Having seen enough of Brendan Smith’s inexplicable turnovers, penalties and inconsistent play, the Rangers placed the defenseman on waivers Thursday, a move that coach Alain Vigneault endorsed but thought “might be a little bit drastic.”
Rookie Neal Pionk was summoned from Hartford and will make his NHL debut on Friday against the Calgary Flames.
The fall from grace for Smith, who turned 29 Thursday, is bewildering.
In 18 games last season after being acquired from Detroit for a third-round pick at the trade deadline, he played fast with smarts and an edge and gave the Rangers an option on the right side. His 14 playoff games were impressive enough for the Blueshirts to sign him in June to a four-year deal worth $17.4 million. Instead, his play regressed.
Smith was not in top shape to start the season, had one goal and seven assists in 44 games and was scratched a total of 10 games.
“We signed him based on how he played, and quite frankly, he’s struggled,” general manager Jeff Gorton said. “We scratched him, tried some different things to get him going. No insight why he fell off the cliff. He just hasn’t been able to find his game.”
If Smith clears waivers Friday, he will be assigned to AHL Hartford, where Gorton believes he can resurrect his game.
“Based on what we’ve seen in the past, Brendan’s a good player, but none of those elements have really been there this year,” Gorton said. “At this time, it’s best for him to go on waivers, and we’ll go from there.”
Pionk, 22, a righthanded defenseman, was signed as an undrafted free agent last year. He had a goal and 16 assists in 48 games for the Wolf Pack this season.