During the 2018 New York Rangers preseason there were a lot of players and training camp battles worth watching closely. One of those must-watch players was veteran defenseman Brendan Smith, who is now entering the second year of his four-year, $17.4 million contract.
There has been a lot written and said about Smith’s disastrous 2017-18 season and how big this year’s training camp and preseason were for him. Rather than re-hashing what has already been said by myself and others, I’ll just drop a few links to some relevant pieces below.
- What to do with Brendan Smith | Murphy
- 2018 Report Card: Brendan Smith | Fortunato
- Brendan Smith’s Road to Redemption Begins Now | Kocher
- Last Year’s Most Disappointing Ranger Ready for Redemption | Brooks
Before training camp began, Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton made it clear that Smith was coming into the year with a clean slate, “We’re going to give Brendan [Smith] an opportunity to get back on our team and help us.” And in the preseason, that is just what Gorton and new head coach David Quinn did.
Smith led the Rangers in average ice time during 5-on-5 play in the preseason with 18:22. He had a -12.55 rel CF%, which might look alarming, but it’s important to remember that we’re dealing with a sample size of three games and that Smith played primarily with Rob O’Gara, Fredrik Claesson, and John Gilmour. Smith had a 66.67 CF% away from Claesson and a 55.56 CF% away from Gilmour. He had a 26.0 CF% with O’Gara as his partner, so let’s all just go ahead and pray that we never see that again.
Again, we’re dealing with very small sample sizes, but Smith definitely passed the eye test. He looked quick, aggressive, and tough around the goal crease. The only Ranger blueliner who was on the ice for more goals for (in all situations) in the preseason was Tony DeAngelo, though it’s worth mentioning that he didn’t register a shot. In three games Smith led the Rangers in blocked shots, he picked up two assists, and he had four turnovers. Why mention the turnovers? Because Quinn trusted him to rebound from his mistakes and that is a very big deal.
“You know he’s out there. He’s very involved. When you’re involved to the level he is, you’re going to make mistakes,” Quinn told Brooks. “I know a lot of people harp on that. The thing I like is that he’s made some mistakes, as everybody does, and he’s moved on.”
Quinn’s trust and patience with his players should be music to the ears of Smith. At the Rangers’ Town Hall event on Oct. 1 Quinn elaborated on his relationship with Smith and his expectations for his play this year.
“I said, listen, ‘We’re not even going to acknowledge last year even happened.’ It was a year that he’s going to forget ... I want to pick up where [he] left off in the playoffs against Montreal ... I thought he was a really good player for a long time, not only at the college level but in the American League, and he played well in the [NHL]. It goes back to what I said earlier, we’re not asking him to do something that he hasn’t already done in this league.”
Thus far, Smith has done everything that’s been asked of him and he’s managed to exceed the expectations of both Quinn and the Rangers’ front office. He’s right where he wants to be and where the team needs him to be. Is he a good fit for a team that should be focused on rebuilding? Far from it, but Smith’s versatility and balanced game will be valuable to the team moving forward.
If he can build off of his training camp performance, Smith should be able to help take pressure off of the young defenders who will be working their way into the lineup and meaningful roles over the next few seasons.
Data courtesy CapFriendly.com, NaturalStatTrick.com