Drury, Rangers make a splash at deadline by adding Copp, Motte and Braun

On Monday afternoon right before 3 PM, the Rangers completed a successful day by acquiring forwards Andrew Copp and Tyler Motte at the NHL Trade Deadline. Earlier on March 21, they added defenseman Justin Braun.

With his team sitting in second place only three points back of first place Carolina following the Alex Georgiev gem on Sunday, Rangers Team President and GM Chris Drury worked the phones earlier today. He was able to upgrade the roster without sacrificing too much.

If they go on a run this postseason, Ranger fans will remember this day. It had already been circled on the hockey calendar around the league. It’s exciting to see a team with a good core that’s ready to compete with the big boys. Whatever happens this Spring, it’s only the beginning.

In the first of three moves, the Rangers acquired veteran defenseman Justin Braun from the Flyers. Repeat. They made a trade with the rival Philadelphia Flyers. In the deal to get Braun, they sent back a third round pick in 2023.

When I first caught wind of it, I wasn’t too crazy about it. But after my initial reaction,  it’s not the worst idea to bring in a proven 35-year old who has 100 games of playoff experience. For over a decade spent with both the Sharks and Flyers, Braun is a tough customer who will take the body and block shots.

In 61 contests this season, he has five goals, 11 assists and 36 penalty minutes with a plus-3 rating while averaging over 20 minutes a night. He’s blocked 114 shots with 79 hits. For a defensive defenseman who mostly starts in his own zone, those are solid numbers.

Is Braun here as insurance? That depends on Gerard Gallant and Gord Murphy. They are responsible for who’s in the lineup. Considering the recent struggles of Braden Schneider over the weekend, he might be hitting a rookie wall. He and partner Patrik Nemeth were pinned in their end often.

Schneider made some mistakes. He’s only 20. The ice time was a little down. It also was a back-to-back situation in less than 24 hours. If he is the odd man out, it’s understandable. As much as we’d like to see him get that valuable playoff experience, they have to do what’s best for his development.

It doesn’t mean he won’t play. There are 19 games remaining on the schedule. Let’s see what Gallant and the coaching staff think. Getting a defenseman was a need. They have been rolling the same six for a while. Schneider can use a breather. Maybe watching from the press box can help. Plus working on his game in practice.

As other teams made moves, we had to wait it out. A night earlier, the Jets had reaccquired Mason Appleton from the Kraken in exchange for a 2023 fourth round pick. That was a hint that the much rumored Andrew Copp was on the move.

Approximately 11 minutes before the 3 PM deadline which went way past that due to a long delay, Darren Dreger all but confirmed that the Rangers were about to get Copp. It was confirmed from other reliable sources.

When it was revealed, it really ended the worst kept secret. Like quite a few pundits, I felt that Copp would be the perfect addition to the Rangers’ lineup. He checks off a lot of boxes.

The 27-year old center wins is a strong skater who’s capable of contributing offensively both at even strength and on the power play. He also is a good penalty killer. Most notably, he wins face-offs. At 54.0 percent (312-and-266), the left shooting pivot is the kind of player this team needs.

A hard player to play against due to his skating and skill, the good Copp has done well for himself. A former Jets’ fourth round pick in ’13, the Ann Arbor, Michigan native is a good secondary scorer.

Playing in the shadow of established stars Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Blake Wheeler, Paul Stastny and Pierre-Luc Dubois, he has 13 goals and 22 helpers totaling 35 points over 56 games. Copp needs two goals to match last year’s career high of 15 and four points to match the 39 he established in ’21. If he can record five points, he’ll reach a new high.

Copp is unrestricted this off-season. He currently makes $3.64 million. His market value should be up. If he performs up to expectations, it’s possible the Rangers could be interested in bringing him back. It gives them an option to Ryan Strome, who’s been a good player since arriving from Edmonton. Don’t tell that to the naysayers who forgot they only gave up Ryan Spooner for Strome.

Even as the trade was announced, the details remained sketchy. Based on last night, the talk was Winnipeg was hoping for two second round picks. A fair price for someone of Copp’s caliber. Especially in a seller’s market. Don’t believe me? Look what Jeremy Lauzon netted from Nashville? A second round pick. Yikes.

As Drury closed in and executed an easier transaction by sending a 2023 fourth round pick to the Canucks in exchange for Tyler Motte, we were left to wonder what the holdup was on who went to Winnipeg. First, some misinformed person made it sound like one of the Rangers’ defense prospects would go the other way. Names like Matthew Robertson were floated.

Instead, the trade above listed by the Winnipeg Jets official Twitter account indicated it was center Morgan Barron along with conditional second picks in 2022 and ’23 for Copp and a sixth round pick next year. Dreger spelled out the conditions below.

