Jacob Trouba was traded to the New York Rangers by the Winnipeg Jets on Monday for Neal Pionk and a first-round pick (No. 20) in the 2019 NHL Draft.
Trouba led Jets defensemen with an NHL career-high 50 points (eight goals, 42 assists), including 18 (three goals, 15 assists) on the power play, in 82 games this season. He had one assist in six Stanley Cup Playoff games.
“He’s in the prime of his career,” Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said of the 25-year-old. “The opportunity for a player like that to become available doesn’t happen all the time, and we jumped on it, had conversations that led to this and here we are.”
The Jets traded Trouba after not being able to agree with him on a long-term contract. They selected him with the No. 9 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft.
“He’s played hard for our organization for a period of six years and we wish him all the best,” Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said. “He’s someone we saw grow and develop, and obviously he had some personal things he wanted to see come to fruition, and obviously one year from unrestricted free agency, he had that prerogative.
“I think both sides are going to flourish from new opportunities.”
Trouba averaged 22:53 of ice time per game this season, second on the Jets behind defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, with 2:04 coming on the power play and 2:28 on the penalty kill.
“He’s going to come in 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, being a big part of it.”
The No. 20 pick going to Winnipeg originally belonged to the Jets. They traded it to the Rangers with forward Brendan Lemieux and a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft to acquire center Kevin Hayes on Feb. 25.
Pionk had 40 points (seven goals, 33 assists) in 101 games with the Rangers in the past two seasons after signing with them as an undrafted free agent from the University of Minnesota Duluth on May 1, 2017. He can become a restricted free agent July 1, as can Trouba. Gorton said he has already been in touch with Trouba’s agent, Kurt Overhardt.
“I haven’t talked to those guys about numbers, but we’ve done our research to factor in what we think it might be, what a player like that is worth,” Gorton said, “and we’ll move forward like that with complete confidence that we can get a deal done.”
The Rangers coveted Trouba (6-foot-3, 202 pounds) because he’s a big, right-handed defenseman who can play in all situations and against the opposition’s top forwards.
Trouba moves to the top of the Rangers’ defenseman depth chart on the right side, ahead of Kevin Shattenkirk, Tony DeAngelo and Adam Fox, the Hobey Baker Award finalist out of Harvard University who was acquired in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes on April 30 and signed two days later.
Gorton said his hope is there are more moves coming to accelerate the Rangers’ rebuild enough to where they can become a playoff contender next season. They have missed the playoffs the past two seasons and finished 20 points out of a postseason spot this season.
“It just felt like this is a player that is going to be with us for a while,” Gorton said. “That’s the biggest reason why we felt comfortable moving off No. 20.”
The Rangers have the No. 2 pick in the first round of the draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS). They are expected to take center Jack Hughes or right wing Kaapo Kakko. The New Jersey Devils have the No. 1 pick.
Gorton wouldn’t rule out New York using a buyout to free up space under the NHL salary cap. Shattenkirk is a leading candidate; he has two seasons remaining on the four-year contract he signed July 1, 2017.
“There’s a lot of things we’re looking at and what to do and look into, and certainly [acquiring Trouba] is a big one and it sort of sets the tone,” Gorton said. “It adds a really nice player to what we’re trying to do. One of the things as we head into the summer that we want to do is improve our defense. We feel like we’ve done that today. As we head into the draft and free agency there are some other areas, different things we want to look at too. But I do think it’s a good tone setter and we feel fortunate.”
With Trouba traded, the Jets can turn their focus to getting their restricted free agents under contract, including forwards Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, having gained flexibility to make that happen.
As for Pionk, Winnipeg likes his upside. A 23-year-old, right-handed defenseman who plays on the power play, he could in effect be a replacement for Trouba. Pionk led the Rangers with 13 power-play points (two goals, 11 assists) in 73 games this season.
“When you do the research on him, talk to different people about him,” Cheveldayoff said, “he’s a competitor.”