New Ranger Alex Wennberg takes red-eye to morning practice, excited for playoff push

TARRYTOWN, New York — Alex Wennberg started packing up his belongings in Seattle before he knew where he was headed. Kraken management had told him he was going to move before Friday’s trade deadline, and the team kept him out of games to make sure he didn’t get hurt.

“It’s been a different experience, for sure, sitting and waiting,” he said. “Obviously anxious to get away.”

He finally received clarity Wednesday when New York acquired him from Seattle for a 2024 second-round pick and a 2025 fourth-round pick. Speaking from his new locker Thursday, he called the Rangers “the most exciting thing I’ve been a part of.”

“(The) opportunity is great,” the 29-year-old said. “For me, getting from a team, Seattle — we’ve been fighting to get in — and now instead I feel like I can help this team push (for) the playoffs, and I want to win the Cup as well.”

Wennberg, who has 25 points in 60 games this season, got to New York as quickly as he could, hopping on a red-eye plane with his wife and son and landing Thursday morning. His wife, Felicia, is pregnant with their second child and, after the trade, she posted “(Let’s) get this baby in a cup” on her Instagram story. Wennberg made it to the practice facility in time for 11 a.m. skate and took the ice wearing a No. 91 jersey.

The Rangers acquired Wennberg to bolster their center depth, which became a greater need when the team ruled Filip Chytil out for the season. Wennberg will likely slot in on the third line and at points skated between Will Cuylle and Jimmy Vesey at practice Thursday, though he rotated with other bottom-six wingers as well. He’ll get to practice again Friday before making his Rangers debut Saturday against St. Louis.

“He’s going to be well-acclimated,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “Having two days of practice and being able to get with him in video and working on a couple of drills each day out here with regards to the system, I think that helps acclimate him and work him into it.”

Wennberg already has familiarity with a few Rangers players. He was teammates with Artemi Panarin in Columbus, and he has known fellow Swedes Mika Zibanejad and Erik Gustafsson since his teenage years. They all played on various levels of the Swedish club team Drugardens and went to the same high school.

Zibanejad and Gustafsson gave Wennberg a tour of the locker room when he arrived, and they chatted with him on the ice after practice ended.

“I have my Swedes here that take care of me,” the newcomer said.

Zibanejad didn’t reach out to Wennberg as his name began circulating in rumors — he didn’t want to seem like he was more in the know than he was — but he messaged his new teammate shortly after the deal went through. He praised the center’s hockey sense, two-way play and passing ability.

“He’s a great person and I’m sure it will be no problem with him coming into the team and meshing well with the guys,” Zibanejad said. “It’s fun to have guys coming in that you played with or that you know.”

Wennberg is a strong defensive player and often went against opposing team’s top players while with the Kraken. He could take on a similar role with New York.

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“It’s really important to have a player or line like that that can be put together and do a specific job,” Laviolette said. “Still, for me, more of a versatile player. You watch him out here, he skates really well, he moves really well, his hands are smooth and he’s put up points in his career. So for me more of a two-way forward, but the fact that he has been used in that role and succeeded in that, I think that’s a plus for us as well.”

The coach, who called Wennberg shortly after the trade went through, said that having the center could allow him to start the top two lines less in the defensive zone and put them in better offensive situations.

“Obviously they’ve got that firepower,” Wennberg said. “For me to slot in as a third-line center, I think that’s perfect. I can play both sides. So if it’s to play a 200-foot game, (penalty kill) or whatever, I’m ready for it.”

Wennberg went through penalty kill drills at practice, and Laviolette plans to use him as one of six forwards on the unit.

Like many of the Rangers, Wennberg has playoff experience but has never reached a Stanley Cup Final. He has 17 points in 42 postseason games and helped the Kraken upset Colorado last season before losing in seven games to Dallas. Seattle struggled to build off its successful 2022-23 season though, and its middle-of-the-pack record led Ron Francis to trade Wennberg. Now the center has another chance to help a playoff team.

“It’s a dream come true playing for the Rangers,” he said.

General manager Chris Drury is still looking to add to the roster beyond just Wennberg. With Blake Wheeler out for at least the rest of the regular season and likely the playoffs, the Rangers need a top-six wing and have reportedly expressed interest in Penguins standout Jake Guentzel. A Frank Vatrano reunion could also make sense. On top of that, Drury might look to target a left-shot defenseman to add depth.

The Wennberg addition helps New York, but it’s almost certainly only the start of the front office’s deadline moves.

(Photo: Jared Silber / NHLI via Getty Images)

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