for Eichel if he’s available since they already have once before. It’s going to cost them one of their three excellent right wings, the dilemma is which one? My bet is it will be either Buchnevich or Kravtsov.

Pavel could be asking for a lot of money and term, the Rangers are going to need to start looking past Mika Zibanejad’s next contract too. They will have to also lock up players like Adam Fox, Igor Shesterkin, Alexis Lafrenière, and Kaapo Kakko.

If it is Buchnevich they choose to trade it will be for the longterm financial reasons and not because he’s not as good as Kakko or Kravtsov. The Blueshirts could still choose to move young Kravtsov, but only do so because they believe they can contend for the Cup next season with 89 on the top line.

Like I said, a tough decision looms but it is one they have to make.