NEW YORK — The Rangers have had their eyes on Wojtek Wolski for quite some time. A slew of injuries provided the push for New York to go get him.
Wolski was acquired by the Rangers in a trade Monday that sent veteran defenceman Michal Rozsival to the Phoenix Coyotes. New York has depth on defence with several young players — so much so that 20-year-old Michael Del Zotto was sent down to the AHL — and the 32-year-old Rozsival became expendable.
“We like our young defence,” Rangers general manager Glen Sather said during a conference call. “We think they’re all progressing very well. We know it’s a little risky, but with the opportunity to do something here with a 24-year-old guy that has been an obvious goal-scorer and a pretty high talent, we thought it was too good of an opportunity to turn down.”
Sather said he talked to Coyotes general manager Don Maloney — his former assistant with the Rangers — about a month ago, but it wasn’t the right time for either side to make a deal.
New York was already missing Ryan Callahan and Erik Christensen up front when forward Alex Frolov was lost Saturday night to a season-ending knee injury.
“Things became a little more urgent, so I was getting a few more calls,” Sather said. “Sometimes those things just come up, and it came up fairly quickly today.”
Wolski — a left wing — has six goals and 10 assists in 36 games this season with Phoenix. However, he has only three points in 17 games. Last season, he had career highs with 23 goals, 42 assists and 65 points in 80 games split between Colorado and Phoenix, while posting a plus-21 rating. He is minus-6 this season.
“We think we have some players that he can be successful with,” Sather said. “We think our coaching team will be able to get the best out of him. He’s six foot three, he’s a great skater, he sees the ice well, he’s got a terrific shot, he’s good around the net. We think we can get that consistently out of him.”
In 356 NHL games, Wolski — the No. 21 pick in the 2004 draft — has 85 goals and 142 assists. He is also a shootout specialist, setting the record for a single season by scoring 10 times in 12 chances during 2008-09.
Wolski has seven goals and seven assists in 22 career playoff games with Colorado and Phoenix.
“I was surprised last year when Colorado traded him,” Sather said. “I have been kind of watching him, and things haven’t been going as well as he probably expected in Phoenix.
“I think Donnie probably wasn’t as happy with him as he was when he got him at the deadline and then through the playoffs.”
Rozsival has been with the Rangers since signing as a free agent in August 2005. At times he incurred the wrath of home fans at Madison Square Garden, but Sather said he never complained about it.
“I know Michal well from my time with the Rangers,” Maloney said in a statement. “He is an intelligent, puck-moving defenceman who can play heavy minutes against good players. He will make our strong defence even better.”
Rozsival signed with the Rangers in August 2005 after spending four seasons with Pittsburgh. He has three goals and 12 assists in 32 games this season.
“It was a good opportunity for us to get younger and bigger and give the kids the opportunity on defence to play,” Sather said. “I was very happy with the way Rozie played. He’s a good player, he’s durable, he works hard, he played through a lot of pain through his career. We have nothing but good things to say about him. He was treated a little unfairly once in a while, but he was a guy who was the ultimate professional.”
Rozsival’s departure will give the Rangers salary cap relief, too, cutting the team’s hit by US$1.2 million. Rozsival is earning $4 million this season and will be paid $3 million next season. He has been slowed recently by a rib injury that forced him to miss the past two games.
“It gives us more opportunities to do a few other things that may come up in the future,” Sather said of the cap flexibility. “It was a situation that was easy for us to make for a lot of reasons.”