Ryan Graves, the one who got away

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DENVER, CO – JANUARY 4: Ryan Graves #27 of the Colorado Avalanche holds the puck that was his first career NHL goal after the game against the New York Rangers at the Pepsi Center on January 4, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Rangers 6-1. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Since the trade

As mentioned earlier, Bigras played the remainder of the season with Hartford and was renewed for one year before the Rangers let him go.  Graves followed his path, finishing the 2017-18 season with the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL.   He spent the first half of last season with the  Colorado’s new farm team, the Colorado Eagles with a couple brief call ups to the NHL and then was promoted for good on February 9 top replace injured defenseman Ian Cole.

Graves acquitted himself well, playing in 26 games while scoring three goals and totaling five points. He was a plus four on a top Western Conference team, but founding himself a healthy scratch during the Avalanche’s 12 game playoff run.

This season Graves has found himself starting regularly on the third defense pair.  With Ian Cole out after hip surgery, Graves had an opportunity to earn a starting job and he did it.  He has found a role, replacing Patrik Nemeth who signed with the Detroit Red Wings.

According to the Denver Post, Graves “is playing a key shutdown role.”   They cited his use in Saturday’s win over the Minnesota Wild as he was on the ice in the final minutes as the Avalanche clung to a 3-2 lead.  Graves scored an empty net goal to ensure the win.

Graves has surpassed free agent signee Mark Barbiero and trade acquisitions Kevin Connauton (traded for Carl Soderberg) and Calle Rosen (Nazem Kadri trade).  In fact, Connauton and Rosen have started the season in the AHL.  Defense prospect Connor Timmons started the season with the Avalanche, but was sent down with the imminent return of Cole from IR.

So what?

So, why should we care about Ryan Graves?  What’s disturbing about Graves’ career with the Rangers organization is that it’s clear that the team severely underestimated his upside. While Neal Pionk deserved the opportunity before Graves, the fact is that John Gilmour and Ryan Sproul were deemed to have more potential.   Gilmour is an AHL defenseman for Buffalo and Sproul is currently out of hockey.

As it is, with the Rangers’ improved depth chart on defense, it’s not clear where Graves would be if he was still with the organization.   Since the trade, the team has developed Libor Hajek, Ryan Lindgren and Tony DeAngelo and acquired Jacob Trouba, Adam Fox, K’Andre Miller, Nils Lundkvist, Joey Keane and Matthew Robertson.  They are still saddled with contractual commitments to Marc Staal and Brendan Smith. Would he be a starter?  Probably not.

The issue is if Graves had been given a shot instead of Ryan Sproul or John Gilmour, he might have driven a greater return than Chris Bigras.  It is a shame that a young player with potential has found success elsewhere.  And it is a shame that Ryan Graves’ greatest Ranger memory will be this:

The question is whether it was the dysfunctional management of the Hartford Wolf Pack that led to the decision to jettison a player who has become a useful NHL defenseman or just bad player assessment.  The deal for Bigras makes sense if the Rangers believed that Graves had no future, but that is not how it has turned out.  Ryan Graves is now a top six defenseman on one of the best teams in the Western Conference.  It happens.

K’Andre Miller to play

Speaking of Rangers defense prospects, Madison.com is reporting that K’Andre Miller will be in the lineup for Wisconsin season opener Friday against Boston College in Boston.   Six first round draft picks will be in the game, three for each team.  Miller had been suspended for violating a team rule and was held out of a practice and scrimmage.

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