Bell's chance could be career-defining

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- While playing for EHC Biel in the Swiss League last season, defenseman Brendan Bell had time to reassess his career. The Ottawa native, who had played 101 games for the Leafs, Coyotes and Senators and more in the minors, rediscovered an appreciation for the NHL.

"I enjoyed Europe; it reignited my passion for the game and I spent the summer doing what I thought I had to do to get back to being here," Bell said Tuesday after an informal practice with the Rangers. "One thing about being over there, you're by yourself a lot, so you've got a lot of time to think. I spent a lot of that time reflecting and taking a look at my game and what I need to do that I can change."

On Aug. 9, the 28-year-old free agent signed a one-year deal and is expected to begin the season in the AHL with the Connecticut Whale. But Bell is happy to have a shot at the big club. "I'm not going to be given anything, but if I can earn my spot, that's all I can ask for," Bell said.

A shortened camp, with the team leaving for four exhibition games in Europe on Sept. 26, "may be a disadvantage," Bell said. "But I've got the mind-set that I want to impress every day with something, whether it's on-the-ice play or leadership in the room. This is a young group, especially on the back end. Right now, I'm the oldest guy here on the blue line."

The Rangers have several young defensemen vying for one or two open spots: Michael Del Zotto, Tim Erixon, Pavel Valentenko and Tomas Kundratek. Some could be midseason injury call-ups, as could Bell, who is 6-1, 205, and has shown he can contribute offensively in the AHL. In 2009-10, he had 10 goals and 35 points in 49 games with Syracuse. Defensively, there were questions -- he was a minus-18.

Besides providing some perspective, Bell said playing on the larger ice surface in Europe was a worthwhile experience. "You learn to be a little more patient in your end; it's a lot of keeping guys to the outside -- maybe not as physical as here -- but I think it helped my game," he said. "You skate a lot more and you've got to be a little more careful about not getting out of position."

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