Lost in the blockbuster deals of deadline day was a minor league trade that sent Ryan Graves to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for fellow defenseman Chris Bigras.
Graves, who turns 23 in May, was in the Rangers’ system for three years before Jeff Gorton dealt him to Colorado. Blueshirt Banter’s Adam Herman ranked the 6-foot-5 blueliner as the Rangers’ 9th best prospect back in August. Graves performed admirably on an awful Wolf Pack team last season — which helped earn him an alternate captaincy in Hartford. But he failed to build off of that strong sophomore showing this year.
In 57 games with the Wolf Pack this season Graves had 11 points and 117 shots. He quickly found himself being out-shined by John Gilmour and Neal Pionk and was passed over time and again when the Rangers needed to make call-ups. When Gorton called up Ryan Sproul over Graves on February 12 it raised a few eyebrows. Graves, a fourth round pick in 2013, never played a regular season game with the Rangers.
Bigras is an interesting young defenseman. The Avalanche selected him 32nd overall in the 2013 NHL Draft — which essentially made him a late first round pick. Bigras was the 11th defender off the board in his draft class. But like Graves the 23-years-old’s stock plummeted this season. Just over eight months ago he was one of Colorado’s most exciting prospects and was able to make the Avalanche’s opening night roster after a solid training camp.
Back in October Tom Hunter from Mile High Hockey was expecting big things out of Bigras:
He spent the entire season in the AHL and so far this fall, it looks like that was for the best. Chris Bigras looked like an NHL defender at training camp. In a crowded group of young defenders that were expected to fight for jobs with the Avalanche, Bigras stood out. He jumped over Anton Lindholm on the depth chart and more than proved that he more than belongs in the NHL.
Through the preseason, he was very noticeable in every game he played - for the right reasons. He’s got a simple game that thrives off of his tremendous hockey IQ and quick decision making. He is able to skate with the puck or jump into the play - but he picks his spots. He’s smart enough to pull it back when need-be and has the passing ability to move the puck when pushing it isn’t the right choice.
One can safely assume that Bigras’ development has been hindered by his injuries. He suffered a major concussion last season that cut his year in half. After failing to hold onto his roster spot in Colorado this year he was knocked down the depth chart even further when Sakic dealt Matt Duchene and acquired Samuel Girard.
“I think both teams felt that it was a lateral deal,” Colorado general manager Joe Sakic shared in his post-deadline press conference. “Give[s] both players a change of scenery, really.”
It’s encouraging to see that Bigras has picked up two assists in his first three games with the Wolf Pack, but he should not be looked at as an offensive defenseman. His greatest asset is his intelligence. If the former 32nd overall pick can stay healthy and improve his puck skills, strength, and skating he could get back on the track to the NHL. But the odds are not in his favor. The Rangers just completely restocked and retooled their group of defensive prospects and Gorton may only just be getting started.