After being a healthy scratch for six games, New York Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith is eager to prove his play is worth the paycheck. Now, with captain Ryan McDonagh out with injury, his chance to step up is now.
Brendan Smith Eager to Prove Worth on Rangers Blue Line
Ice Cold Start
Smith, drafted 27th overall by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2007 NHL Draft, arrived to the Rangers last year at the trade deadline. Smith had a strong showing in the playoffs last season with the Rangers. His play motivated the Rangers to lock him in for another four years at $17.4 million. Unfortunately, a promising off-season paper unfolded into the opposite once October hit.
The Rangers ice-cold start to the 2017-18 season saw the worst of Smith. His poor play ultimately earned him a benching, which turned into another, another and then another. Smith’s turnovers in the offensive zone and lack of finesse demoted him to riding the pine this season, when he should have been skating on the Rangers second defence pair. Lucky for him, the Rangers six-game win streak was snapped against the Chicago Blackhawks last week. The loss allowed head coach Alain Vigneault to make roster changes and Smith drew back into the lineup.
Returning to the Lineup
Steven Kampfer and Marc Staal‘s defensive collapse in the third period against the Blackhawks provided the case for more grit in the Rangers line-up. Smith can to oblige. In his first game back against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Smith earned two hits and three shots on goal. In the Rangers tilt against the Ottawa Senators, Smith was playing for his worth and it showed. While Smith was involved in a controversial hit on Mark Borowiecki, earning a game misconduct and five-minute major, his toughness is something the Rangers desperately need on their blue line.
The Rangers play a speed game but there’s been a definite lack in their grit, especially in front of the net. Smith adds a fear-factor for opponents entering the Rangers defensive zone. That has been missing from the Rangers this year. Tanner Glass did not count Rangerstown. Smith is a great puck mover and has great skating abilities. His biggest strength is his versatility. Smith can play both the right and left side of defence. This allows Vigneault to use Smith on the Rangers weaker right side.
The Blueshirts have been very fortunate having an elite goaltender such as Henrik Lundqvist. However, as Lundqvist ages, the defense needs to step up to the plate. The Rangers defense performed very well against the Senators. They had 27 blocked shots to help earn a shutout. Smith, along with Brady Skjei and Kevin Shattenkirk are demonstrating that the Rangers once faltering blue line is becoming a force to be reckoned with.
Smith having a few games back under his belt is fortuitous for the Rangers. Ryan McDonagh is out with an abdominal strain and wont play against the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday. With his timeline for return unknown, Smith is going to be relied upon in his absence. He needs to rise to the occasion to keep the Rangers in the race for cup contention, a feat impossible without a strong defence.
Good luck Brendan Smith, your time is now.