The shocking part wasn’t that Michael Grabner was moved, but rather where he was moved. Well, at least at first.
The New York Rangers made the first trade ever with the New Jersey Devils, moving Grabner across the Hudson for a 2nd round pick in this year’s draft and Yegor Rykov. Or Igor Rykov. Or Erop Rykov. I suppose for now, we’ll call him Igor, but that could change with the below:
His name is actually "Егор" (Cyrillic alphabet). It needs to be transliterated to the Roman alphabet, and since he isn't yet playing in North America, we don't know how he's going to spell it yet. It could be either Igor (more conventional) or Yegor (more phonetic).— Hockeydb.com (@HockeyDbRalph) February 23, 2018
Anyway, you’re not here for that. Let’s break down the trade.
Dealing with the Devil(s)??
Yeah, I don’t care about this and neither should you. If you can get the best return from the Devils, you get the best return from the Devils. If you’re selling, it doesn’t make sense to hold true to these notions that you never help a rival — because as far as Jeff Gorton is concerned, he got the better end of the deal here. If anything, I’d be far more concerned about buying from a rival than selling to one. Why? Because the Devils get Grabner for the next 20 games or so and the playoffs (if they make it) and that’s it. And since they’re not Cup contenders/favorites, it’s not an enormous risk that you’re handing them any hardware. That 2nd round pick and Rykov last a hell of a lot longer on the other side.
The return on Grabner was more than fair — if not a slight overpay by New Jersey
A lot of fans are looking at the return and shaking their heads, and I think Grabner’s two-year stretch of goals is a major part of that. Grabner is a tools/system player; as much as I love him. He’s a speedy player that plays good defense and can kill penalties at his core. In the right system/fit, he’s capable of scoring 20+ goals a year and adding offense — as you saw in New York. Grabner can spring himself loose for odd-man rushes, and because of that creates a fair amount of individual offense, but his finishing lacks consistency as seen by his yearly goal totals through his career.
Which makes him streaky ... actually, SUPER streaky. This renaissance of his career on Broadway is wonderful, but it might be a case of the right place at the right time. He’s one of the few players these days where Alain Vigneault’s system perfectly matches his style of play, and he’s blossomed under the run-and-gun offense the Rangers try to spring out of their own zone. Will that continue in New Jersey? I don’t know. He’s streaky enough that you should be worried about it, though.
All that said, he was a UFA at the end of the year, theoretically could come back to New York (although I’m not sure I want that at his reported ask of four years), and the Rangers aren’t making the playoffs. The return from the Devils, based on all of that, is about what we thought the Rangers were going to get. If not a little more.
A lot of people are mad Gorton didn’t wait for a better return, but you can’t do that and expect to come away with roses every time. If you have a deal you deem acceptable in front of you, you take it, because you never know when another team is going to pull the trigger. As an example: When the Rangers were shopping around Cam Talbot, Glen Sather had a 1st round pick from San Jose on the table. Sather waited them out to see if someone would do more, San Jose moved on, and the Rangers sold to Edmonton for a far lower return.
The 2nd Round Pick
As it stands right now, if the Devils made the playoffs and didn’t go on a crazy, unexpected run, the pick would be in the 45-50 range. If the Devils go on to miss the playoffs (which is possible, they are by no means a sure thing) then it could be in the 30’s. Either way, there’s value here.
I think there’s this stigma about a 1st round pick being THE thing to get in a move like this, but that’s not really how it works. As we’ve come to better understand the draft, there’s different levels of first round picks. The Devils’ 1st round pick would be somewhere around 16th overall (in their current projection) which has significant value, where the Golden Knights’ first round pick (in their current projection) would be 31st, which is basically a 2nd round pick. A mid-second round pick still has a fair amount of value, especially since it will probably be on the front nine of the round. Again, just looking at Grabner’s goals and going “wow he could have scored 40 if he got power play time” misses the point. Grabner isn’t that guy and never will be. Besides, it wasn’t just a mid-second round pick ...
Coming in at the “honorable mention” stage for Corey Pronman’s midseason Top 50 Prospects (paywall), Rykov is a very interesting pickup for the Rangers. At just 20-years-old, he’s playing every night for SKA of the KHL notching 14 points in 51 games.
The numbers won’t look amazing on the KHL level, nor should they. Playing against men for one of the best teams in the KHL, Rykov has seen his stock rise. A lot of people rush to his Elite Prospects page and find themselves underwhelmed at his current numbers, but at the professional level prospect’s production aren’t anywhere near apples to apples from what a defenseman in juniors would put up. Expecting a point-per-game is remarkably unrealistic. That fact that he’s playing every night on a team with that much talent in the KHL speaks volumes. You should be excited about him.
If you’re worried about him being a 5th round pick, well, according to a few people, the “Russian Factor” contributed to his lack of a selection in 2015, and his late selection in 2016.
About his game: He’s a solid two-way defenseman who is a good skater and has great vision. His calling card seems to be his breakout passes and his ability to move the puck out of the zone. According to our own foreign corespondent Alex Nunn:
Seems appropriate.— Alex Nunn (@aj_ranger) February 23, 2018
But jokes aside, Rykov’s a good get for the Rangers. Promising two-way D who should compliment a top-four puck-mover nicely. Has been full-time w/ SKA since turning 18, which says a lot. Plays hard. https://t.co/MnXEOiCkxW
Alex also went on to tell me Rykov might not be “the guy” but he will be “the guy standing next to the guy quietly going about his business.” Steve Kournianos seems to agree.
Rykov is a very good defenseman who can compliment a kid like Skjei or Shattenkirk. Russian/KHL situation likely reason for getting passed over in 2015 and going late in 2016. Excellent first pass, keeps a tight gap and locks down the low slot. Very smart and NHL ready.— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) February 23, 2018
There is offense to his two-way game (obviously, but some people throw that term around too loosely) as well. Rykov’s international numbers and underage numbers are fantastic. In the Russian U16 League (when he was 15) he posted 24 points in 30 games. At 17 he had 21 points in 42 MHL (the KHL’s AHL) games. At the World Juniors last year he had seven points in seven games for Russia. There’s some pop to his game here to go along with the defense.
The Russian Factor
Worried about him being signed with SKA through next year, SKA being super rich, and him not wanting to come to North America? Those are all very reasonable concerns, but this is deeper than the Rangers just getting back some Russian prospect.
Can only repeat what I said to someone else earlier: Have to think NYR did their homework before pulling the trigger. NYC w/ guys he knows (Buchnevich, Shestyorkin) is a much better personal situation for him than NJ too.— Alex Nunn (@aj_ranger) February 23, 2018
Rykov is teammates with Igor Shestyorkin, who the Rangers have watched multiple times this year. There’s no doubt that the Rangers’ scouts came away intrigued by Rykov when they were watching SKA. Pavel Buchnevich came from there before he hopped the pond, and Ilya Kovalchuk is playing there now, and he’s rumored to want to come to the Rangers next year. All About The Jersey harped on Rykov potentially not wanting to come to North America, but the sense I’m getting from the league is that wasn’t the case at all. And some people think the Devils really didn’t want to part with Rykov at all, but didn’t want to give up their 1st round pick.
In the end, this is a great pickup for the Rangers, division rival or not. Grabner was never going to be the main return for the Rangers, and moving him now sets the table for Nash. Teams were kicking the tires on both, and now that Grabner is gone it should heat up the market for future moves.