GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Two players in bright red sweaters were skating as a pair again on defense, two former Wisconsin Badgers having a reunion on ice during Rangers practice Wednesday at the MSG Training Center — the captain, Ryan McDonagh, and the new guy, Brendan Smith.
“He’s always been an in-your-face kind of player, and someone that can step up and make plays at crucial points in the game,” McDonagh said. “So he’ll be an impact player.”
The Rangers look like they improved their defensive corps before Wednesday’s trade deadline via Tuesday’s deal with Detroit for Smith. Quality depth was needed because Dan Girardi is expected to be out for about two weeks with an ankle injury and Kevin Klein is taking longer than expected to recover from back spasms.
The team was interested in unrestricted free agent-to-be Kevin Shattenkirk, but there was some sticker shock. St. Louis sent him to Washington, and general manager Jeff Gorton settled for a consolation prize in Smith, a 28-year-old unrestricted free agent-to-be who was in his sixth season with the Red Wings. The price tag for this 2007 first-round pick was a 2017 third-round selection and a 2018 second-rounder.
“I’m excited to be on a good team that’s in the playoff hunt,” Smith said.
Coach Alain Vigneault said he will probably pair McDonagh and Smith for the newcomer’s Rangers debut, Thursday night at Boston.
“That would seem to be the natural fit without shuffling too many things around,” Vigneault said.
The two were teammates for three seasons in college, from 2007-08 through 2009-10. McDonagh said they were steadily paired together for about half a season. Both are lefties. Smith is versatile, though.
“I enjoy the right side and I know he likes his dominant left side,” Smith said. “So I think we work well.”
Besides McDonagh, Smith also played with center Derek Stepan for two seasons at Wisconsin. So that helps Smith’s transition.
“You don’t get to see them enough when you’re on the road or in different cities, so it’s kind of cool to rekindle that friendship that we’ve had and kind of build it off there,” Smith said. “They’re great guys to come into a new team.”
Smith owned just five points and had played just 33 games because of an MCL injury. He missed most of December and then most of January after hurting it again. The 6-2, 211-pound Ontario native returned Feb. 4 and played nine games, using a brace.
“The state of things now is real good,” Smith said.
Asked if he wants to be more than just a rental here, Smith said, “That’s a tough question . . . It’s something that I want to see how everything goes and then pursue the options.”