Rangers get their guy in defenseman Brendan Smith


The Rangers got their guy landing much rumored former Detroit defenseman Brendan Smith for a 2017 third round pick and a 2018 second round pick to upgrade the blue line. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYRangers.

As expected, the Rangers got their guy. No. It wasn’t Kevin Shattenkirk, who will debut for the Caps in tonight’s game at MSG. No way was GM Jeff Gorton overpaying for the New Rochelle native who is rumored to want to sign here this summer.

Instead, Gorton made the wiser move acquiring Brendan Smith from the Red Wings in exchange for a 2017 third round pick and 2018 second round pick. The second rounder is the same one acquired from Ottawa in last year’s Derick Brassard deal that landed Mika Zibanejad. The 28-year old left defenseman is in his sixth season. He’s your classic possession player. With a career Corsi of 54.9, the Rangers are banking on the impending unrestricted free agent to aid a weak blue line.

In 33 games this season for Detroit, Smith has two goals and three assists with 34 penalty minutes along with a 50.0 Corsi rating. A player who averages 18:44 of ice-time who had been receiver over 20 minutes recently since returning from an injury, the 6-2, 211 pound Smith will be looked upon to give the Rangers back end a boost.

With second pair Marc Staal and Nick Holden struggling, it’s a good addition. One that became necessary with Dan Girardi out 10 to 14 days with an ankle injury. The right pair defenseman who has played mostly with Ryan McDonagh will get much needed rest to recover. Not the worst thing in the world for the veteran.

Kevin Klein still isn’t ready to return. Back spasms will keep him out again. Super sub Adam Clendening will play for the 16th time in the last 23 games. A better skating right defenseman who’s meshed well with budding rookie Brady Skjei on the third pair, it might be worth keeping the 24-year old Clendening in the lineup even after Klein is healthy.

A puck possession D, Clendening has a career best 57.3 Corsi in 24 games. An offensive player who can get his shot on net, he scored a crucial tying goal in a comeback win over the Devils. In 24 contests, he’s 2-7-9 with 12 penalty minutes and a plus-six rating. That includes 34 shots. It might be time to find out what they have. He’s never been given a real chance with other teams.

Clendening isn’t the strongest in his end. He can struggle in one-on-one situations on the forecheck. But his speed and first pass is an asset. So is his compete level. A blue line featuring McDonagh, Smith, Skjei and Clendening is an upgrade due to more possession. That would also mean Alain Vigneault could rotate Staal and Girardi. Holden has exceeded expectations but has come back to earth. Where does that leave Klein?

At the very least, the Rangers should have improved defensive depth when everyone is healthy. The onus is on the coach to play the right players based on the match-ups. With Girardi out and Klein also unable to go, they recalled vet Steven Kampfer from Hartford. Once they did that, everyone knew a trade was happening. There was no way Kampfer was dressing against the Caps.

So, will the Smith addition work? It can’t hurt. I’m glad the two picks are split up. Bob McKenzie mistakenly had the second round pick for 2017 before correcting himself. Is it over payment for a rental who can sign elsewhere in July? Probably. But it’s a move that had to be made.

Who knows? Maybe if Smith fits in and likes it here, he’ll re-sign. He makes $3.25 million.With the Las Vegas expansion coming, figure Klein to be left unprotected. If Clendening can continue to show improvement, here’s hoping they keep him. He’s restricted this summer.

So, is this it for Gorton? It says here that this team can still use one more forward to play on either the third or fourth line. I’d like to see him add one more piece. And by that, someone who is capable of contributing offensively and will add a physical element that the team so desperately lacks.

There’s a little over 24 hours left until tomorrow’s trade deadline. The clock is ticking.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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