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:
Tag Archives: Nick Holden
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.
On June 20, 2017, the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights will draft 30 players left unprotected by the rest of the teams in the NHL. The next day, the results will be announced during the NHL awards show (unless they are leaked earlier, of course). There promises to be a lot of player movement in two high-stakes games, chess and “chicken”. Golden Knights GM George McPhee could bluff his way into a treasure trove of draft picks and prospects, by claiming to be picking a player he may or may not have any intention of taking. He could tell Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton that he is deciding between Michael Grabner and Anti Raanta. If Gorton feels strongly about keeping one or the other, he may have to pay a price to dissuade McPhee from taking the player he would like to keep.
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.
Long-time Senators enforcer Chris Neil is playing his first post season game for a reason. He’s there to goad Tanner Glass into a fight and try and get the Canadian Tire Centre crowd into a frenzy. The way the Rangers played in games 3 and 4 was way over the Sens heads. Alas, that Ranger team never made it through customs. The team got off to a good start, taking advantage of the over zealous home team with odd man breaks. Jesper Fast scored on a great one time open net shot off a Brendan Smith feed. Just over a minute later Nick Holden was given a lead pass by Jimmy Vesey and he fired it by Craig Anderson’s left shoulder. But this is not the same team we saw the last two games. Just over a minute later, Mark Stone got a loose puck past Henrik Lundqvist to end the Rangers prosperity. From there, they didn’t do any of the things that made them so successful in games 3 and 4. Frequently out of position, where at MSG, they were always in the right place. Lundqvist literally stood on his head, diving from one side of the net to the other in one sequence, to keep the puck out during an Ottawa PP. The hockey in this period was loose, and full of holes. The play had an eerily similar feel to game 2. Neil tries to get Glass to fight, but smartly, the Rangers aren’t granting that request. It becomes obvious that Neil is dressed for that one reason since his ice time his extremely limited. Ottawa did outshoot the Rangers 15-10, with Lundqvist being the only reason New York has a lead.
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) May 6, 2017
This period starts with less emotion. But as it unfolds, the Blueshirts are not inspiring any confidence. They are constantly leaving gaps they weren’t leaving at home. Senators chances are getting better and better, as the mistakes all over the ice reach epidemic proportions. Rick Nash gives the puck away in the offensive zone, which leads to an odd man rush by Ottawa. The backchecking Rangers fail to pick up the wide open Mike Hoffman, who has time to brush his teeth, before firing the puck into a wide open net. And, about 30 seconds later, on the next rush into the Rangers zone, Zack Smith fires from an angle and the puck hits off Tom Pyatt and redirects in, to make it 3-2. Meanwhile the Rangers attempts at offense basically looks like a team trying to pass the puck into the net, with too many Rangers afraid to shoot, unless they see a yawning net. J.T. Miller has been guilty of this for not only the entire postseason (11 games), but for the last 10 games of the regular season as well. Michael Grabner, one of the few Rangers willing to shoot, grabbed a rebound, right before the end of the period and banks it off Ryan McDonagh and in to tie the game.
— NBCSN (@NBCSN) May 6, 2017
Marc Staal, who has had a terrible series, gives the puck away and allows a breakaway to Bobby Ryan. Lundqvist makes a big stop to save Staal’s bacon. Chris Kreider gets a breakaway of his own but is thwarted by Anderson. It seems like whenever Staal is on the ice, fans have their hearts in their throats. His puck handling and skating are a big issue in this one. With just over seven minutes left, Derek Stepan wins an offensive zone draw and gets it to Brady Skjei, who sends the puck on goal. Anderson leaves a rebound to his left, and Jimmy Vesey makes a spectacular dive and backhand shot in one motion, and gets the puck over the goal line, despite Anderson’s heroic glove attempt. It was the type of effort by Vesey, that should have won the game. That it didn’t, is an indictment of the entire team. Pretty much from the ensuing faceoff, the Sens kept the pressure on. Giving up open shots, allowing long possessions in their zone, constant icings, all the absolute wrong things to do when trying to win a playoff game. And of course, after a few icings in a row, the soft Rangers defense allowed the puck to constantly get to the net, when Smith kicked it into his own net.
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) May 6, 2017
You would have to be the most delusional Rangers fan to have a positive feeling entering overtime. They did nothing well after the superhuman effort goal by Vesey. When the puck drops it almost immediately goes into the Rangers zone, and barely ever leaves. The ONE time it did, the puck actually did wind up in the Ottawa net. But, unfortunately, Grabner whacked it in with a high stick. So the only Ranger shot of the overtime was wiped off the board. Ottawa went right back to controlling play as the Rangers hung around and watched. On a play that started behind the Ottawa net, the puck went up the ice and into the New York zone, like a hot knife through butter. Kyle Turris gained the zone, with too much room and speed, and shot it into Dan Girardi. The puck came right back to Turris, who fired again and beat Lundqvist between the legs to end the blueshirts misery. Three playoff games with leads, tied with under 2 minutes left. All three were played with the Rangers in a defensive shell, trying to kill the ticking clock, and making the worst, most panicked type of hockey plays. I believe they will come back and win game 6 in the Garden. But their play in Ottawa gives me no confidence that this team can win a game 7 there, despite being the clearly better team.