Rangers should use the second half to audition Ryan Graves

Bobby Bevilacqua


Photo courtesy of Chris Rutsch/Hartford Wolf Pack.

It’s no secret that for a large portion of the season, the defense has been the biggest issue for the Rangers. Sure, it’s been better over the last week or two, but the defensive deficiencies and inability to make three balanced pairings has been the biggest source of problems so far.

To recap: Dan Girardi hasn’t been much better than last season, Kevin Klein has been far worse than last season, and the other players haven’t been spectacular either. Ryan McDonagh has done his best to carry this team, but has had some bad games and is often dragged down when partnered with Girardi and Klein. Holden has been a steadying force, Staal is okay and Skjei has had an encouraging rookie season with the expected rookie mistakes and growing pains.

Regardless of what you think about the defensive corps, which also includes Adam Clendening, the bottom line is that they haven’t been able to get the job done on a consistent basis and have cost the Rangers more games than they’ve won. With Marc Staal out, the Rangers have been able to test out Clendening and while we’ve seen some good things from him, he’s not the solution to their problems.

The Rangers also probably can’t afford to bring a big-name defenseman on board either. Trading for Shattenkirk would cost a ton of assets and would also be foolish considering there’s a great chance he signs here in the offseason. On top of that, Gorton has also said he’s not willing to part with any of his core for a defenseman. It would make sense if Jeff Gorton brought in a low cost defenseman like Michael Stone or Cody Franson, but that would also mean trading some kind of prospect or player or draft picks.

Instead of bringing someone in from outside of the organization, why not take a look at some of the top defensive prospects in this organization and see if they can help solve some of the issues? With so many struggling veteran defensemen on the NHL squad, maybe it’s time to take a look at some of the defenseman and prospects on the Hartford Wolf Pack and see what they can do.

Ryan Graves is probably the Rangers’ best defensive prospect, and definitely the closest to joining the NHL on a full-time basis. He posted nine goals and 12 assists in 74 AHL games last year, his first full professional season, and is on pace to shatter those numbers. So far he has matched his point total from last season in just 44 games, with 21 points (5-16-21) so far.

He’s a smooth skater and a good puck mover to go along with his 6’4”, 220 pound frame. He’s also very defensively sound and good when it comes to positioning and using his size to his advantage. On a bad Hartford team, he’s been one of the lone bright spots and has looked NHL ready. The fact that he’s been complimented on his puck moving, something the Rangers sorely lack, makes his skillset more attractive. Having his size, his booming shot and puck moving ability could be a huge addition.

Mat Bodie and John Gilmour are two other options. Bodie is 26 and a solid offensive player and puck mover at the AHL level, so his skillset also caters to the Rangers needs. But he’s only about 170 pounds and very lean, which means he gets overpowered at times, and isn’t as defensively sound as Graves. Gilmour is in the same boat. He’s had a solid first AHL season and looked fantastic in the preseason, but also has had some defensive issues dating back to his Providence College days. He could use some more seasoning but his offensive potential alone could warrant a brief call up.

If you’re looking at which player could most likely improve the Rangers, it’s Ryan Graves. His size is a really nice bonus to his skillset. He’s evolving offensively and is a good puck mover, which could help the Rangers poor transition game from the blue line. And being a solid defender on a bad Hartford team is no easy feat.

Back in the 2010-11 season, the Rangers were really struggling on defense and brought up a prospect for the second half of the season. He played well and improved the team down the stretch and wound up continuing to evolve as a player. That person is Ryan McDonagh. This is not me saying that Graves is on the same level, but that a call up now could definitely benefit both the team and the player. Graves has shown significant improvements every year that have led to him becoming a rock on the Wolf Pack blueline. The Rangers could really use his skillset right now.

With Graves being a lefty, it’s hard to fit him into the lineup. But if Marc Staal is out long term and if Alain Vigneault finally decides that enough is enough with Kevin Klein, he could slot Graves in now. McDonagh, Graves and Brady Skjei could play the left side while Girardi, Holden and Clendening all have the ability to play the right side;




When Staal comes back, you could still fit Graves into the lineup if he’s playing well;



Graves-Girardi (or swap Skjei and Girardi here).

There are definitely some big “ifs” here because it would mean that Alain Vigneault would have to bench Kevin Klein, which I think has happened once this season. But Ryan Graves could potentially be a solution to many of the Rangers defensive woes, without giving up any prospects or draft picks. It’s time to give him a shot.

Posted on January 28, 2017, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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