Justin Richards

Four Qualified – Four Not

With qualifying offers required to RFAs today, news has been reported that four of the Rangers eight RFAs have been given qualifying offers.  Unsurprisingly the biggest name on the list is Kaapo Kakko, who is coming off his Entry Level Contract.  Joining him on the list are Austin Rueschhoff, a lanky 6-7 winger who joined the Rangers as an undrafted forward out of college and showed some modest improvement last year in his second pro season, along with Wolf Pack captain and occasional call-up forward Tim Gettinger.

Rounding out the quartet of RFAs to be qualified is defenseman Libor Hajek.  Hajek remained with the Rangers the entirety of the season last year, appearing in just 17 games as he saw Braden Schneider become the latest player to move past him on the depth chart.

In some ways it’s curious that Rangers continue to keep Hajek around, given his struggles to break into the line-up, but the expectation has been for at least a couple of weeks, that he would return to the team.

Of those that did not receive a qualifying offer, only forward Justin Richards made it to the NHL.  Richards registered a lone assist against Boston in the final game of the 2020-21 season, after being signed as a free agent out of college the previous Summer.  Last year Richards struggled to capitalize on his potential and regress on a Wolf Pack team that struggled in the second half of the year.

Also not qualified was 2016 7th round draft pick Ty Ronning.  The son of former NHLer Cliff Ronning, Ty struggled to make much of an impression outside the ECHL, before breaking out offensively in the drastically shortened 2020-21 season.  His play earned him a qualifying offer, and he managed to put up a career high 18 goals and 39 points in 69 games playing largely in a bottom six role with the Pack.  Unfortunately despite the improved play, it wasn’t enough to warrant a longer look, and as such he’ll become a UFA on Wednesday.

Netminder Tyler Wall was also not qualified, after appearing in just five games with the Wolf Pack and six more with Greenville last year.  Wall’s probably brightest moment as a Ranger came last preseason, but the 2016 6th round pick just couldn’t build on that, and could not put pressure on either Keith Kinkaid or Adam Huska in Hartford.  With both the Pack goalies also heading to UFA status this Wednesday, there was an outside chance they might keep Wall around, but with Dylan Garand and Olof Lindbom now in the mix along with veteran AHL netminder Parker Gahagen in the mix, he was likely already pushed out of significant playing time.

The final player not qualified was Jake Elmer, who earned a contract out of the WHL when he put up 81 points in 68 games for Lethbridge as an overager.  Elmer never found his footing in the pros, appearing in just 17 AHL games across his three years, mostly spent in the ECHL with Maine and then Jacksonville.

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