The New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers may be blood rivals, but deals needed to be made this month and we’ve got a nice one here. The Devils acquired veteran left winger Michael Grabner from the Rangers in exchange for prospect defenseman Yegor Rykov and a second-round draft pick in 2018.
With the Devils as the “buyers” in this deal, let’s start with their side of things. In Grabner, New Jersey gets an experienced bottom-six forward with excellent speed and penalty-killing acumen. The Devils were pretty good on special teams already, but Grabner could easily help them into the NHL’s top 10. Not only that, but he can add secondary offense to a young, fast squad currently propelled by Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier up front.
Given how competitive the Metropolitan Division is this season, GM Ray Shero did the right thing here (and hey, he might not be done). The Devils are currently sitting in a wild card spot with a five-point cushion, but they can’t let off the gas for an instant. Not only does Grabner bolster the forward corps, but Shero’s trade sends a message that he believes in this club and wants to make that final push for a playoff spot. As an added bonus, he didn’t subtract anything from his roster to do so.
On the Rangers side of the ledger, GM Jeff Gorton is doing exactly what he should right now. After years of going for the Stanley Cup (and coming close a couple times), New York needs to build up its pipeline.
Thanks to the second-rounder in the Grabner deal, Gorton and his scouting staff now have five picks in the first three rounds of the 2018 draft (Boston’s third-rounder came over in the Nick Holden deal). That gives the franchise enormous flexibility and potential – and there will probably be more picks coming back to the Blueshirts if/when Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh are dealt.
In Rykov, the Rangers acquire the rights to a big defensive prospect with a lot of offensive upside. I saw Rykov play for Russia at the world juniors and he was particularly noticeable in Montreal, tallying a point per game from the back end. He’s great with the puck and can be very effective on the power play. My concern came on the defensive side, where he needed a lot of improvement.
Rykov is currently home in Russia, where he has played for the KHL’s best team, SKA St. Petersburg, as well as its VHL (think AHL) affiliate SKA Neva. His numbers with the KHL squad are pretty impressive given his age, as the 20-year-old has contributed 14 points in 51 games while averaging just 12:24 of ice time per contest. Given that SKA’s blueline also includes former NHLers such as Slava Voynov and David Rundblad, that’s pretty good.
New York’s mission now is to get Rykov over here. The youngster still has one year left on his contract with SKA and those tend to be iron-clad. So the earliest you could see him in North America (a stop in AHL Hartford first seems prudent) would be May of 2019. Still, with his potential, he’s worth the wait.
As a fun addendum, this is the first-ever trade between the Devils and Rangers. The fact both sides got what they needed indicates that the bad blood is staying on the ice for now.