Ryan Graves, the one who got away

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PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 26: Ryan Graves

There are always minor trades made in the NHL and the New York Rangers are no exception.  In February 2018, the Blueshirts made a deal that got no attention, but it appears to be one they will regret.

The February 26, 2018 trade was inconsequential.  The New York Rangers and the Colorado Avalanche swapped minor league defensemen.  The Avalanche gave up a 23-year old lefthanded shooting blueliner that they had drafted in the second round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.  The Rangers traded a 23-year old lefthanded shooting defenseman they had drafted in the fourth round the same year.  Their names?  Chris Bigras and Ryan Graves.

It was one of 17 trades made that deadline day.  No one really cared about this deal, especially in the world of the New York Rangers. That same day they had pulled off the biggest trade of the day, swapping team captain Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to Tampa for a boatload of future assets. It was one day after the team had traded Rick Nash and Michael Grabner.

Chris Bigras

Chris Bigras was a highly regarded defenseman in junior hockey.  He was a teammate of Connor McDavid with the gold medal winning Canadian team at the U18 World Junior Championships in 2013.  After a 38 point season with the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL, he was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the second round of the 2013 Draft.  He was the 32nd overall pick, practically a first rounder.

He played two more years in the OHL, peaking with a 71 point season in 2014-15.  Over the next three years he spent most of his time with San Antonio of the AHL, though he did get into 46 games with the Avalanche.  His best year was his first pro year and his prospects declined each of the following years, leading to his trade to the Rangers. He played one and a half seasons in Hartford and the Rangers signed him to a one year contract extension in the summer of 2018.

This summer, the Rangers did not extend him a qualifying offer and he signed with the Philadelphia Flyers and is playing for their Lehigh Valley Phantoms farm team.

Clearly, the Rangers rolled the dice with the Bigras acquisition.  The hope was that a change of scenery would jump start the career of a player who was a highly regarded prospect whose career just didn’t work out with Colorado.  It didn’t work out, but the Rangers surrendered a player they also believed had hit his ceiling.

Ryan Graves

Ryan Graves has two characteristics that made him an attractive prospect.  First, he is big at 6’5″, 227 pounds.  Second, he has a booming shot. Those were the reasons the Rangers drafted him in the fourth round of the 2013 Entry Draft, making him the 110th overall pick.

It was a good draft for the Rangers, who had traded away their top two picks.  Their highest pick, Adam Tambellini at #65 never panned out, but later selections included Pavel Buchnevich, Anthony Duclair, Graves and goalie MacKenzie Skapski.

Graves’ play improved every year in the QMJHL and in his last season he scored 15 goals and 39 points for Quebec.  After that season they signed him to a standard Entry Level Contract and he began his pro career with Hartford in 2015-16.

Graves had two solid seasons in Hartford.  In his rookie year he posted a line of 9-12-21.  The next  year he scored eight goals and added 22 assists.  In his two years he was the top blueliner on a bad Hartford team, representing the Wolf Pack at the 2016 AHL All-Star Game.  At that game he drew attention by winning the competition for the hardest shot with a 103.4 mph slapshot.

In 2017-18, he had a bad start and in 57 games he scored four goals and totaled 11 points with a plus/minus of -15.   He dropped on the depth chart behind undrafted free agent signees Neal Pionk, John Gilmour and trade acquisition Ryan Sproul.   When the Blueshirts announced their rebuild on February 8, it was obvious that Graves was not in their plans and the trade to Colorado followed at the deadline.

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