Rangers’ options to fill right-wing hole in 2024 NHL free agency

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The search for an impact right wing feels like an everlasting one since the New York Rangers traded Pavel Buchnevich to the St. Louis Blues in July of 2021. And you can expect the Rangers to be on the hunt for at least one right wing again this offseason.

Midseason trade acquisition Jack Roslovic and offseason signing Blake Wheeler will both become unrestricted free agents July 1, and neither is expected to be brought back. Former No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko is eligible for arbitration, and could be a trade chip this summer. That means the Rangers need to acquire at least one right wing, maybe two.

The ongoing search will be particularly pertinent after an Eastern Conference Final exit that saw the offense dry up and a lack of scoring on the right side outside of Alexis Lafreniere. That on top of a years-long experiment to find the right forward to plat he right side on the top line alongside Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, which continues to remain a massive question mark this offseason.

PuckPedia has the Rangers with the 11th-worst projected salary cap space at $12.45 million, which will likely put them out of the running for the headliners among unrestricted free agent forwards like Sam Reinhart and Jake Guentzel, unless a significant contract, like Jacob Trouba’s, is moved this summer, perhaps along with Kakko.

Prospects Brennan Othmann and Brett Berard will get a long look in training camp. Each is knocking on the NHL door, though either might start in a bottom-six role, meaning the Rangers would still need to target a more veteran right wing in the offseason. It would be risky to begin chasing the Stanley Cup next season with a rookie, even a first-rounder like Othmann, starting right away on the top line.

Still, general manager Chris Drury did say they would target all options, both internal and external, when he addressed the media on Friday.

Related: Where Rangers stand after NHL salary cap increases beyond expectations

Right-wing options for Rangers in free agency

With all that on the table, let’s take a look at some potential right-wing candidates with free agency starting in less than a month. Listed in alphabetical order.

Matt Duchene

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Dallas Stars at Colorado Avalanche
Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Stars signed Matt Duchene to a one-year, $3 million deal after the Nashville Predators bought out his seven-year, $56 million contract which was supposed to run through 2025-26. Duchene was well worth the value, scoring 25 goals to help Dallas to the best record in the Western Conference.

Now he’ll hit free agency again. He’ll be 34 years old next season, but has largely continued to produce in the back half of his career. He likely sees a jump up from the $3 million cap hit he had this past season, but by how much is the big question.

If he remains in a sub-$5 million range, it could be a fit for the New York Rangers the next few years.

He’s just two years removed from a 43-goal season and has scored 20-plus goals in each of the past three seasons. He’s a primary right winger with top-six experience, logging over 663 minutes in the regular season alongside Mason Marchment and Tyler Seguin. He also adds the ability to play down the middle, which he did for the majority of these playoffs. However, he scored only two goals in 19 postseason games this spring.

Again, not the biggest guy (5-foot-11, 195 pounds), but the Rangers could certainly use someone with his speed and scoring touch. It’s worth noting that 19 of his 25 goals this season came at even strength, an area the Blueshirts have struggled to excel in the past few years.

This would certainly be a needle-mover as he’d slot in on the top line immediately. Dallas would certainly like to keep him as well, so it’ll be curious to see where his AAV ends up.

Anthony Duclair

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning
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Anthony Duclair came up through the Rangers organization, debuting as a 19-year-old in the 2014-15 season. He played just 18 games and was subsequently traded to the Arizona Coyotes for Keith Yandle. He’s bounced around a lot in his 10-year career, playing for eight different teams, and will once again be available as his three-year deal comes to an end.

Duclair hit the books at an average annual value of $3 million on his most recent contract, the largest cap hit of his career. It’s hard to think he’ll make too much more than that after an up-and-down 2024 season that saw him struggle in 56 games with the San Jose Sharks before finding a spark after a trade to the Tampa Bay Lightning ahead of the deadline. He did finish with 24 goals combined.

That’s coming after a 2022-23 season when he logged just nine points in 20 regular-season games after tearing his Achilles tendon. He did, though, rebound to help the Florida Panthers reach the Stanley Cup Final last postseason, when he had 11 points in 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

That could translate to a fairly reasonable contract that the Rangers could afford, all while acquiring a player who still has plenty of upside to buy into.

Duclair scored a career-high 31 goals two seasons ago with Florida and is a four-time 20-goal scorer in the NHL. This postseason showed the Rangers could certainly use someone on the right side that has a scoring touch. And his speed would be a nice addition the Rangers lineup.

