Rangers Sign Top Free Agent Artemi Panarin

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(WFAN) -- The Rangers scored big in the opening minutes of free agency Monday, signing star winger Artemi Panarin.

TSN's Bob McKenzie reported the seven-year deal is worth $11.642 million a year. That makes Panarin the NHL's second-highest paid player, only behind Edmonton's Connor McDavid ($12.5 million). 

After Panarin turned down an eight-year, $96 million contract offer to remain with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday night, the 27-year-old Russian was reportedly choosing between the Rangers, Islanders and Florida Panthers.

NHL free agency began at noon Monday.

In four NHL seasons -- two with the Chicago Blackhawks, two with the Blue Jackets -- Panarin has registered 61 goals and 90 assists (151 points). He had 87 points last season (28 goals, 59 assists) for a Columbus team that won its first playoff series in franchise history by upsetting Presidents' Trophy winner Tampa Bay.

The Rangers cleared out $2.35 million in cap space earlier Monday by trading winger Jimmy Vesey to the Buffalo Sabres

The Blueshirts have had quite the offseason, also highlighted by trading with the Winnipeg Jets for defenseman Jacob Trouba and drafting Finnish forward Kaapo Kakko No. 2 overall.

At Madison Square Garden, Panarin will be reunited with John Davidson, who left Columbus in May to become the Rangers' president. Davidson brought Panarin to the Blue Jackets in a trade two years ago.