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Rangers' Brendan Smith looking for bounce-back year

Defenseman lost weight this summer, using demotion to minors last year as motivation

New York Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith skates against

New York Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith skates against the Philadelphia Flyers during the second period of a preseason NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Brendan Smith was more than willing to say that, yes, he did lose weight from a year ago, when he struggled so much in the early part of the season that the Rangers eventually sent him down to Hartford in midseason.

He wouldn’t say how much weight he lost, but officially, the Rangers have the 6-2, 29-year-old defenseman listed at 195 pounds, which is 16 pounds less than the 211 he was listed at last year. Being lighter, Smith said, makes him feel quicker in a game that has continually gotten faster since he broke into the NHL in 2011.

“I feel good,’’ he said before the Rangers lost to the Flyers, 6-4, in their second game of the preseason Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. “Hopefully there’s a little bit more pep in my step because I’m lighter.’’

Smith is hoping for a major bounceback from his disastrous 2017-18 season, and the Rangers are, too. The rugged, take-no-prisoners defenseman was such a force for the Blueshirts down the stretch and during the playoffs in 2017 after he was acquired at the deadline that they rewarded him after the season with a four-year, $17.4 million free agent contract. But after signing the contract, and getting married over the summer, Smith showed up to camp overweight and things did not go well.

This summer, he made a concerted effort to lose weight — he worked out with renowned conditioning coach Ben Prentiss and cut gluten out of his diet — and while he doesn’t like to talk about last season, he said the banishment to the minors is major motivation to play better this season.

“For sure, it drives me,’’ he said. “That feeling — anytime you kind of 'plateau' or go back in your career, it’s disappointing. But I’ll definitely use it as motivation. I don’t want to think about it too much, but I’m just going to go forth and play hard.’’

No doubt Smith, who got a first-period assist on a goal by Matt Beleskey and picked up a roughing minor for a third-period scuffle with the Flyers' Carsen Twarynski on Wednesday, would have gotten a second chance this season no matter what happened. But the firing of Alain Vigneault and the hiring of new coach David Quinn probably works in Smith’s favor more than any other Ranger. Quinn had recruited Smith to come to Boston University when he was an assistant coach there.

“I’ve always been a fan of his,’’ Quinn said of Smith. “I know what type of game he has.''

Quinn said the same things that made him a first round pick of Detroit's in 2007 — strong skating, reliable defensive play and toughness — are still very much part of Smith's game today.

“When we got him a couple years ago, he was a good piece at the trade deadline, and he played very well,'' Quinn said. "We’re anticipating that Brendan Smith to show up for the season.’’

Notes & quotes: Henrik Lundqvist made his first start of the preseason and allowed five goals on 22 shots in 26:37 of ice time. "I was hoping for a better feeling,'' Lundqvist said. "I definitely have some work to do, here.'' . . . Dustin Tokarski played the second half of the game and allowed one goal on 11 shots . . . Matt Beleskey, Ryan Spooner, Pavel Buchnevich and Filip Chytil scored for the Rangers, Oskar Lindblom had two goals and an assist, Corban Knight, Dale Weise, German Rubtsov and Mikhail Vorobyov scored for the Flyers . . . Ryan Spooner left the game with soreness in his hip area, according to Quinn. . . Chytil took a puck in the ribs, but said he's OK.

New York Sports