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Rangers Plan Continues to Take Shape Following Deadline Deal With Tampa

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

VANCOUVER -- Earlier this month when Rangers President Glen Sather and General Manager Jeff Gorton released a letter to fans informing them of the organization's shift in focus from the present to the future, the two spoke about the need to get younger and how the price to do so would come at the expense of losing "some familiar faces, guys we all care about and respect."

That foreshadowing became a reality first on Sunday with the departure of Rick Nash to Boston, and was followed up with a blockbuster trade with the Lightning that sent Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to Tampa.

The return checked off many boxes Gorton envisioned in his blueprint for the future of the Rangers with forward Vladislav Namestnikov, prospects Brett Howden and Libor Hajek, a 2018 first-round pick and a conditional first-round pick in 2019.

"It hit on a lot of things that we wanted to accomplish as far as acquiring some picks - some high picks - and getting some young players that we've really liked for a while," Gorton told reporters on a conference call on Monday. "The ability to get Howden and Hajak and then get the picks and Namestnikov is a player we've liked for a while. I think it hit on a lot of different things that we wanted to do as we move forward."

Namestnikov is a former first-round pick himself going 27th overall in 2011. He has 20 goals and 24 assists in 62 games this season with the Lightning, all of which are career-highs. 

The 25-year-old has played both wing and center, and Gorton said he'd like to see him play up the middle full time upon his arrival in New York, and that the luxury of adding another versatile player - like Ryan Spooner from Boston the day before - is a bonus for the Blueshirts.

Howden, meanwhile, is a 2016 first-round pick who is having a strong campaign with Moose Jaw (WHL) with 22 goals and 36 assists for 58 points in 38 games. He shined at this past year's World Junior Championship when he scored three goals and four assists in seven games to help lead Canada to Gold.

Hajek, 20, is a blueliner who has split the season between Saskatoon and Regina in the WHL, and has registered 11 goals and 35 points in 52 contests. Like Howden, he excelled at this year's world junior when he posted eight points in seven games with the Czech Republic.

Video: Rangers GM Jeff Gorton on deadline day deals

Gorton said the fact that both players are approaching two years since they were drafted, and that each had international experience under their belts was "appealing" when the deal was coming together. 

But with that said, Gorton was quick to not put a timetable on their debuts on Broadway. He said the opportunity for them to make their mark on the franchise will be there, but it's up to them to prove they belong in New York.

"I don't know what our team is going to look like, but there's certainly opportunity here for them to come in and show well and stay if that's the case," he said. "If not, we're not going to rush players. Just because we have new players, doesn't mean we're going to rush them in. I don't feel that pressure. We don't feel that pressure. We'll see how they are. There's a long way away before we see them here."

The loss of Miller and especially McDonagh, who was acquired from Montreal while he was still a standout in college and rose through the system to eventually be named captain of the team, was tough emotionally for Gorton and company.

"I'd say it's a very difficult thing to do. It's a player that we view as a really special Ranger," Gorton said of McDonagh. "He was the captain of our team, he was here for a lot of good times and played a lot of good hockey for us. He's a special person off the ice, involved off the ice in charities and a great family."

New York now heads into the draft in Dallas in late June with 10 picks, including three firsts and another four in the following two rounds. But that could change depending on several factors, including the possibility the Rangers use those assets in another move, or add to it based on future deals that arise following the end of the season.

"Yes. 100 percent," Gorton said when asked if there was more work to be done. "There's a lot of work here. That's pretty obvious. We're trying to build a team. We're adding these assets and doing all these things, but there's a lot of work to be done."

The decisions were going to be difficult and saying goodbye to individuals who played such big roles in the success of the franchise over the last decade isn't easy.

But Gorton's plan is in place and the first steps are underway with more to unfold in the coming months.

"I would say it's exciting for us too," he said of the moves. "We're doing something, going young here. We're adding a lot of assets. There's a lot of opportunity here for players as we move forward.

"There's a lot of opportunity here to grow as a team and make our team better," he added. "That's our goal. That's our mission. That's what we're going to do. I feel like we're just starting."

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