As Lindy Ruff departs the NY Rangers, focus is now on the Rangers defense in the playoffs. Ruff’s departure may not impact the system or the Rangers giving up the blue line by design, but it may impact the personnel used in the playoffs. Ruff certainly had his input on the defense pairs, and now Gord Murphy will have his own input.
Murphy spent the entire season in Hartford as an Associate Coach, and has worked with a few of the Rangers prospects that may be vying for a spot in the lineup. There is certainly an uphill battle for the kids, but there may be more open spots than expected.
There are four players that we know for sure will be in the lineup. Jacob Trouba, Tony DeAngelo, Adam Fox, and Ryan Lindgren will probably get the most ice time among all Rangers defensemen. They are the four best defensemen on the team right now. Lindgren’s emergence and subsequent chemistry with Fox made the Brady Skjei trade easier to swallow.
While it would be nice to see DeAngelo and Trouba as a pair, the Rangers are fixated on three left handed defensemen.
Let’s also be real here. Marc Staal isn’t sitting. He will be in the lineup, likely paired with DeAngelo.
The Veteran Everyman
Brendan Smith has been a trooper for the Rangers. His contract is certainly a bad one, but at least he’s found a way to stay relevant. Bouncing from the fourth line to the bottom pairing, he found himself a home with Trouba on the top pairing after the Skjei trade. How about that?
Smith (and Staal) is not a part of the Rangers’ future, that’s obvious. This is where the Gord Murphy factor comes to play. If there is an open spot on the roster, you can bet that Murphy will look at some of the kids he watched all year in Hartford. If there is any top-six spot at risk, it’s Smith’s.
Yegor Rykov and Libor Hajek are the two left defensemen that come to mind if Smith doesn’t win his spot outright in camp. Murphy has experience with both this season in Hartford, however both have had their own issues. Hajek’s issues are more well documented, especially at the NHL level, but Rykov struggled in Hartford this season. Remember he was a healthy scratch, but per Ricky Milliner, it appeared to be due to his adjustment to the North American game.
For either to beat out Smith, they are going to have to show that their struggles are behind them. Given the extent of Hajek’s struggles at both the NHL and AHL levels, that may not be in the cards this postseason. Based on people I’ve spoken to, Rykov may have the inside track, but it isn’t a guarantee by any means.
The Dark Horses
If you’re looking for dark horses that may make the NY Rangers playoff roster on defense, then start with Darren Raddysh. Raddysh had a solid season in Hartford this year, putting up 6-22-28 in 62 games. He actually led the Wolf Pack in scoring this season (Joey Keane was traded). He’s a RD though, so Smith’s spot may not be in the cards. He may be the first RD available as an injury replacement though.
Tarmo Reunanen, if he’s invited to camp, is someone to keep an eye on. Reunanen has put up solid seasons in Finland for the past two seasons. He doesn’t get the hype that some of the other prospects get, but he has the potential to be a steadying presence on the blue line. There’s a chance he’s already ahead of Hajek on the depth chart. If he comes over from Europe, that is.