Rangers see both Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov on team next season

New York Rangers President and General Manager Chris Drury conducted his end of year meeting with the media on Wednesday.

Several topics were covered, but the highlight of the call was addressing pending restricted free agent Kaapo Kakko. Right away, Drury wanted to put the bed all the drama surrounding the Game 6 scratch in the ECF by supporting Gerard Gallant’s decision.

“It’s [Gallant’s] lineup,” he said.

Chris Drury on Kaapo Kakko

Kakko, 21, posted 18 points in just 43 games due to being on the injured list three separate times. For his three-year career, he’s managed just 58 points in 157 matches. However, his size, skill, and high potential does make him a very interesting player this summer.

Talk of a possible trade or offer sheet took off after the scratch, but Chris Drury sounded abundantly clear about Kakko’s future.

“Kakko is an all-world player who’s still developing,” Drury said per USA Today’s Vince Mercogliano. “He and I had a real good discussion before he left [Tuesday]. There’s obviously a lot of belief from me and the staff of what his future holds. I know he’s excited for a good offseason and to come back next year and be ready.”

Without salary arbitration rights, the Rangers have all the leverage over Kakko. A 2-year bridge deal around $2M AAV would be a fair outcome for both parties.

Per Mollie Walker of the NY Post, she estimates that number to force the Rangers into not matching an offer sheet for Kakko would be between $4.2 and $6.3 million. However, the former #2 overall pick from the 2019 draft sounds like he wants to stay.

“I don’t think so, I like to play here,” Kakko said. “I think [the scratch] gives me more motivation. I want to show I’m better than that. You should put me in the lineup because I’m a good player.”

Chris Drury on Vitali Kravtsov

vitali kravtsov
Jun 22, 2018; Dallas, TX, USA; Vitali Kravtsov puts on a team jersey after being selected as the number nine overall pick to the New York Rangers in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers came to terms with Vitali Kravtsov on a 1-year deal worth $875,000. It was important for Kravtsov and his agent to get that one-way agreement to ensure a better chance to play in the NHL. He would have to pass through waivers if he were to be sent down.

Kravtsov, 22, had a strong season in the KHL. In 19 regular season contests, he potted 6 goals and 7 assists for 13 points. During the playoffs, he added 7 goals and a total of 10 points in 15 games.

The situation and fallout with the organization’s 2018 first overall pick is well documented.

Last October, Kravtsov requested a trade after refusing to join the Wolf Pack in the AHL before bolting to Russia. That was the second time he had done so with the first being in 2019, when he used his European Out Clause.

Reports surfaced that he and Chris Drury, who was the Wolf Pack GM at that time had a very tumultuous relationship. It now seems both sides are putting the past behind them and looking towards the future.

“I don’t think we’ve ever wavered from our stance of, he’s an all-world talent. He does a lot of things on the ice that a lot of people can’t,” Drury said per Vince Mercogliano. “Like everyone else, your play dictates where you end up. But we’re certainly glad to have him back in the mix.”

Drury not saying much about free agency

When it came to some of the bigger questions regarding free agency, Drury was tight-lipped as usual.

The Rangers top executive did make clear that the second-line center position is extremely important for the team. With just around $13.5M in cap space to play with, Drury will have to come down to a decision between either Ryan Strome or Andrew Copp.

Both players are going to be looking for similar deals in the 5 year range with an AAV between $5.5M to $7M. The rumor mill has Copp as the top target to retain with reports saying the team is trying hard to re-sign him. If for any reason they can’t come to terms, it’s very likely that Strome is the fallback option.

A special thank you to all the reporters out in the field asking the great questions. In particular, NY Post’s Mollie Walker, Newsday’s Colin Stephenson, USA Today’s Vince Mercogliano, and NHL.com’s Dan Rosen.

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