Over the last week or so, Rangers center Derek Stepan’s name has come up prominently in trade rumors, which have been confirmed by many of the most clued in hockey insiders. Then, six days ago, Rangers insider Larry Brooks sent out this tweet:
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The Rangers announced today that they have re-signed forward Matt Puempel to a one-year deal, worth $725,000. The signing appears to be Jeff Gorton trying to add another player to the expansion draft, with the Blueshirts now being compliant for next week’s draft. With Jesper Fast, Oscar Lindberg, Antti Raanta and Michael Grabner all top candidates to be selected by Vegas, this gives George McPhee another player to look at from his former team. Should Puempel “survive” the expansion draft, he will be able to compete for a roster spot out of training camp.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are over, and now the fun begins. ‘Tis the season of rumors: trades, free agents, drafts, and buyouts. This time of the year, every Rangers fan gets to put on their GM hat and spew their best trades and clever signings that will put the Blueshirts over the top, once and for all. Everybody and their dog has the perfect acquisition or transaction that will finally lead us to the canyon of heroes this time next year, for the first time since 1994.
Around the trade deadline, all of the conversation amongst Rangers fans was about acquiring then St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. He certainly has value to the Blueshirts being a right-handed shot who is good both offensively and defensively. And while he would certainly improve the blue line, the cost at which it would come might not be so worth it.
With Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta between the pipes for Alain Vigneault’s club, there was not much to worry about entering the 2016-17 season. But unfortunately for all involved, that was not the case. Henrik had an off year, to say the least, and Raanta did an admirable job in keeping the team on track. With Raanta a viable candidate for the Golden Knights in the Expansion Draft, and Henrik Lundqvist starting to show his age a bit, the Rangers find themselves at a crossroads with their goalies. Should Vegas select Raanta, the Rangers don’t have much in the way of an NHL-caliber backup within the organization.
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.