Two days after re-signing J.T. Miller, Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton stayed busy by re-signing two more players and adding another depth forward. He re-signed restricted free agents Dylan McIlrath and Tommy Hughes to one-year contracts while adding unrestricted forward Josh Jooris also for one year.
The terms for McIlrath are $800,000 for ’16-17. The former 2010 first round pick got into 34 games during his rookie season scoring two goals and adding two assists while racking up 64 penalty minutes as a seventh defenseman. Despite having solid chemistry with ex-Ranger Keith Yandle, he didn’t play consistently due to untrustworthy coach Alain Vigneault.
The big physical defenseman became a fan favorite. The toughest D the Blueshirts have had since Mike Sauer, McIlrath delivered crunching hits while playing with snarl clearing the front of the net. He also took on all comers. That included Wayne Simmonds in response to the Flyers’ power forward concussing Ryan McDonagh.
McIlrath showed improved skating and was solid in his end. New assistant Jeff Beukeboom gets credit for helping McIlrath and Brady Skjei develop in Hartford. It should be interesting to see what strides they make in the upcoming season.
Hughes, 24, is a three-year pro with the Wolf Pack. He’s totaled five goals and 20 assists in 173 games with Hartford.
Jooris is a 26-year old gritty forward who spent his first two seasons in the NHL with the Flames. Originally signed by Calgary in the summer of 2013, the former four-year player out of Union College spent a full year in the AHL before earning a spot with the Flames the past two seasons.
Playing a supporting role, he tallied 12 goals and 12 assists in 60 contests as a rookie in ’14-15. That included four power play goals and four game-winners, helping the Flames reach the postseason. Year 2 wasn’t as successful. In 59 games, he totaled four goals and nine helpers. As a team, Calgary struggled missing the playoffs.
A solid energy guy who can play penalty kill due to his speed and defensive instincts, Jooris is a good addition. Similar to Nathan Gerbe and Michael Grabner, he should help bolster the fourth line. All three forwards Gorton added have speed and play hard.
With off-season surgery keeping Oscar Lindberg out to start the season, the Rangers have at least addressed their fourth line. Even with not much space due to still needing to re-sign key RFA’s Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider, they’ve improved their depth both at forward and on the back end. Gorton traded for Nick Holden and signed Adam Clendening to provide more defensive depth.
With approximately nine million left, Gorton will turn his attention to Hayes and Kreider. Hayes should be easier due to completing a rookie deal. Figure a bridge deal in the neighborhood of $5 million ($2.5 AAV).
Kreider is the harder decision. Do they commit long-term to the 25-year old power forward who’s two seasons away from unrestricted free agency? That largely depends on the organization and if they believe Kreider is worth locking up. Stay tuned.