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When the NHL roster freeze ended Thursday afternoon, it was quieter than expected, but the Rangers were one of a few teams to make decisions ahead of the 2021 entry draft that begins Friday night.
The Rangers announced a six-year deal with gritty forward Barclay Goodrow, whom the organization acquired from the Lightning less than a week earlier in exchange for a 2022 seventh-round pick. Taking into consideration how active Chris Drury has been this offseason, including his move to unload Brett Howden to Vegas this past weekend, it feels as though the Rangers’ new president and general manager is working toward something bigger.
Also, the Rangers plan to move on from veteran defenseman Brendan Smith, according to The Post’s Larry Brooks. Smith is a pending unrestricted free agent after five seasons in a depth role.
While Drury continues to shape the Blueshirts’ lineup ahead of the 2021-22 season, the draft presents a slew of opportunities. The Rangers hold nine picks, the 15th overall selection in the Friday’s opening round and eight more in Rounds 2-7 on Saturday.
As tight-lipped as Drury was during his pre-expansion draft media availability, he made it known the Rangers front office is leaving no stone unturned when it comes to options to make the team better. One of those options is certainly utilizing that first-round pick.
“That’s a piece we have,” Drury said Monday. “If we can make the team better with moving that pick — or another pick or players — we’ll look at everything.”
Since speculation is through the roof on the possibility of Drury crafting a package deal that appeases the Sabres’ absurd asking price for vexed star center Jack Eichel, the Rangers’ No. 15 pick (which is listed as 16 because of the Coyotes’ forfeited selection) is guaranteed to be part of the equation.
According to Brooks, however, the Rangers have still not received access to Eichel’s medical records.
The Rangers have one first-round pick, two third-rounders, three in the fourth round and one in each of the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds.
Last year’s draft was the start of the Rangers’ objective to become “harder to play against,” and that mantra is expected to drive their player selections again. Former GM Jeff Gorton proved that bulking up was a priority when he traded up on two separate occasions in 2020, in the first round for 6-foot-2 defenseman Braden Schneider (No. 19) and in the second for 6-3 winger William Cuylle (No. 60).
The Rangers didn’t take a center last year until the third round, but it is now the clear position that needs strengthening. Filip Chytil is the franchise’s only center draftee who played a major role on the team last season. Morgan Barron, who played in five games in 2020-21, is on the cusp of breaking onto the scene full time, but the Cornell product is expected to get some looks on the wing instead of center.
At No. 15, the consensus top-three centers of the 2021 draft — Matthew Beniers, Kent Johnson and Mason McTavish — probably won’t be available to the Rangers.
Aatu Räty out of the Finnish Liiga, Russian Fyodor Svechkov and Cole Sillinger of the USHL are more likely to be there. There’s also forward Matthew Coronato, who is known for his hands and is coming off an 85-point season with the Chicago Steel in the USHL. The New York native is committed to Harvard for the 2021-22 season, as Adam Fox was when he was drafted in 2016.
At 6-2, 185 pounds, Räty fits the big-bodied trend the Rangers are on in the draft. He is considered a versatile forward, but his stock went down after he struggled to produce for the Finnish Liiga’s Karpat last season. Svechkov is a defensive-minded center with a tremendous upside, which could be enticing to the Rangers. In 2020-21, Sillinger put up big numbers for the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede with 46 points (24 goals, 22 assists) in just 31 games. The Columbus, Ohio, native’s wrist shot is described by EliteProspects as “potent,” and he is considered to be a true offensive threat.
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