Chris Kreider, John Davidson
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

The NHL season has officially come to a close which means the New York Rangers and every other team start to prepare for the 2019-20 season. 

Dom Renna

The 2018-19 season saw the New York Rangers continue to build what they started the year prior, and now, this offseason has a chance to become a franchise-altering time period.

Looking at where the Rangers are right now from a rebuilding standpoint, it’s tough to be any happier (in a realistic sense). Their prospect pool has drastically improved over the last two years, thanks to big trades by general manager Jeff Gorton; and all of this happened while their young players have seen some success at the NHL level in a short time.

Oh, and not to mention, the excitement around New York holding the second overall pick in this year’s draft remains a crucial selling point.

Off the ice, the team hired John Davidson to take Glen Sather‘s place as team president, and he is already focusing on making some major improvements to the organization as a whole. His message to the fan base has been about making smart free agent signings and not making a move just to make a move giving fans a greater sense of hope.

So with all of the good surrounding the Blueshirts, what should we be on the lookout for as the offseason begins?

The Draft

We all have known for a while now that New York moved up four spots in the draft lottery, drastically changing the landscape of this rebuild, with the chance to add an elite player. The only question that remains is, “Kaapo Kakko or Jack Hughes?”

The answer is simple: it all depends on what the New Jersey Devils decide to do at first overall. The overall consensus around the league is that Hughes projects to be a better player down the road, while Kakko is the more NHL ready prospect. Both players took part in the IIHF World Championship where Kakko absolutely dazzled making the question of who will the Devils take grow with each passing day.

Whatever happens, the Rangers are going to end up with a young player who will become a difference maker for years to come—a player they haven’t employed in years. The immediate need for the Blueshirts is at center, since no one was able to step up following the Kevin Hayes deal at the trade deadline. Hughes is a center, and while Kakko is capable of playing the position, he’s most likely to end up on the wing for his career.

Unfortunately, it’s a question only one person, Ray Shero, knows the answer to. The rest of the world will have to wait until June 21 to see what happens.

Aside from the second overall pick, the Rangers also have pick number 20 along with two second-round picks, a third-round pick, a fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh round pick to work with.

Potential Buyouts & Homecomings

In a column in the New York Post Wednesday, Larry Brooks brought up the idea of the Rangers buying out some massive contracts. Brooks spoke to Jeff Gorton who said buyouts are “on the table.” The buyout window begins on June 15 and adds a brand new storyline to what the Rangers could possibly do this summer.

The usual suspects of a potential buyout include Kevin Shattenkirk and Brendan Smith, who the Rangers have been reportedly gauging potential interest on the trade market. However, Brooks reports the two have yet to gain any legitimate interest around the league making a buyout the only way to eliminate those heavy salaries. According to Brooks, New York would save more money with a buyout of Smith compared to buying out Shattenkirk’s once looked upon team-friendly deal.

With all the talk of buyouts, there was mention of the Rangers potentially showing interest in Kevin Hayes. While his rights were traded by the Winnipeg Jets to the Philadelphia Flyers, Brooks also reports the Rangers could show interest in the center who made his name with Blueshirts. Even with this a possibility, like Brooks notes, should the Rangers end up with Hughes, Hayes no longer becomes an option.

One more homecoming hope amongst fans is the possibility of Mats Zuccarello returning to Broadway. The first-time UFA is loved by the fan base and the locker room, but quickly became a favorite in Dallas while producing in the playoffs. Should the Rangers decide to pass on bringing the three-time Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award winner and he re-signs with Dallas, New York receives a first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

The Chris Kreider Saga

Honestly speaking, using the word saga here is a major leap, but there is a chance this could become exactly that down the road.

Kreider is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season and the Rangers will need to decide his fate within the next few weeks. In Brooks’s column, Gorton mentioned how he plans to “check in with Chris Kreider’s agent” before the draft. Gorton has options surrounding Kreider’s future with possible trades at the draft and trade deadline, or he can simply extend the seven-year winger.

If Gorton makes Kreider available, there will be plenty of interest in the 28-year-old who is coming off a career year in 2018-19. Rumors swirled around the trade deadline that Kreider received some interest from teams, but New York’s asking price was high and obviously no-one pulled the trigger on a deal. The situation involving a Kreider trade is different now considering a team would only have him for one full season instead of a full season and a half, making a return package a little smaller.

No matter what happens with Kreider this summer, his contract situation is one everyone around the Rangers will have the eyes on should he remain a Blueshirt after the draft.

Free Agency & The Defense

For a while, the Rangers have been rumored to be a potential landing spot for top free agent Artemi Panarin. While that might not exactly be the case anymore, free agency has a chance to help accelerate this rebuilding process. Along with Panarin, the Rangers have been rumored to be interested in free agent Erik Karlsson, who is coming off surgery following his postseason exit with San Jose.

Whether or not the Rangers sign Panarin or Karlsson, they are showing how they are turning all stones in an effort to improve this roster, something you can only hope for during an offseason. Also, be on the lookout for any depth signings to help fill out the roster up front to help with the development of these younger players.

We mentioned Karlsson as potentially being a target for the Rangers, but before they even consider a move for him they must first decide what to do with the plethora of defensemen they already have on the roster. We know the team is considering buying out Smith or Shattenkirk, we also know Tony DeAngelo and Neal Pionk are restricted free agents. The team acquired Adam Fox who will most certainly see time on the blueline next year along with Marc Staal, Brady Skjei. Libor Hajek and Ryan Lindgren will also look to have some impact on the Rangers blueline before 2019-20 comes to a close.

Clearly, the Rangers have quite a few players to fill six spots with come opening night. Last year they carried eight defensemen for a majority of the year which made things a bit more difficult for David Quinn and his staff. Whether or not all of these defensemen are on the Blueshirts roster come September is yet to be seen, but it certainly serves as a storyline to follow throughout the summer.

Follow Dom on TWITTER

Dominick is a graduate of Canisius College. He has covered the Rangers for the last seven seasons and the Yankees for the last four.