Rangers Hold On To Valuable D-Man

By: Leo Scaglione Jr., Pinch-Hitting For the Maven

Brendan Smith very much enjoyed his time with the Rangers after he was dealt to New York prior to the trade deadline this past season.

“This was arguably the best team I’ve been on,” Smith, 28, said following the season. “I really enjoyed playing here. It was a lot of fun being a Ranger.”

The Rangers were equally enthused with the 6-foot-2, 211-pound defenseman, and his play through the end of the season and two-round Stanley Cup playoff run.

It comes as no surprise then that the two sides agreed on a new contract just two days before Smith was set to become an unrestricted free agent.

The Rangers acquired Smith, a native of Mimico, Ontario, from the Detroit Red Wings on February 28 in exchange for the Rangers’ own third-round pick in the 2017 NHL draft and the Ottawa Senators’ second-round pick in the 2018 draft. With New York, Smith scored a goal, added three assists, had a plus-2 rating, and accumulated 29 penalty minutes in 18 regular-season contests to close out the campaign.

[Gorton Explains Why Rangers Traded For Smith]

After using the final month of the season to acclimate to the Big Apple, Smith shined in the postseason, during which he tallied four assists and 20 penalty minutes in a dozen games. He also finished with a plus-8 rating, which was first on the Rangers, tied for fifth among NHL defensemen and tied for 10th in the league overall.

In total in 2016-17, Smith notched 9 points (3 goals, 6 assists), along with a plus-1 rating and 63 penalty minutes in 51 games with the Rangers and Red Wings, and he recorded a career-high 19:14 in average ice time per game. With New York, he averaged 20:09 of ice time per game, hit the 20:00 mark in 11 of his 18 games, and ranked second on the club in average even-strength ice time (18:20).

In 309 career NHL games, Smith, who was selected 27th overall by Detroit in the 2007 draft, has registered 71 points (16 goals, 55 assists), a plus-2 rating and 310 penalty minutes. In 39 career playoff matches, he has totaled 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists), a plus-9 rating and 44 penalty minutes.

With the Rangers, Smith showed snarl and grit nightly in front of the club’s crease, making the area a miserable place to play for opposing forwards. On the flip side, he jelled with 23-year-old rookie blueliner Brady Skjei, and the two became a formidable shutdown pairing for the Rangers.

[Hockey Analytics: Skjei & Smith Mobile and Shutdown Defenders]

An added bonus for the Blueshirts is that Smith, who owns a left-handed shot, showed an ability to play exceptionally well defensively on the right side.

Securing Smith was also important for General Manager Jeff Gorton with the opening of free agency on July 1. Gorton now seeks to fill the void at center and at backup goaltender position after he traded pivot Derek Stepan and netminder Antti Raanta to the Arizona Coyotes for 21-year-old defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick in this year’s draft. The pick then became center Lias Andersson. Another center, Oscar Lindberg, was lost in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Gorton also has several pending restricted free agents to ink, including forwards Mika Zibanejad and Jesper Fast.

Following the Blueshirts’ buy-out of veteran defenseman Dan Girardi earlier this month, the returning Rangers on the back end for next season are captain Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Nick Holden, Skjei and, for the moment, Kevin Klein, who according to reports is contemplating retirement.

That list, of course, now includes Smith, who will seek to climb another rung as he enters his first full season on Broadway.