By Sean Hartnett
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After missing out on top target Kevin Shattenkirk, the Rangers acquired versatile defenseman Brendan Smith on Tuesday afternoon.
They gave Detroit a 2017 third-round pick and a 2018 second-round pick. The left-handed 28-year-old is capable of playing either side of defense and filled an all-situation role for the Red Wings.
"He's a player we've liked for a while," Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said. "The group likes his skating, the fact that he plays the left and right side, the fact that he brings some toughness, that he's got some players in the room that have played with him. A combination of all those things made a good fit for us."
Smith averaged 1:55 on the penalty kill and 1:21 on the power play per game for the Wings this season, but managed just two goals and three assists in 33 total games. Although he's not going to bring the high-end offensive tools of Shattenkirk, the first word everyone seems to bring up to describe Smith tends to be "competitiveness." It's something the Rangers sorely need after head coach Alain Vigneault admitted his guys failed to match the competitiveness of the Washington Capitals during Tuesday's 4-1 home defeat.
Alternate captain Derek Stepan knows well what Smith brings to the table. He and captain Ryan McDonagh each skated alongside the Etobicoke, Ontario native at the University of Wisconsin.
"It seems like a long time ago now," Stepan said. "He competes real hard. He's a guy that likes to make plays with the puck. He's going to bring a lot of speed to our group. I think he's going to try real hard to fit in and he's a guy that could be a real, huge piece for us."
After spending six seasons tussling against the Wings, alternate captain Marc Staal recalled what sticks out about the newly-acquired 6-foot-1 defender.
"I know that he competes, he's got an edge," Staal said of Smith. "He's a solid blueliner. So, he's going to add some good depth for us and contribute."
Lately, Vigneault's options on defense have been slimmed due to injuries. He'll be eager to get Smith up to speed. Alternate captain Dan Girardi is set to miss up to two weeks due to an ankle injury. Back spasms have forced Kevin Klein to miss four consecutive games. Smith will practice with the Rangers on Wednesday and in all likelihood will make his debut in Boston on Thursday.
"What I've been seeing, and especially our scouts have been following him very closely… real competitive defenseman," Vigneault said. "(He) can skate well, make a good first pass. He competes, he competes real hard and we're going to need that."
The Rangers are in need of a jolt and their defense is aching for an added measure of stability. While Smith is unlikely to match Shattenkirk's post-deadline production in Washington, his versatility, aggression and desire could prove valuable. He is earning $2.75 million in the final year of his contract.
There's a chance Vigneault could experiment with a McDonagh-Smith pairing because Girardi, Klein and Nick Holden haven't offered the consistency needed on the top pair. If Smith can fill that role and serve as an upgrade, Gorton will have made an astute acquisition.
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