Why Rangers should pursue Jakob Chychrun trade

NHL: Anaheim Ducks at Ottawa Senators
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

With NHL free agency nearing its start on July 1, anticipatory eyes will be on general manager Chris Drury as he attempts to construct a New York Rangers squad that can get over the hump and win the Stanley Cup. But not to be overlooked is the trade market, and the Ottawa Senators just might be willing to move someone the Rangers should have interest in.

Talented defenseman Jakob Chychrun is reportedly available, according to a recent article from Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Citizen.

“The club is also trying to determine what the market looks like for defenseman Jakob Chychrun, who has one year left at $4.6 million,” Garrioch reported. “League executives say the Senators are a seeking first- and second-round pick or a high-end prospect in exchange for Chychrun.”

The Rangers were reportedly linked to Chychrun in 2022-23, when he was ultimately traded to Ottawa by the Arizona Coyotes for a first- and two second-round picks.

Now, the 26-year-old might be available again, and though it’s likely not for a bargain price, the fit makes a lot of sense for the Rangers.

By waiving Barclay Goodrow and his $3.6 million annual cap hit, which was picked up by the San Jose Sharks, Drury has freed up significant cap space to make a substantial upgrade and sparked conjecture about a major move. Plenty of focus is on the Rangers’ need for a top-six right wing, but they could really use some help on the blue line as well. And right now they have $13.695 million in projected cap space to work with.

Related: Rangers options if looking to trade Kaapo Kakko, move up in first round of 2024 draft

Jakob Chychrun could be answer for Rangers on defense

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Ottawa Senators
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

New York’s back end struggled mightily against the Florida Panthers during their six-game Eastern Conference Final loss. If there’s one thing they need to add besides a playmaking right wing, it’s a defenseman who can move the puck.

That just so happens to be one of Chychrun’s strengths. Even on an Ottawa team that ranked in the bottom half of the League offensively, Chychrun had one of his best offensive seasons, setting an NHL career high with 27 assists, and matching his career best with 41 points.

Chychrun offers some versatility as a defenseman who can play both the left and the right, with over 100 minutes skated on both sides this past season, though he’s preferred the left as a left-shot D-man. That could fit for the Rangers, who have two potential openings on the left side of their blue line since Erik Gustafsson is set to become a UFA on Monday and Ryan Lindgren needs an RFA deal, and could be a possible trade candidate.

Whether they bring back Lindgren or not, the Rangers need at least one defenseman on the left side as Gustafsson is expected to find a new home this offseason. Chychrun could slide in seamlessly, and provide a boost offensively. Though if Lindgren returns, it’s a question as to which defenseman plays on the third pair among Lindgren, Chychrun and K’Andre Miller, though Chychrun could play right side, especially if captain Jacob Trouba is moved.

Chychrun’s been a power-play staple since his first season in the League in 2016-17, and has amassed over 100 minutes of power-play time in six of his eight seasons. The Rangers have a top power-play defenseman in Adam Fox, but Gustafsson manned the second unit for a good chunk of this past season. Chychrun is a major upgrade over Gustafsson and Trouba in that role.

The defense is a little less reassuring. Chychrun had the 13th-worst plus-minus in the NHL with a minus-30 rating. Now part of that is the team, as the Senators were outscored by 31 goals this season, the seventh-worst mark in the League. But it’s worth noting that’s now the fifth time Chychrun has finished the season with a negative rating, though he’s never played on a playoff-caliber team.

The metrics don’t paint him as bad defensively by any stretch. Chychrun ranked above average defensively and in the 82nd percentile overall by Evolving Hockey. In fact, he’s ranked above average defensively in all but one season, and in the top 25 percent three times.

He’s a strong skater with nice size at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds and he’s not afraid to block a shot, ranking 34th with 154 this past season. He may not be a “shutdown defenseman,” but he’s far from a liability.

According to a recent article from Vince Mergoliano of USA Today, “there isn’t much smoke between the Rangers and Senators at this stage.”

That could be, too, because the Senators just landed goalie Linus Ullmark in a trade with the Boston Bruins and are serious about finally contending for a playoff spot next season.

However, he’s a player they’ve been tied to one way or another for some time, and if talks were to increase, Chychrun would make a welcome addition to this Rangers team.

Garrioch reported Ottawa is asking for a first- and second-round pick or a high-end prospect, which might be a little unappetizing. But as the old saying goes, you have to give to get.

The Rangers have the No. 30 overall pick in this year’s draft, not a premium selection, and are without a second-round pick the next three years. That could mean having to part with a key prospect or two.

Right now, a quantifiable commodity like Chychrun is far more valuable to the Blueshirts than an unproven prospect or draft picks that would likely be later anyway given the Rangers’ recent success.

Plus, adding Chychrun’s crisp passing and size would solve a couple issues at once, making the Rangers smoother and bigger on the back end.

It’s also worth hammering home that Chychrun has just one season remaining on his six-year contract and would become an unrestricted free agent at the end of 2024-25. While Drury would certainly have the option to re-up if he liked the fit, it doesn’t lock the Rangers into a long-term contract the way they would be with a lot of the high-end free agents available.

With two more years left on Artemi Panarin’s $11.6 million AAV deal, and Lafreniere, Miller and Igor Shesterkin needing new deals next offseason, it would make it much easier for Drury to keep the books open and attack a big 2026 free agent class that could include Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, all while still making a move to bolster the team for a Stanley Cup run this upcoming season.

Drury has a couple different avenues he can attack this offseason, but if he identifies defense as a major issue, he’d be hard-pressed to find a better option, all things considered, than Chychrun.

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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