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SportsColumnistsColin Stephenson

David Quinn, Rangers continue to test their depth on defense

Head coach David Quinn looks on during the

Head coach David Quinn looks on during the third period against the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018 in New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Depth is a good thing for a professional sports team to have, of course. Injuries are inevitable over a long season, and having quality players who can step in and play well is a must for any team.

But if everyone is healthy, having extra players who can’t get into the lineup can be uncomfortable, as the Rangers found out this week when coach David Quinn pulled defenseman Brendan Smith from the lineup for a few games despite the fact that Smith had played well enough to deserve to continue to play.

Quinn scratched Smith because he wanted to get Brady Skjei back in the lineup after a two-game absence. Skjei, 24, is a player the Rangers envisioned as a cornerstone when they signed him to a six-year, $31.5 million contract over the summer, but his play had slipped, and he’d made two glaring mistakes that led to a goal by Leo Komarov in the Rangers’ 7-5 loss to the Islanders on Nov. 15.

With Quinn insisting that the Rangers have eight defensemen who can play (including the injured Adam McQuaid), and with the coach having made a point to hold players accountable for mistakes and poor play, he had little choice but to sit Skjei at that point. It also happened to Smith, who had sat for three games because of an egregious mistake he’d made in a game against Detroit Nov. 9.

But when it was time to bring Skjei back in, the Rangers had won two straight, had played well in both games, and there was no defenseman in need of a benching. So Quinn chose to pull Smith – probably for no greater reason than because that move allowed him to just alter one defense pair, and leave the other two pairs unchanged.

After a dreadful performance by the entire team (except for goalie Henrik Lundqvist) in Friday’s 4-0 loss to Philadelphia, Quinn put Smith back into the lineup Saturday against Washington, pulling Tony DeAngelo.

Going forward, Quinn said he isn’t sure whether he’ll be able to rotate eight players (when McQuaid comes back) through six spots on defense, or stay with the same six every night and just tell the other two players to stay ready if needed.

“I think that depends on who’s playing well,’’ Quinn said. “If you have all seven [or eight] playing well, then maybe there’s a little bit of a rotation. If some guy’s play slips and he gives you a reason not to play him, then that takes care of itself. I think all of their play will dictate whether there will be a rotation, or whether there are six that have separated themselves from the other two.’’

Kravtsov named KHL all-star

Vitali Kravtsov, the Rangers’ first of three first-round picks in this summer’s draft, was named an All Star in the KHL this week. It’s been an eventful season so far for Kravtsov, who considered buying out the final season of his contract with Traktor Chelyabinsk and coming over to North America this season, but decided to stay in Russia one more year.

His coach with Traktor, German Titov, was fired, and the team is languishing at the bottom of its division in the Eastern Conference. But Kravtsov, who had an assist Saturday in Traktor’s 5-3 loss to Torpedo, has been playing well. He’s been the leader in scoring among KHL players 20 or younger – he has four goals and nine assists for 13 points in 29 games – and he was captain of the Russian U20 squad at the U20 Four Nations Tournament in the Czech Republic earlier this month, where he had a goal and four assists in three games. He’s expected to lead Russia’s team in the World Junior Championships in Vancouver next month, and, needless to say, the Rangers are very happy with his development so far.

“He’s a KHL all star; he’s on a team that’s in a little bit of turmoil in terms of trying to find their way -- coaching changes, and not a lot of wins. He’s certainly been a bright spot for them,’’ Rangers assistant GM Chris Drury told Newsday this week.

Drury said the Rangers are expecting several of their prospects to play important roles at the World Juniors. Defensemen K’Andre Miller (USA) and Nils Lundkvist (Sweden), the other two first round picks, are expected to make their respective teams, and defenseman Joey Keane (USA), a third round pick this summer, has a good shot, too, among others.

“We’re hoping they all pick our guys,’’ Drury said.

Drury was asked if it is a foregone conclusion that Kravtsov, whose contract expires at the end of this KHL season, will come to North America next year.

“Yeah, I think so,’’ he said. “His contract’s up. We want him here. I think he wants to be here, I think everyone’s on board with that, so that’s the plan.’’

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