Rooney gets last spot on Rangers’ protected list for expansion draft

Fourth-line center and penalty killer Kevin Rooney got the final spot on the Rangers’ 11-man protected list for Wednesday’s NHL expansion draft, which the league revealed Sunday. Rooney, signed as a free agent from the Devils before last season, got the spot over last season’s surprise find, Colin Blackwell, and underachieving 23-year-old Julien Gauthier.

As expected, defenseman Tony DeAngelo, banished from the team in late January after instigating a fight with teammate Alexandar Georgiev, was among the players left unprotected by the Rangers, as were Long Islanders Keith Kinkaid and Anthony Bitetto.

There hadn’t been much suspense as far as who would be on the Rangers’ protected list. With teams able to protect seven forwards, three defenseman and a goaltender, and with the Rangers not needing to protect first- and second-year professionals, there weren’t many tough calls for President and GM Chris Drury to make. Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox was exempt from the draft, as were Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere, and K’Andre Miller.

The first six forwards – Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich, Ryan Strome and Filip Chytil – were pretty easy to figure out, and defensemen Jacob Trouba, Ryan Lindgren and Libor Hajek were the obvious choices for the defense. With No. 1 goalie Igor Shesterkin exempt, as a second-year player, backup Georgiev, 25, made more sense to protect than Kinkaid, the No. 3 goalie who turned 32 on July 4.

The only slight wrinkle came when the Blueshirts on Saturday traded forward Brett Howden to the Vegas Golden Knights. Howden, 23, had been expected to be the last forward protected, but by trading him away for a fourth-round draft pick in 2022, plus minor league defenseman Nick DeSimone, allowed Drury to protect Rooney instead.

Rooney, 28, helped improve the Rangers’ penalty kill in 2021 and posted career highs in goals (8), assists (6) and points (14) in 54 games. He scored two shorthanded goals, and won 45 percent of his faceoffs, second best among regular centers on the team, behind Zibanejad’s 46.3 percent.

Blackwell, also 28, had bounced around the minor leagues before signing with the Rangers as a free agent prior to last season. He started the season on the taxi squad, but scored a goal in his first game, in Pittsburgh, and kept scoring. He ended up with career highs in games played (47), goals (12), assists (10) and points (22).

Bitetto, from Island Park, was the seventh defenseman for most of the season in 2021. He missed time with a lower body injury and played in 14 games, scoring one goal, with three assists. Kinkaid appeared in nine games (seven starts) in 2021 and went 3-2-1, with a 2.59 goals-against average and an .898 save percentage.

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