It’s simple. If the Rangers win two rounds and advance to the Conference Finals this postseason, then this year’s second becomes a first round pick for the Jets. Copp also must play in at least half the playoff games. Let’s keep our fingers crossed he helps them make a run. Winnipeg can choose between ’23 and ’24 on the other second pick.

If they make it to the Eastern Conference Final, will anyone care where Winnipeg will pick in the first round? I won’t.

Copp certainly makes the Rangers better. He can score and set up goals. He’s a trusted top nine forward that Gallant can plug anywhere. That versatility along with Barclay Goodrow is valuable. We all know how well Goodrow has worked out. He can now slot down to the fourth line if necessary. Considering the chemistry he’s had with Filip Chytil and Dryden Hunt (likely fourth line), this is a good thing.

We still don’t know when both Kaapo Kakko and Kevin Rooney are returning. With Drury deciding to also go get Tyler Motte from Vancouver for a fourth pick in ’23, that should signal that maybe one of those players might not be ready for a while. Let’s leave it at that.

As for Motte, having seen him play and turn into a solid checking forward for the Canucks, I love this trade. Why? Go take a look at his season above on Hockey-reference.com.

Another player from Michigan who Jacob Trouba and Frank Vatrano know well from playing together for the U.S. National Development Team, the 27-year old Motte is having a good season. In 49 contests for Vancouver, he is 7-8-15 with 22 PIM and a plus-3 rating. Fourteen of his 15 points have come at even strength. The other was a shorthanded goal that I happened to see.

Motte is a fast skater who also plays with grit. He will finish checks and win puck battles. He is a solid player that can play in a checking role for the Rangers. There’s no downside. In the Canucks’ most recent postseason, he put up four goals and an assist in 17 games. That was during the expanded format.

Ironically, Motte has a direct link with Artemi Panarin. They were in the same trade that sent Panarin to the Blue Jackets for Brandon Saad and Anton Forsberg on June 23, 2017. Unlike the Bread Man, Motte didn’t stay in Columbus long eventually winding up with the Canucks with Jussi Jokinen for Thomas Vanek. Wow. I forgot he played for the Blue Jackets.

Over the past four years playing in Vancouver, Motte has become a fixture in the bottom six while contributing at five-on-five. Even better, he gets takeaways (27), delivers hits (90) and blocks shots (51). This is a solid player who I think our fans will like. A high energy guy with character.

One fan I exchange tweets with was concerned about Rooney due to the Motte acquisition. They don’t play the same position. Even if Motte plays over him assuming Goodrow slides down to center the checking line, it’s a good problem to have. Let Gallant worry about it. That’s what he gets paid the big bucks for.

Not too long ago, the third and fourth lines were thin. They weren’t capable of contributing any reliable scoring. Since adding Vatrano, whose speed and smarts are very apparent, that’s changed. Now, you can slide him down to play with Chytil and either Goodrow or Hunt. Or he can stick with Panarin and Strome while Copp works with the third line.

That means a lot more options for Gallant at his disposal. I like Jonny Brodzinski. He works hard and is a good skater. But he’s not going to add much offensively at this level. The goal he scored was nice. Ditto for the honest Greg McKegg. The Keg Man has done a nice job when in. But similar to Julien Gauthier, he’s not adding much offensively.

Clearly, Motte is an improvement. So is Rooney whenever he’s back. We know if Kakko returns, he’s in the top nine without as much pressure.

Ryan Reaves has been a good addition. He’s played in almost every game under Gallant, who loves him. He delivers heavy hits and can forecheck. He also is smart out there. But is he going to play every game against say the Penguins if that’s the first round match-up? I’m not sure.

If you can’t get behind what Drury has done between last summer adding Goodrow and Reaves- plus picking up Vatrano, Braun, Copp and Motte- I don’t know what to say. They improved without giving up any real assets.

Barron is replaceable. He didn’t have a spot here. He will go play for Winnipeg as a checking center who can win draws and kill penalties. Best of luck to him.

When they replaced Jeff Gorton and John Davidson last year, it was with the playoffs in mind. It also was due to how they got pushed around by both the Islanders and Capitals. Most notably Tom Wilson. Has anyone seen him since his vanishing act in the Rangers’ last win at MSG over the Caps? Reaves did that.

This season, Drury has delivered on his promise to make the Rangers a more complete team. He’s added more sandpaper and found secondary scoring that didn’t cost the organization any of their top prospects.

Moving forward, the roster is better equipped for the postseason. Whatever happens, let’s enjoy it. Don’t worry about the other teams. They’re competing for the same thing. We couldn’t say that a year ago. This has been a dream season. Enjoy the ride.

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 Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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