Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tim Erixon Trade Gives Rangers Even More Defense Depth

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For those who missed the news, defenseman Tim Erixon was acquired by the Rangers earlier today from the Calgary Flames and then was signed to an entry level contract. The Rangers acquired Erixon and a 2011 fifth round draft pick in exchange for forward Roman Horak and two 2011 second round draft picks. The trade for Erixon adds to the Rangers' already young and talented defensive core that we've seen continue to emerge within the system in recent years.

Tim Erixon, the son of former New York Ranger Jan Erixon, has spent the last few years in the Swedish Elite League where he has progressively developed into a solid two-way defenseman. Last season, he recorded 5 goals and 19 assists for 24 points in 48 regular season games, as well as 3 goals and 5 assists in 18 playoff games. Erixon is 20 years old and is listed in the Rangers' press release as being 6'3", 205 lbs.

The Flames were essentially forced to trade Erixon after it became clear he wasn't going to sign with them by the 5 p.m. deadline earlier today. If Erixon didn't sign with an NHL team by 5:00 he would've reentered this year's draft, where, depending on who you ask, he was projected to go somewhere in the first round - likely somewhere within the first 15 picks. It's unknown why exactly Calgary was unable to sign Erixon, but the Rangers pounced quickly and snagged him from the Flames before Calgary would've lost him without getting anything in return at all.

Everything I've read online has said that this kid looks to be the real deal and certainly has a very good shot at making the team out of training camp this year. The general consensus seems to be this: he's confident in all zones of the ice, handles the puck well and could develop into a nice Power Play quarterback with the way his offensive game continues to grow each year. He isn't a very physical defenseman (yet) and plays with a simple style that can translate easily over to the NHL. He isn't going to dazzle anybody with his puck handling skills, but has a good shot and good vision in all three zones on the ice.

The Rangers' defensive core greatly improves with the Erixon addition. You're potentially looking at an NHL defensive group of Staal-Girardi, McDonagh-Sauer and Del Zotto-Erixon next year, with kids like Dylan McIlrath, Mikhail Pashnin, Pavel Valentenko and Tomas Kundratek waiting in the wings. I think we can draw two conclusions from the acquistion of Tim Erixon:

1. The Rangers have a large plethora of young defensemen in their system and very little offensive depth, but I'm personally not worried about it. Glen Sather certainly has a ton of defensemen he can trade for forwards and draft picks to improve the offense both at the NHL and AHL level. So far this offseason the Rangers have traded away two of their top 10 forward prospects, Roman Horak and Ethan Werek. (Werek, by the way, was also rumored to have been traded because the Rangers didn't think they would be able to sign him, just like the Flames with Erixon.) The top forward prospects in the Rangers system right now are Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Christian Thomas, and then there's a pretty steep drop off in the talent level of guys like Jasper Fasth, Ryan Bourque, Carl Hagelin and Dale Weise.

Things may look bad on paper right now, but I I fully expect Glen Sather to make a move with all the defensemen we have right now. The three questions are: who, when and where? A draft day trade is definitely likely, and there's also a question of whether or not Sather would consider trading one of his NHL-ready defensemen. Michael Del Zotto's name has surfaced in trade rumors, but like I wrote about a few days ago, I really don't think the Rangers are ready to give up on a 20-year-old with tons of offensive potential. Staal, Sauer and McDonagh are all obviously here for the long-term, so the only NHL name left is Dan Girardi. I'd imagine the Rangers could definitely get a nice offensive player in a trade revolving around Dan Girardi, but I just have a hard time believing Sather would trade Girardi given how dominant that shutdown pair of Staal and Girardi was last season. Either way, if a trade involving Girardi or Del Zotto was to happen I don't think it would occur until during the season.

2. The Rangers now have four draft picks in this year's draft - a first round pick, a fourth round pick and two fifth rounders. The Rangers will almost definitely be taking a forward with their first round pick in this year's draft because of how much they need to improve their offensive depth in the system, and I wouldn't be surprised if they use their other picks on forwards, as well. Also, not that there was much of a chance of this happening in the first place, but the Erixon trade definitely puts an end to Larry Brooks' idea he wrote about in the NY Post of the Rangers perhaps making a June trade for the rights to Brad Richards. Doing so would have required several draft picks and prospects and I'd be shocked if the Rangers traded away any of their remaining 2011 picks without getting draft picks back in return.

It will remain to be seen if Tim Erixon can step in and make the team out of camp, but history has proven that John Tortorella isn't afraid of playing the kids and going with a young team if they've earned the right to be there. I think this offseason will prove to be very active for the Rangers, and I expect them to make several moves in free agency, the buyout period, the draft and the trade market. Glen Sather knows this team needs to improve big time offensively, but the New York Rangers defense is rock solid for many years to come.

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