There will be a lot of eyes and anticipation on Jeff Gorton when he walks onto the NHL Draft floor this weekend carrying this year's No. 2 pick. But no one ever told the Rangers' GM that he had to wait until Friday to make a splash.
On Monday night, Gorton pulled off a trade with the Winnipeg Jets that brings Jacob Trouba to Broadway, adding to the Blueshirts' fold a 6-foot-3, 202-pound blueliner coming off a career year and who, at 25 years old, is in Gorton's words "really coming into his prime."
The Rangers sent defenseman Neal Pionk and the No. 20 selection in Friday's NHL Draft - the one Gorton had acquired from Winnipeg not quite four months ago - in exchange for Trouba, a do-it-all defenseman from Michigan who comes to New York after having spent his first six NHL seasons with the Jets.
"We're getting a really good player that we've coveted for a while," Gorton said on Monday night. "Obviously he's a player that we would covet - I think most teams would, with what he can do and provide for you, which is a lot: He's a big defenseman, he's 25 years old, he can play against the best players, he adds offense, he can kill penalties, and he's in the prime of his career.
"The opportunity for a player like that to come available doesn't happen all the time. We jumped on it."
This was Gorton's second trade with the Jets since last season's trade deadline: Back on Feb. 25, he gave up pending unrestricted free agent Kevin Hayes in exchange for the now-23-year-old Brendan Lemieux and that 2019 first-rounder, the one for which Gorton must have kept his receipt before returning it to Winnipeg on Monday.
It also was the second trade in just a six-week span ahead of the Draft in which the Rangers brought in a young, righty-shot defenseman while dipping into the bounty of assets they will bring with them to Vancouver this weekend. On the last day of April it was 21-year-old Adam Fox, the Hobey Baker Award finalist who came over from Carolina in exchange for a second-rounder this year and a conditional third-rounder in 2020.
Gorton called Monday's move a "tone-setter" for the remainder of a summer in which the GM still possesses eight picks - including that No. 2 overall selection - in the upcoming Draft, which kicks off on Friday, 10 days ahead of the gates opening on NHL free agency.
"There's a lot of things we're looking at and want to do, and certainly this is a big one," Gorton said of acquiring Trouba. "When we're out there trying to improve our team, we're looking for players that will fit into what we're doing, and the age is a big part of it. Obviously they have to be good players. But the age of 25, really coming into his prime, and the different amount of things that Jacob can provide for us, this helps us a lot.
"It just felt like this was a player that's going to be with us for a while through it all. That's the biggest reason why we felt comfortable moving off of No. 20 there."
Trouba, who finished sixth in the Calder Trophy voting as a 19-year-old in 2013-14, posted career highs in multiple categories this past season for a Jets team that finished with 99 points, one point shy of winning the Central Division crown. His 42 assists and 50 points ranked him ninth and 13th, respectively, among all NHL defensemen, while his 22:53 on ice per game was second-most on the Jets, for whom he was the only player to appear in all 82 games. Trouba was one of only three defensemen age 25 or younger to hit 50 points last season.
A veteran of 408 NHL games, Trouba has blocked at least 100 shots in each of his six NHL seasons; his 171 blocks in 2018-19 were sixth-most in the League.
"He's going to come here and he's going to play big minutes," Gorton said. "He's a pretty versatile guy, so we can envision him playing in all scenarios and being a big part of it.
The Rochester, Mich., native, selected by the Jets with their first-round pick (ninth overall) of the 2012 Draft, has a long history with the U.S. National Team, where, since starting at the USNTDP as a 16-year-old, he teamed up over the years with Jimmy Vesey (2013 World Junior Championships) and Brady Skjei (2017 World Championships). Trouba was named Best Defenseman at the 2013 World Juniors, where he and Vesey helped the Americans to the gold medal.
Gorton, who contacted Trouba once the deal was done to welcome him to the Rangers, said the good fortune of moving up four spaces in the Draft Lottery to select second in Friday's Draft "definitely plays into" his approach to managing his assets this offseason, but added: "If we're still picking sixth, would we still have done this deal? Yeah. … It was an opportunity we really just had to take.
"One of the things as we head into the summer that we wanted to do is improve our defense," the GM said. "We feel like we've done that today."