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Rangers looking into free agents, including reunion with Nash, Grabner

'Character players' may be pursued as mentors, GM Gorton says

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The New York Rangers hope to further their rebuilding process by signing some veteran unrestricted free agents who can help mentor their young players.

"That is the expectation that we are going to provide opportunity for our young kids, but we'd like to add a few guys, some character players that can come in and maybe teach these guys the ropes," Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said Monday, the first day of the team's prospect development camp. "[Players] that have pretty good pedigree, that have done some good things to come here and help us in certain situations."

Gorton said he has been in touch with or is planning to talk to several pending UFAs, including former Rangers forwards Rick Nash, Michael Grabner and defenseman Nick Holden, and indicated he will be active in trying to sign players beginning Sunday, when the free agent market opens.

 

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Nash, 34, and Holden, 31, went to the Boston Bruins in separate trades; Nash was traded for center Ryan Spooner, forward Matt Beleskey, defenseman Ryan Lindgren and two draft picks Feb. 25, and Holden was traded for defenseman Rob O'Gara and a draft pick Feb. 20.

Nash, who had 252 points (145 goals, 107 assists) in six seasons with the Rangers, had 34 points (21 goals, 13 assists) in 71 games with New York and Boston this season. Holden had 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in 73 games with New York and Boston.

Grabner, 30, was traded to the New Jersey Devils for defenseman prospect Yegor Rykov and a draft pick Feb. 23. Grabner had 36 points (27 goals, nine assists) in 80 games with the Rangers and Devils; his 25 goals in 59 games were tied for second on New York.

Video: NJD@LAK: Grabner uses speed to tally impressive SHG

None is considered a top target, but all are candidates for the Rangers.

"I will tell you that we're going to talk to those guys and see where they're at and what their interests are," Gorton said.

Gorton said the Rangers could be in the market for a goaltender to compete with Alexandar Georgiev and Marek Mazanec for the backup job behind Henrik Lundqvist.

Georgiev went 4-4-1 with a 3.15 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in 10 appearances, including nine starts, with the Rangers last season after making his NHL debut on Feb. 22.

Mazanec, 26, who re-signed a one-year contract with the Rangers on June 12, went 11-6-2 with a 2.97 GAA and .905 save percentage in 20 appearances last season with Hartford of the American Hockey League. He appeared in 31 games with the Nashville Predators from 2013-17, going 8-13-4 with a 2.98 GAA and .895 save percentage.

"With free agency, we'll go in and look at some people and see what the prices are and availabilities, but at the same time we do like Mazanec a lot and Georgiev from last year showed a lot," Gorton said. "So we're looking, we'll see what's out there, but we're pretty happy with those two as well."

As for the young players who could make the team as rookies next season, Gorton said centers Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, each selected in the first-round of the 2017 NHL Draft, are at the top of the list.

Video: Gorton on busy round for Rangers, Miller pick

Lindgren, defenseman Libor Hajek and center Brett Howden, each traded to New York this season, are on the Rangers' radar.

New York is also high on two free agents it signed last month; 23-year-old forward Michael Lindqvist and 22-year-old forward Ville Meskanen.

It remains to be seen if forward Vitali Kravtsov, who the Rangers selected with the No. 9 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, will be in North America next season.

Kravtsov has the option to personally buy out the remaining year on his contract with Traktor Chelyabinsk in the Kontinental Hockey League. Gorton said he'll meet with Kravtsov's agent, Paul Theofanous, at the end of the week to discuss their options.

If Kravtsov buys himself out of his KHL contract, he will come to North America and be eligible to play in the AHL if he's not on the NHL roster, as Chytil last season as an 18-year-old.

Chytil, who was the No. 21 pick last year, had three points (one goal, two assists) in nine games with the Rangers and 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) in 46 games with Hartford.

The Rangers' other two first-round picks, defensemen K'Andre Miller (No. 22) and Nils Lundkvist (No. 28), are not options to make their roster next season. Miller is going to the University of Wisconsin and Lundkvist will play in the Swedish Hockey League.

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