New York Rangers list of centers to acquire this summer is dwindling

By Anthony Scultore
Jan 11, 2020; Buffalo, New York, USA; Fans greet Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (9) as he makes his way to the ice before a game against the Vancouver Canucks at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers are in the market for a top six center. This has been the case since last season when they made an offer to acquire Jack Eichel. Chris Drury is also not acting out of desperation with Ryan Strome safely in the fold and signed for next season.

However, the list of players the Rangers thought would be available this summer is dwindling.

New York Rangers center options dwindling

Elliotte Friedman revealed that the Rangers made a “reasonable offer” the Sabres considered but ultimately declined, The internet went wild, with all kinds of trade proposals. Some hockey experts like ESPN’s John Buccigross even suggested packaging Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, Braden Schneider, a goalie and a first round pick to get it done.

After discussing the notion with a knowledgeable source, no team would give what amounts to four or five first round picks for any player not named Connor McDavid. Plus, the team also believed there would be several other options available.

If the Sabres can get better than that, so be it. That’s because the Rangers feel that Eichel isn’t the only center that will be available this summer. Names expected to be shopped are Aleksander Barkov, Evgeni Malkin, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dylan Larkin, and possibly Sidney Crosby.

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Since the time of that article (which was prior to the NHL trade deadline), many things have changed. Of the seven names mentioned above only three are confirmed available this summer. The list has dwindled considerably.

Which centers are available?

rangers trade rumors
Feb 23, 2019; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (9) looks to block a shot by Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov (92) during the first period at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The thought that the Panthers will trade Aleksander Barkov this summer is highly unlikely. They will make every effort to sign him to an extension before the next trade deadline. There also isn’t any indication he’s looking to leave Florida anyway.

Steve Yzerman closed the door on any thoughts of Detroit trading Dylan Larkin as soon as the season ended. Meanwhile, Ron Hextall said he wants to bring Evgeni Malkin and the core back for next year in his end-of-season presser.

That leaves Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in free agency, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Jack Eichel. There’s rumors that Sean Monahan could be made available this summer, but nothing really concrete.

Breaking down the Rangers options

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is 28 years-old and scored 35 points in 52 games this season as a winger. Many teams believe he could make the transition back to the middle with ease. However, his face-off winning percentage is a putrid 44%. So you aren’t getting him for that facet of his game.

He is also coming off a deal that paid him $6 million AAV. As a UFA, Ryan will be looking for a 7 year deal on the open market and an increase in the $7.5 to $8.5 million range. Does he really fit what the team is looking to do, and how effective will he be just three years into this deal? And the final question, is he that much of an upgrade over Strome? If anything, RNH feels more like a fallback option.

One of the top players on the Capitals that’s been subject to trade talks is Evgeny Kuznetsov. “I think we’re always open to trading people if it makes sense for what’s going on,” MacLellan commented during his exit presser.

Everyone needs to understand that the 29 year-old with three years remaining at $7.8 million AAV and a 15 team no move clause, comes with a buyer beware sign on him. The Caps may be looking for cap space, but there’s other ways for them to get it. It’s been reported that they have run out of patience with his antics. Kuznetsov was disciplined several times this season by the organization.

Jack Eichel remains the most likely and viable option

When you look at who is left, Jack Eichel is clearly the best option for the Rangers if they are targeting another top six center.

Depending on Jack Eichel’s neck issue being resolved, Drury will likely pull the trigger on a blockbuster deal involving the #15 pick in the lottery. That would also give the Sabres two picks in the first half of a deep draft.

Buffalo’s GM Kevyn Adams recently updated the situation on Eichel’s injury. He indicated the rehab time is up and the next step will be to talk with doctors. More to come on this situation over the following few days.

“It’s hard for me to answer that question because I need to speak with Jack’s agents and Jack himself and just kind of understand where they’re at,” Adams said. “Everybody agreed that the 12-week rehab was the first step in this process, so now I don’t have the information to say to you, ‘Here’s where we go from here.’

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Eichel checks all the boxes if healthy. He’s an elite center, and is insurance if the Rangers and Mika Zibanejad fail to come to an extension before the NHL trade deadline next season. He’s the perfect age at 24 to grow with this young ensemble cast. And while the Rangers interest has cooled, it could heat up easily with positive news on his injury.

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