Chris Drury fills Rangers’ needs at trade deadline but holds off on flashy move

TARRYTOWN, New York — The New York Rangers’ needs were clear entering the trade deadline. Chris Drury had to add a center with Filip Chytil out for the year, and the roster also had a hole at right wing following Blake Wheeler’s injury, which will sideline him at least through the regular season and likely the playoffs as well.

Drury addressed the former Wednesday by acquiring Alex Wennberg, the now-former Seattle Kraken center who should slot in on New York’s third line. The latter took more time, with Drury waiting until the final minutes before the deadline to add Jack Roslovic from the Blue Jackets. He sent Columbus a 2024 fourth-round pick that becomes a third if the Rangers make the Stanley Cup Final. The Columbus Blue Jackets retained 50 percent of Roslovic’s $4 million cap hit.

“His skating, his skill, his overall brain, I think he can play and think with elite players,” Drury said. “He has the skill to keep up with them, to make a play, which we’ve seen a number of times throughout his career.”

New York snagged a depth defenseman, too, trading a 2027 fourth-round pick to Pittsburgh for Chad Ruhwedel. Additionally, in a minor transaction, Drury swapped career journeymen, getting forward Nic Petan from Minnesota for Turner Elson. Both are currently in the AHL, though Petan played in six games this year for the Wild.

Here are the moves in the aggregate:

In: Wennberg, Roslovic, Ruhwedel, Petan
Out: 2024 second-round pick, 2024 fourth-round pick (conditional), 2025 fourth-round pick, 2027 fourth-round pick, Elson

“These three additions slot in and fill specific spots, but I didn’t really go into it saying, ‘it has to be this type of player, that type of player,’” Drury said. “It’s just trying to find the best fit that we can throughout the whole deadline and what was available or not available in the marketplace and what we were willing to pay for it. I think we did get three good fits, and I’m excited to have them on board.”

There’s no doubt the Rangers got better with Drury’s moves. The question is if it was enough given the additions other contenders made. The division rival Hurricanes traded for Jake Guentzel, the biggest fish on the market, and also acquired Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Panthers got Vladimir Tarasenko and Kyle Okposo.

Both those clubs made bigger splashes than New York, and Drury’s club might end up having to go through both of them to reach the Stanley Cup Final. Giant splashes don’t always result in success, though, as New York saw last year when it added Patrick Kane and Tarasenko, only to fall in the first round.

Roslovic, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, could be an option on the top line for coach Peter Laviolette. He has 23 points in 40 games, including 13 in his last 12 in Columbus. He has a slightly positive offensive rating (plus-2) per Dom Luszczyszyn’s analytical model and a slightly negative (minus-2) defensive one.

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The Rangers haven’t found a consistent option to play with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, and in recent years Roslovic has produced offensively at a higher rate than Kaapo Kakko, who has been the Rangers’ top-line right wing of late. Roslovic averaged 0.59 points per game during his four-year stint with the Blue Jackets and had a 22-goal, 45-point campaign in 2021-22.

“He is obviously a right shot and could be a good natural fit on the right wing with (Kreider and Zibanejad),” said Drury, who added that the decision will be up to coach Peter Laviolette.

Drury could have gone all-in in an attempt to land Guentzel, or he could have pursued a winger like Tyler Toffoli, Tarasenko or Frank Vatrano, who stayed put in Anaheim. He said he was willing to part with a first-round pick or good prospect, but the trade would have had to make sense. He ultimately decided to part only with mid-round picks.

“We looked at a lot of different situations, varying price points, and (Roslovic) was the deal we felt most comfortable making for a right wing,” he said.

Meanwhile, Drury hopes that Wennberg can fill the void New York has dealt with since Chytil went down.

“It’s been a constant thing in our offices, trying to find a center,” he said. “We’re fortunate enough that Alex became available, and we think he fits in nicely with the group.”

Drury mentioned Wennberg’s two-way play, skill, experience and ability to play on special teams. Laviolette praised how the newcomer looked after practice Friday, calling him an effortless skater.

The Ruhwedel pickup gives New York’s group of defensemen a little extra depth going into the postseason. With four points in 47 games this season, he’s not much of an offensive presence, but he has positive underlying defensive numbers. The 33-year-old also brings playoff experience, having won a Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2017. He’s a right shot, but coach Peter Laviolette said he can play on either side of a pairing.

“Veteran defenseman, moves the puck well, has a lot of experience and games in the NHL,” Laviolette said shortly after the move. “When you’re taking on the end of the season and what you hope to be a long playoff run, having that depth, I think, is really important. He provides that with his experience and the way he plays the game.”

He’ll likely get an opportunity to play early, as Drury announced that captain Jacob Trouba will miss two to three weeks with a lower-body injury.

At full health, excluding players ruled out for the regular season, the Rangers lineup could look something like this:

Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Jack Roslovic
Artemi Panarin–Vincent Trocheck–Alexis Lafrenière
Will Cuylle–Alex Wennberg-Kaapo Kakko
Jimmy Vesey–Barclay Goodrow–Jonny Brodzinski
Extras: Matt Rempe, Adam Edstrom

Ryan Lindgren–Adam Fox
K’Andre Miller-Jacob Trouba
Erik Gustafsson–Braden Schneider
Extras: Chad Ruhwedel, Zac Jones

Igor Shesterkin
Jonathan Quick

It’s a roster Drury likes — one with potential that he hopes his moves this week can maximize.

“I had a lot of confidence in the group going into the deadline,” he said. “And they’ve given me good reason to be confident.”

(Top photo of Jack Roslovic: Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

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