The last time a trade was made between the Rangers and Devils, they were known as the Colorado Rockies way back in 1979. Before moving to New Jersey, the Rockies dealt star defenseman Barry Beck to the Rangers for Lucien DeBlois, Pat Hickey, Dean Turner and future considerations.
Since then, nothing had ever happened between the Rangers and Devils. That is until following last night’s games each played. The Hudson rivals made history with the first ever trade when the Rangers confirmed that they sent forward Michael Grabner to the Devils in exchange for 20-year old defense prospect Igor Rykov and their 2018 second round pick.
Indeed, you can mark down February 22, 2018 on your calendars. No. It won’t be remembered for another Rangers loss. The fifth straight in regulation this time at Montreal 3-1. It won’t be remembered on the Devils’ side either following a disappointing 4-2 loss on home ice to the Wild.
With the two clubs going in opposite directions, each saw a need to improve themselves. No longer does Lou Lamoriello run the Devils and neither does Glen Sather the Rangers. At least not directly. The Cold War between rivals is indeed over. Current Rangers GM Jeff Gorton and Devils GM Ray Shero made the first deal between the teams official.
Gorton made it with the future in mind acquiring puckmoving D prospect Rykov, who currently plays for St. Petersburg SKA on the KHL’s top team which includes top Rangers goalie prospect Igor Shestyorkin along with former NHL stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk. The former Devils 2016 fifth round pick has developed into a good defenseman posting two goals and 12 assists with a plus-13 rating in his second full season. He was a standout for Russia at the 2017 U20 World Junior Championship with a goal and six assists.
Being able to get a good young defenseman who they’ll still have to sign along with a second round pick which becomes their eighth pick of this year’s NHL Draft is a quality return for Grabner. The 30-year old two-way scoring forward was brilliant in his two years scoring 52 goals as a Blueshirt. He leaves for New Jersey with a team best 25 markers. Now he’ll be asked to provide the same scoring and checking for a Devils team in playoff contention.
Even after a second straight loss, the Devils are ahead of schedule in their rebuild. They’re sitting fourth in the Metropolitan Division with 70 points which locks them into the first wildcard. With the Islanders losing in a shootout to the Maple Leafs and the Blue Jackets falling to the Flyers who are now up to 74 points in third place, the Devils are five clear of each who are tied for the second wildcard with 65 points. Due to one less game played, Columbus would get in if the season ended today.
The Devils are hoping Grabner can provide a similar spark to a offense in need of secondary scoring help with Marcus Johansson still out with a second concussion. They have been carried by emerging darkhorse Hart candidate Taylor Hall, who extended his personal point streak to 20 games in a row with a goal. It’s considered 13 due to him not playing 20 straight. The 15 goals and 13 assists he’s totaled over that span have been remarkable.
On a team still without starting goaltender Cory Schneider and devoid of scoring depth outside the lethal top line featuring Hall, improving 2017 first overall pick Nico Hischier and slumping rookie Jesper Bratt, Shero had to do something. Too often, it hinges on Hall and Hischier to deliver the big goals.
Miles Wood has been instrumental in his second season scoring 16 times. He returned to the lineup after serving the second game of a two-game suspension for a dirty hit from behind in a recent big win over Tampa. Wood assisted on Stefan Noesen’s tally that made it 2-0 before the Wild rallied for three straight goals in less than a six-minute span. Eric Staal iced it with a empty netter.
Maybe Grabner can relieve some of the pressure on Bratt, who hasn’t scored a goal since Jan. 20. His ice-time has decreased the past couple of games under coach John Hynes. Growing pains are part of the process for the 19-year old Swede who’s been a pleasant surprise scoring 12 goals with 21 assists after being stolen in the sixth round in 2016.
Kyle Palmieri is finally healthy. He picked up a helper last night. If he can find the touch, it would go a long way to helping the Devs secure their first postseason berth since 2012.
They have plenty of checking in inspirational center Brian Boyle, Travis Zajac and Noesen. They’re looking for more scoring. Betting on the smart, speedy Grabner who has done almost all his damage at 5-on-5 is smart. He has 24 of his 25 goals at even strength with one shorthanded. That includes seven empty netters. He is proven 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill where his gamebreaking speed can give the Devils another shorthanded threat.
For Grabner, who can test the market this summer if he makes it to July 1, he becomes the 12th player in NHL history to play for all three locals. He began his career with Vancouver before scoring a career high 34 goals and 52 points for the Islanders in ‘10-11. He lasted nearly five years before getting dealt to Toronto where he played on the fourth line but couldn’t rediscover his scoring ability that helped him become a two-time 20 goalscorer on the Island.
It was under coach Alain Vigneault that Grabner excelled. Emphasizing a speed, skating system based on transition, it was a perfect fit. To think he signed for two years at $3.3 million. Grabner has always had great wheels and defensive instincts that create breakaways and odd-man rushes. He finished his chances on Broadway becoming a fan favorite. His 27 goals were second to Chris Kreider last season and his 25 paced the team.
Now, he gets to complete the trifecta by playing for the Devils after successful runs with the Islanders and Rangers. Will it only be a rental? Time shall tell. He definitely should help the Devs.
A few notables to play for all three teams include Sergei Nemchinov, Arron Asham, Mike Dunham, John Vanbiesbrouck and Kevin Weekes.