The New York Rangers 2017 Training Camp is rapidly approaching and there are plenty of battles and players worth keeping an eye on. Of course, one of the biggest question marks surrounding the Rangers 2016-17 roster is what the third defensive pair will look like.
It’s safe to say that we know what the Rangers top two defensive pairs will look like. If Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Shattenkirk isn’t the first pair on opening night the universe may collapse. And there is no reason for Alain Vigneault to break up the Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith pairing, especially after the price that Gorton paid to acquire and then keep Smith.
Given the price tag attached to Anthony DeAngelo, one would have to imagine that a spot on the third defensive pair is his to lose. And it is even more difficult to imagine that the Rangers will have the $6 million Marc Staal watching games in a suit. Although one would hope that the veteran defenseman sees his role decrease next season after his brutal 2017 Playoffs.
So where exactly does 23-year-old Russian defenseman Alexei Bereglazov fit in?
Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein may be gone, but Nick Holden is still here. And Bereglazov is one of at least three young defensemen who are competing for a roster spot. What sets Bereglazov apart from Neal Pionk and Sean Day is his KHL experience and the clause in his contract that allows him to return to Russia.
That clause will carry a lot of weight when it comes time for Gorton and Vigneault to decide how many defensemen the team will carry and who they will be. Unless Bereglazov has an utterly disastrous camp and/or preseason, the Rangers would be foolish to risk losing him for nothing by assigning him to Hartford.
But it is unlikely that the big Russian blueliner will unravel in camp. And you can read Adam Herman’s thoughts on Bereglazov to find out why:
Another wrinkle to this story is that Bereglazov making the roster could be good news for Pavel Buchnevich, who is not fluent in English. Buchnevich having someone else to talk to in the locker room besides Chris Kreider can only be a good thing. The two Russians won bronze together at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Of course, it’s impossible to measure if that adds anything to Bereglazov’s value. But it is worth mentioning, especially because the Rangers can ill-afford to fumble Buchnevich’s sophomore NHL season.
On paper there is a lot to like about Bereglazov being the Rangers’ seventh defenseman next season. Practicing with the big club and veteran defensemen would give him time to adjust to the North American ice and game. And the prospect of occasionally rotating Bereglazov into the lineup for Staal is also attractive. It would give the front office a look at a player who could cheaply replace Staal in the event of a buyout in the 2018 offseason. What’s not to like?
But the fact that Holden is still a Ranger makes things pretty murky.
Gorton trading Holden makes all kinds of sense. He has one year left on his contract, he’s coming off of a career best 32 point season and the Rangers need to add another middle-six forward. It’s also worth noting that Bereglazov takes up $700,000 less cap space than Patrick Roy’s favorite blueliner.
Yet Holden is still here.
The real question now is whether or not that will be the case when the Rangers training camp begins. Because if it is, Gorton may have made a blunder in what has otherwise been a successful offseason.
There’s almost no chance that the Rangers plan to carry eight defensemen, especially because it would limit the cap space Gorton has to add another middle-six forward. And this late in free agency, there are few palatable options left outside of veteran wingers like Jaromir Jagr, Thomas Vanek and Danis Zaripov. Moving Holden in a deal to address that need makes sense - there are more options available through trades.
Moving Holden also helps to create a role and roster spot for Bereglazov. Two birds, one stone.