Wednesday Night Hockey: Where do Rangers go from here?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Onward with the rebuild.

The Rangers made it crystal clear last year that they were going to go through a re-tool. The fans were warned that popular players would be traded, but that didn’t make those changes any easier for them or the players remaining in that locker room.

It’s been an emotional week for the Rangers. As you’ve probably seen by now, Henrik Lundqvist was reduced to tears when he was asked about Mats Zuccarello no longer being on the roster. Losing pending unrestricted free agents Adam McQuaid and Kevin Hayes won’t be easier on them, either.

Zuccarello spent parts of nine seasons in New York before being traded to Dallas last weekend. In a short amount of time, he managed to become one of the franchise’s go-to offensive players. He accumulated 113 goals and 352 points in 509 games in the Big Apple. He added 31 more points in 60 postseason games. He was part of the Rangers squad that made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014.

As for Hayes, he also became an integral part of the team’s top-six forward group. The 26-year-old managed to score a career-high 25 goals last season, but the two sides couldn’t agree to a contract extension, so he ended up going to a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in Winnipeg.

Of course, nobody’s blaming general manager Jeff Gorton for pulling the trigger on these deals. The Rangers are 11 points out of a playoff spot and there’s no way they’ll be able to dig themselves out of that hole. So, instead of losing these players for nothing on July 1st, Gorton found a way to get assets for them.

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Even though it’s sound business, it still can’t be easy for that locker room to fill that void in the room.

“I knew, we knew, we all knew the situation we were in,” head coach David Quinn said of his first season in New York. “It’s been everything I thought it would be and more. I knew it was going to be very challenging but these guys have been very receptive to the things we’re trying to do… I love New York. It’s a great city. This experience, this job, has been everything I thought it was going to be. And I’ve enjoyed it probably a little bit more than I thought.”

The Rangers have some nice pieces like Mika Zibanejad, Brady Skjei, Chris Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich, Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil. As it stands right now, they have two first-round draft picks and three second-round draft picks in next summer’s NHL Entry Draft.

The veterans in the room will have to just wait for some of the youngsters to take a step forward or two and they’ll need to hope that the front office is able to make the most of the draft picks they have at their disposal. Until then, there’s nothing they can really do.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.