CHICAGO - Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton said Friday's trade with Arizona that brought defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick in tonight's draft to New York in exchange for Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta was all about opportunity.
Opportunity to move into the top 10 in the entry draft. Opportunity to add a young, right-handed defenseman. And opportunity to free up cap space heading into the draft and free agency, which begins next week.
"It's draft day. Free agency hasn't happened. There's a lot of opportunity to improve your team coming forward," Gorton said in press conference prior to Round 1 of the draft in Chicago. "I'm sure there's a lot of speculation about our team and what it looks like but it's hard for us to say what we're going to look like right now. There's a lot of different things on the table."
The seventh pick is the highest for the Rangers since 2004. After going several years without a first round pick, the Blueshirts now find themselves with a pair of Round 1 selections, including the No. 21 selection.
Gorton said he did not expect the player New York will select to be one who can step into the lineup for the 2017-18 season, but that that wasn't the focus to begin with.
"We didn't make the trade with that in mind that we're going to put a player on our team," Gorton stated. "We're going to get the best player we can. The guys have been working really hard on their lists and honing in on what's there and who is going to be there. We're excited for the opportunity."
DeAngelo, though, could step into a role on the Rangers' blueline starting in October. The 21-year-old, 2014 first-round pick of Tampa Bay, made his NHL debut last season with the Coyotes, scoring five goals and nine assists in 39 games.
Gorton described the Sewell, N.J.-native as a fast, puck-moving defenseman who can run a power play. He said his game is something different from what the rest of the Rangers' defensive group brings.
"He's a guy that can run a power play and he's young and can really skate," he said. "He can do a lot of things we need … and we like him going forward."
While Gorton was pleased with the return, he also praised what Stepan and Raanta brought to New York during their tenures on Broadway.
"[We were] reluctant to get rid of Derek Stepan and Raanta," he said. "These are two really good players for us. Derek, in particular, has been a good Ranger for a long time. Drafted and developed here and a lot of success for the organization with him. That's a hard call to make."
Gorton said Raanta was great on the ice in his two seasons in New York, but that the netminder wanted an opportunity to be a starting goaltender, which would not happen with the Rangers.
"Talking to Antti, this is something he also wanted," said Gorton, who added that Arizona insisted on Raanta to consummate the transaction. "He wanted to be a No. 1. We don't have that opportunity for him here, obviously. It's a good opportunity for him."
The departure of Stepan and Oscar Lindberg, whom Las Vegas selected in the expansion draft, leaves two openings at center. Gorton said there's still a large trade market heading into the first night of the NHL Draft, and that there's also several upcoming unrestricted free agents he and the organization are excited about.
It all comes back to opportunity that's ahead of him and the team.
"I think there's a big market out there right now," he said. "I think there's a lot of names. I think [in] free agency there's a lot of names too that we like.
"We just look at it as an opportunity," Gorton added. "We have a chance here with the draft coming, with free agency coming and the trade market, to change our team a little bit, and we'll do everything we can to do that."