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Artemi Panarin has Rangers on radar, but they’re not the favorite

The prevailing thought in the NHL is that the prize of the free-agent market, winger Artemi Panarin, has narrowed his choices to the Rangers, Islanders and Panthers. Florida is believed to be the leading contender for Panarin because there are no state taxes and the Panthers have hired his former coach with the Blackhawks, Joel Quenneville, but the Rangers and Islanders cannot be ruled out.

No offers can formally be made until the opening of the market on Monday but it is believed Panarin and his camp will finish this week-long courting period that began Sunday having met with at least all three teams to get a feeling of what might work best.

Panarin’s agent, Paul Theofanous, was at the Rangers’ prospect camp scrimmage in Stamford, Conn., on Wednesday, watching from the stands with his children. Theofanous also represents Vitali Kravtsov, the Rangers’ No. 9-overall pick in 2018, who was participating in the scrimmage.

Panarin hired Theofanous in February after firing Dan Milstein, the agent who put out the statement saying they would not negotiate with the Blue Jackets on a new deal and that the 27-year-old Russian would hit the open market no matter what. Theofanous is Panarin’s third agent since coming to the NHL in 2015.

The Rangers are surely interested in Panarin, but the demand for a seven-year deal worth somewhere between $11 million and $12 million per year might be too pricey. It also wouldn’t match the value the Panthers would be able to offer because of Florida’s lack of income tax. That is a similarly attractive selling point for free-agent goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, a fellow Russian who played with Panarin in Columbus.

Kaapo Kakko, the Rangers’ No. 2-overall pick from last weekend’s draft, got into his first game action and had some good moments. The 18-year-old Finnish winger said it “wasn’t easy,” as the most recent time he was on the ice was at the men’s World Championships in Slovakia more than a month ago.

As has been the case each day this week, Kakko spent some time signing autographs and taking pictures with fans. He also went to the Yankees game on Tuesday night, when fans sitting in nearby seats started a “Let’s go Rangers!” chant.

Despite high expectations, Kakko said he thinks the pressure has subsided.

“It was so high before the draft. Not now,” he said. “This is so good place for me.”

Neither defenseman Nils Lundkvist nor forward Morgan Barron skated, due to unspecified precaution. … Winger Riley Hughes, the Rangers’ 2018 seventh-round pick, who is heading to Northeastern in the fall, did not skate after having hand surgery six weeks ago. He said he isn’t cleared for contact yet, but should be in about another week.

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