According to TSN Insider Bob McKenzie, UFA defenseman Brendan Smith is closing in on a four-year deal with a $4.35 million AAV with the Rangers. Smith was acquired by the Rangers at the deadline last season for a second and third round pick from the Detroit Red Wings and brought a nice snarl and edge to the Rangers blueline. He formed a nice tandem with Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei toward the end of the regular season and playoffs.
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The Rangers have traded Antti Raanta and Derek Stepan to Arizona, as well as Oscar Lindberg being selected by Vegas, Jeff Gorton now has a lot of cap space to complete his roster for next season. But with these moves, the Rangers have lost two centermen and a backup goalie that need replacing. Add in Dan Girardi’s buyout, and Gorton will have to find all the right pieces to fill in those gaps.
According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein may be retiring during this offseason. The veteran Rangers defenseman was a bit of a disappointment this season, with his play dropping significantly. Klein only made it into 60 regular season games and was a healthy scratch for eleven of the team’s twelve postseason matches. After being expected to be in the Rangers “top four” entering the 2016-17 campaign, Klein looked lost from his first time on the ice back in October.
Entering the 2016-17 season, the biggest concern for the Rangers was their defensive corps. Aside from team captain Ryan McDonagh, the entire back end was a giant question mark. Would Kevin Klein be able to sustain his successful play from 2015? Could Dan Girardi and Marc Staal bounce back from very sub-par campaigns? How would Nick Holden and Adam Clendening fit into the Rangers defense? And finally, how would Brady Skjei develop in his first full season on Broadway?
And then you have the moves Jeff Gorton made during the season. Was trading Dylan Mcilrath the right move? How would Brendan Smith adjust to the Rangers system after being brought in during the trade deadline? All of these questions left the pundits to question how well the Blueshirts would do this season. Now that the dust has settled a bit, let’s look back on how the Rangers blueliners fared this season.
Earlier this week, we published a story on Neal Pionk and his potential impact for the Rangers next season. Today we’re going to look at a different kind of defenseman. One who is bigger, more of a shutdown type player and has played professionally in Russia for the last three seasons. His name is Alexei Bereglazov and he already has a professional championship under his belt, winning the Gagarin Cup with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in 2016. Just who is he and what are his chances at a roster spot next season? Let’s get into it.
Bereglazov, 23, who stands 6’4” and weighs roughly 200 pounds, is no slouch. If we compare that to the Rangers current defensive corps, he’s the third largest in terms of size and weight behind Marc Staal and Nick Holden. Having a big body never hurt, especially on defense, even if the trend in the NHL is now to have a bit smaller of a defense that can skate and rush the puck.
What teams look for in a potential signee is if they see some form of progression in their play. Bereglazov increased his points totals year after year, and solidified his defensive play on the ice, evidenced by his plus/minus trending towards the plus side more and more each year. Bereglazov was signed this past season after showing immense growth from his first few seasons in the KHL. In his first three seasons playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, he registered only 14 combined points, but his breakout started during the 2016 Gagarin Cup playoffs. That year, when he won the Gagarin Cup, he scored two goals and six assists for eight points in 22 playoff games. He played 58 regular season games that season and only had eight points.
His breakout continued this past season when he scored 19 points with one goal and 18 assists in the regular season. If we look at his playoff stats as well, things begin to look even better, as Bereglazov earned six assists in 13 games during Magnitogorsk’s run to the Gagarin Cup Finals this past spring.
Contract wise, Bereglazov has a $925,000 cap hit with a European assignment clause in his contract; the same as Pavel Buchnevich. For those unfamiliar with that, it basically means that if Bereglazov is assigned to Hartford during the season, he has the option to return to the KHL at the end of the season. This is a good thing for the Rangers because if Bereglazov happens to not work out how they hope and he happens to spend a lot of time in Hartford he can leave.
So does Bereglazov have a legit shot to make the team? Just like Pionk, it depends on just how radically the Rangers defense changes this summer. It’s almost guaranteed that one of Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Nick Holden, and Kevin Klein will be gone this summer with possibly another of them leaving or (unlikely but possible) three or four of them. If one spot is all that is open it is going to be a dogfight between Pionk, Bereglazov, Ryan Graves, possibly even Sean Day and others to see who can fill that spot. One of the things possibly helping Bereglazov though is that he is a left-handed shot who plays the right side of the ice. The Rangers need help on the right side of the ice and if he can make an impression during training camp and the preseason… who knows?
One last point I’d like to make about Bereglazov is that unlike Pionk, Graves, Day and other Rangers defense prospects is that he has played primarily on European ice surfaces. European ice surfaces are larger than their North American cousins and players usually have to go through a period of transition if they’re coming from overseas. Forwards and defensemen both have to learn how to adjust their play style and address issues such as gap control.
The New York Rangers are hoping that Bereglazov will translate his game to the NHL rather quickly and if he plays well it only helps GM Jeff Gorton as he makes the decision on how to revamp his team’s defensive corps.
It’s no secret to any Rangers fan that this summer the Rangers seriously need to upgrade their defense. When you take a look around the league it’s not about having a big hulking defense anymore. It’s about having a mobile defense that can skate, join the rush, and make that crucial pass. Having a great shot doesn’t hurt either. The Rangers need to retool their defense this summer and one key move may have already been a step in the right direction: the signing of UMD defensemen Neal Pionk.