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4 young stars traded by Rangers, Blue Jackets @NHLdotcom

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -The Blue Jackets traded enigmatic offensive star Nikolai Zherdev and center Dan Fritsche to the New York Rangers for defensemen Christian Backman and Fedor Tyutin on Wednesday.

Fritsche was thrilled to find himself going from the only NHL team to never make the playoffs to one that is a perennial power.

"It's unbelievable," said Fritsche, 22, who was the first Ohio native to play for the Blue Jackets. "I couldn't be more excited. I'm going to a Stanley Cup contender with an abundance of talent."

Zherdev, 23, gives the Rangers one of the NHL's best one-on-one players, but also a Russian right winger who has frequently fallen into disfavor with management and teammates. He had a career-high 61 points last season with 26 goals and 35 assists, second on the Columbus team to captain Rick Nash.

"He's got upside written all over him," Rangers general manager Glen Sather said. "We are trying to get younger, we are trying to get more talented and we're trying to get faster. If you look around the league today, that's the way the league is going."

But Zherdev has also been in management's doghouse for selfish play and was never warmly received by his Columbus teammates or fans because he spoke only halting English and seldom made public appearances.

Zherdev was the No. 4 pick in the 2003 draft and had to sneak out of Russia under cover of darkness to get to North America because he feared he might be compelled to remain in his homeland under the guise of required military service.

He had 13 goals and 21 assists in 57 games after joining the Blue Jackets in December 2003. His production declined in his next two seasons in the NHL, falling to just 10 goals and 22 assists in 2005-06. He also held out for a new contract, missing the start of preseason camp two years ago and angering then-general manager Doug MacLean.

Columbus' front office had even made a risky trade for an aging Sergei Fedorov in hopes he might help Zherdev grow into his role with the team. But Fedorov, who was traded to Washington at the deadline this spring, at times expressed frustration with Zherdev.

Zherdev rebounded last year with a fine season that included several highlight-reel goals, frequently featuring his toe-drag move from the high slot.

"Zherdev is a player that we've had targeted for a couple of years," Sather said. "This deal just sort of fell in our laps."

Fritsche, 22, was a second-round pick who developed into a feisty third-line center. He had 10 goals and 12 assists in 69 games last season.

The deal remakes the Blue Jackets - who signed free agent defenseman Mike Commodore on Tuesday - into a solid defensive team in front of promising goalie Pascal Leclaire. Columbus is looking for its first postseason berth since joining the NHL in 2000.

"The Blue Jackets thought the team was a little weak on defense," Fritsche said. "With the addition of Commodore and these two guys, they feel solid on the blue line with a lot of veteran leadership on the back end."

Tyutin, who turns 25 later this month, adds a puck-moving blue-liner who can help Columbus' power play. He's coming off a year in which he had five goals and 15 assists for the Rangers, adding three assists in the playoffs.

"What can I say? I'm happy to be coming to Columbus," Tyutin said by telephone from Guelph, Ontario. "I love to play the game. When I get there, I will try to play my best and work hard and improve myself and hope we can make it to the playoffs."

Every player the Blue Jackets have added, so far, through two trades and one free agent signing this summer have all been solid playoff performers. That's an important quality for a team which finished 11 points out of the final playoff spot in the West this year.

Backman, 28, is 6-4 and 210 pounds and gives the Blue Jackets another big defenseman to go with the 6-5, 228-pound Commodore. His numbers almost matched those of Tyutin last season, totaling three goals and 15 assists in the regular season.

"The addition of Fedor and Christian to our lineup has really improved our puck-moving ability from the blue line," Columbus general manager Scott Howson said. "All strong teams are built from the back end out and we feel like we made significant strides in that area."

Howson hopes to add at least one more forward, possibly a top-line center to go between Nash and Fredrik Modin.


AP Hockey Writer Ira Podell in New York contributed to this report.

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