Rangers 2024 trade deadline preview: 4 storylines to watch

Thirty years ago, Neil Smith had a whopper of a trade deadline, fortifying the Rangers with now-hallowed Blueshirt names such as Stephane Matteau, Glenn Anderson, Brian Noonan, and Craig MacTavish. The GM’s moves helped prep the Rangers for a playoff run that ultimately ended a 54-year Cup drought and squashed that painful chant. You remember.

Now the current Rangers may have a shot at the same kind of transformative deadline.

These Rangers are built to win, are thriving under Peter Laviolette and sit as the top team in the Metropolitan Division. Goalie Igor Shesterkin seems over whatever funk he was mired in. They are a serious contender for the Stanley Cup.

But they have needs – right wing and center, for sure. And they have draft capital to spend and add, too. Last year, chasing a star – Patrick Kane – was their most notable deadline work. But their approach one season earlier, in which their haul included Andrew Copp, Tyler Motte, and Frank Vatrano, worked better, helping a deep run. How will they play it this time?

Here are four things to watch with the Rangers in the days leading up to the March 8 NHL trade deadline:

Forward thinking

With Blake Wheeler and Filip Chytil out for the year, the Rangers could use a right wing and a center -- and those seem to be their primary needs.

One of each would strengthen them up and down the forward depth chart. The right wing could skate on the line with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, and the center could slide onto the third line, moving Jonny Brodzinski down. 

New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider (20) celebrates with center Mika Zibanejad (93) after scoring a goal in the second period against the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden.

No forward below the second line has more than 18 points for the Rangers so far this season. Another potential area of want – a rugged defenseman for the third pair, someone to jam up the space in front of Shesterkin. Or course, with the clamped-down style of the playoffs looming, all contenders pine for that type of blueliner.

Who’s (out) there?

Some old friends are among the many names that have been making the trade chatter rounds – wingers Vladimir Tarasenko and Pavel Buchnevich. Tarasenko had eight goals and 13 assists in 31 games for the Blueshirts after being acquired last season, and scored three goals in the seven-game loss to the Devils in the first round, too.

Tarasenko, who played on a line with Kreider and Zibanejad, has 15 goals and 22 assists in 53 games this season for Ottawa. Buchnevich played for the Rangers from 2016-17 to 2020-21, and scored 79 goals in 301 games. He’s got 19 goals for the Blues this season. Of the pair, Tarasenko might be a better fit, cap-wise, and should cost less in terms of return.

The New York Post reported that the Rangers believe center Alex Wennberg could impact their third line. The 29-year-old Swede has eight goals and 14 assists for Seattle this season.

Among others, The Athletic mentioned Yanni Gourde, a strong skater who was on two Cup-winning teams in Tampa Bay -- where he played with Barclay Goodrow -- as a potential fit, providing cap impacts could be worked through.

And if Seattle is willing to give him up. Gourde, 32, has 83 games of playoff experience and might provide some of the grit teams find so valuable during the long slog that is the playoffs. He has seven goals and 14 assists in 55 games this season for the Kraken.

Other centers could be available, too, including Adam Henrique of the Ducks and Scott Laughton of the Flyers. 

Scott Laughton
Scott Laughton / Eric Hartline - USA TODAY Sports

Henrique (16 goals, 21 assists) seems likely to be moved. The Penguins currently sit outside the playoff picture, so it’ll be interesting to see if Jake Guentzel becomes available. The 29-year-old center has 22 goals and 30 assists this season and has two 40-goal seasons on his resume, though he’s currently out with an injury that likely keeps him idle until after the deadline. Would Pittsburgh trade him to the Rangers to help a Cup run? Hmmm. And what would it cost?

As for a defenseman, a suggestion: Perhaps the Rangers could look to a non-contender out west – Arizona. Josh Brown has been in and out of the lineup for the Coyotes this season, so maybe he can be had and turned into Ranger depth.

Chips on the table

The Rangers have dealt liberally from their store of draft picks recently, but they hold their first-round pick in each of the next three NHL Drafts, so there’s some future to trade for the present.

These Rangers are good enough that sacrificing some youth to impact a potential run now is a worthwhile exercise – it’s what they did in ‘94, too. Prospects such as Brennan Othmann and Gabe Perreault appear to be unavailable – ESPN’s Emily Kaplan reported during the Rangers’ victory over the Flyers on Saturday that other teams told her the Rangers have "shut down" inquiries on both in potential trades.

But the Rangers have other promising youngsters, too – Brett Berard, Adam Sykora, Zac Jones, and Matthew Robertson among them – and they might serve as attractive trade chips.

What about Kaapo Kakko?

Kakko, the No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft, has seen his name hit the NHL rumor carousel in recent weeks, even as his third line with Will Cuylle and Brodzinski has played well. But the Rangers need to add a right wing, not subtract one. It’s true that Kakko has not become the star that his draft spot projected, but he just turned 23.

There are plenty of Ranger fans who want to move on from Kakko, but the same reasons why they complain about him are the same reasons why they’ll never get equal value for him now, especially since he’s already contributing to a contending team. He could still bloom further, too, and only five players from his draft class have scored more goals.