He’s not the biggest guy (5-foot-11, 197-pounds), which might be a detriment after the Rangers were outmuscled by the Panthers in the conference final, but he’s got plenty of speed and a hard shot. It could be worth a look if the contract is in range.

Danton Heinen

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Boston Bruins
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In a similar vein to Sprong, Danton Heinen could be a bottom-six target with potential to play on the top line if necessary.

Heinen posted 17 goals and 36 points in 74 games with the Boston Bruins, rejoining the team that drafted him after several seasons away.

The 28-year-old is primarily a left wing but has played on the right side throughout his career, including a stretch from 2018 to 2020 when he logged most of his minutes at right wing with the Bruins.

He grades out better defensively than Sprong and has gotten run on the top-six, mostly with Boston. In the 2018-19 season, he logged his most ice time to the right of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. This year he logged over 184 minutes next to David Pastrnak and Pavel Zacha.

If the Rangers are hoping to recapture the spark of Frank Vatrano, who found inspired success after seeing consistent top-line minutes next to Zibanejad and Kreider after the 2022 trade deadline, Heinen is a guy who has plsayref that role before and has some offensive upside.

Heinen returned to Boston on an incredibly team friendly one-year, $775,000 deal. He’ll certainly get a pay raise this offseason, but it should still be within the Rangers range

Daniel Sprong

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Detroit Red Wings
Credit: Brian Bradshaw Sevald-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers would love to nab a top wing this offseason, but there’s simply not many who fit that bill, are available and that they can afford as presently constituted. Daniel Sprong might not be a flashy add, it’s the type of move Drury could make if he wants to bolster the right side, particularly if Kakko moves up to the top line or isn’t coming back.

Sprong posted 18 goals and 43 points in 76 games with the Detroit Red Wings after a 21-goal season with the Seattle Kraken the season prior.

He’s not a great defensive forward, grading out poorly in every season outside of his final one in Seattle, but his offensive rating ranks in the 77th percentile over this most recent three-year span (per Evolving Hockey).

The Rangers third line of Will Cuylle, Alex Wennberg, and Kakko was excellent down the stretch at possessing the puck, but struggled to actually score. Filip Chytil centering that line for a full season, if healthy, will likely bolster the offensive production, but an add like Sprong could also help that unit generate more chances.

The 27-year-old has signed one-year deals with the Red Wings and Kraken each of the past two seasons with $2 million in AAV being his highest cap hit. He’ll likely command a similar value again this offseason, which the Rangers could fit if they wanted to try him on a one- or two-year deal.

Vladimir Tarasenko

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Florida Panthers at New York Rangers
Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s another target for the Rangers, who also briefly played for them. Vladimir Tarasenko was solid but by no means other-worldly in his 31 games with the Blueshirts after being acquired ahead of the 2023 trade deadline, tallying eight goals and 21 points in 31 games. However, he did play consistently with Zibanejad and Kreider, and scored three goals in seven playoff games against the New Jersey Devils.

The Rangers had very little cap space last offseason and thus were unable to re-sign Tarasenko, despite him expressing desire to stay in New York.

He ended up signing a one-year, $5 million contract with the Ottawa Senators, and now he’s in the Stanley Cup Final with the Panthers after a late-season trade. He scored one goal against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final, the series-winning goal in Game 6. And, of course, he’s a Stanley Cup champion, with the St. Louis Blues in 2019.

This season, the Rangers could have a bit more cap space to work with. If Tarasenko commands another $5 million AAV contract, it could be difficult to fit in, even with the cap going up $4.5 million this offseason. Plus, Tarasenko may be looking for one last long-term deal, which may not be a tree the Rangers want to crawl up with some noteworthy free agents on the horizon in the next few seasons.

However, if the 32-year-old remains in play for a short-term deal, it wouldn’t be a bad fit for the Rangers. He scored 23 goals with Florida and Ottawa this season, and has found success in the postseason on a very successful third line with Anton Lundell and Eutu Luostarinen.

His sharp shot and smooth hands would add a playmaking element that the Rangers lack on the right side outside of Lafreniere. He also has scored 297 goals in the NHL, including 34 just two seasons ago with the Blues.

Lou Orlando has spent the past two seasons as a New York Rangers beat reporter for WFUV Sports. The... More about Lou Orlando

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