Rangers’ Brendan Smith overcame self-inflicted obstacles to save career
Part 15 of a series the New York Rangers.
Jacob Trouba overheard my question to Brendan Smith following practice one day in February and laughed.
The question was whether Smith, who was being utilized as a fourth-line winger at even strength, but shifted to defense on the penalty kill, switched sticks when he changed assignments. I thought maybe a longer stick might be beneficial on the penalty kill.
Smith said that, you know, he had never thought of it, but maybe it wasn’t a crazy idea and maybe he’d consider it. Probably not, but maybe. Certainly, he was being polite.
By the end of that month, there was no need. For when the Rangers traded Brady Skjei to Carolina at the Feb. 24 deadline and were in need of a left defenseman, they did not summon Libor Hajek from the AHL Wolf Pack, but rather shifted Smith back to defense, where he partnered with Trouba for the team’s final nine games. Who was laughing now?
Seriously, though, folks, Smith had been a healthy scratch for the four previous games and eight of the previous 10 matches. He had played only two full games on defense to that point of the season, in mid-February when Marc Staal and Tony DeAngelo were sidelined for one match apiece.
But when he stepped in beside Trouba, he did the job. Indeed, the pair did the job, on for only three goals against in 110:31 as a tandem through those nine games played in the midst of a playoff race, per Naturalstattrick.com. It was not the most elegant pair in franchise history, but the duo was physical and made it difficult on the opposition.
Smith provided value all season, even if you think it was crazy for an NHL team to use a defenseman on the wing. There aren’t many anymore who fit the definition of being that type of hybrid player.
Stu Bickel was the last Ranger to do it, playing wing and D for the 2011-12 team. A check of my notebook, however, reveals that No. 41 played only five of his 51 games that season up-front, plus one in the playoffs.
An aside here: You know Game 3 of the series against the Capitals that went to triple overtime before Marian Gaborik won it? It was the 20th-longest game in NHL history, lasting 114:41. Bickel was on the third pair that night with Michael Del Zotto. Bickel played three shifts worth 3:24 and did not get on the ice after the 4:18 mark of the second period. He thus watched the final 90:23 from the bench while Ryan McDonagh played 53:17, Dan Girardi, 44:26, Del Zotto, 43:33, Marc Staal, 40:34 and Anton Stralman, 28:00.
Source : Larry Brooks Link