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Rangers get busy as free agency begins

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Goalie Martin Biron has recorded more than 200 career NHL victories, but he still can't wait for the opportunity to learn even more about netminding from Rangers Goaltending Coach Benoit Allaire.
Stepan Turns Pro with Rangers

Rangers Agree to Terms with Biron
Feared Enforcer Boogaard a Blueshirt
Christensen Coming Back to New York
Prospal Returns for Encore Performance
Prust Gets New Contract with Rangers

By Jim Cerny,

When the dust settled, and the first day of free agency in the National Hockey League was done, the Rangers had agreed to contract terms with five players on Thursday, with only two of the five being complete newcomers to the organization.

The new faces belong to goaltender Martin Biron and forward Derek Boogaard, a pair of unrestricted free agents who joined the Rangers on Thursday. The club also brought back two centers from last year’s squad, Vinny Prospal and Erik Christensen, and kicked off the pro career of 20-year-old center Derek Stepan, the Rangers’ second round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, on a very busy day.

“I don’t think we’re totally done,” Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather said on Thursday night. “We’re still looking. I just think that what we’re looking for now is a little bit different from what we were looking for in the past.”

In signing Biron and Boogaard, the Rangers filled two important needs. Biron, a 32-year-old netminder with 208 career victories in the NHL, provides the Rangers a reliable veteran back-up to starter Henrik Lundqvist in goal. And Boogaard, who stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 260 pounds, will become the rugged enforcer the team had been seeking.

Pointing to the fact that the club’s lack of a proven back-up to Lundqvist “probably cost us the playoffs” last season, Sather moved quickly and decisively to sign Biron, who played last year with the Islanders after previously spending seven years with the Buffalo Sabres and three with the Philadelphia Flyers. Biron was one of the first notable players signed by any team after NHL free agency officially began at Noon ET on Thursday.

“We targeted him right from the beginning,” Sather said of Biron. “We think he’ll fit right in here with us. We’re quite happy to get the deal done, and he’s quite happy to be here.”

Both Sather and Biron pointed to the latter’s respect for Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire as a big reason why Biron was so eager to make The Garden his hockey home. Biron has known Allaire ever since attending hs goaltending camp near Montreal as a teenager, and he believes there will be great benefits in mentoring under Allaire this season.

Derek Boogaard's close relationship with longtime Wild teammate Marian Gaborik was a major factor in his decision to join the Rangers where he would be reunited with one of his oldest NHL friends.
“I had a conversation with Sean Burke this past season about what it meant to him when he worked with Benoit and how it changed his career and the way he played the game,” said Biron. “It was something that really stuck with me in my mind moving forward. I am really thrilled to work with Benoit, and I just think this is a great fit for me.”

A No. 1 goalie for much of his career, Biron is not phased about clearly playing the role of No. 2 behind Lundqvist. In fact, he believes that he can help Lundqvist play even better by pushing him from behind, just as he and Antero Niittymaki did for one another as teammates in Philadelphia.

“My role with the New York Rangers organization is going to be more of a secondary role, but I’m intending on doing that to the best of my ability,” said Biron, who has appeared in 462 games and backstopped 26 shutouts in his career. “It’s not only fair to me, but to everybody, that I come in and want to play and want to play hard.”

The 28 year-old Boogaard joins the Rangers after spending his entire career with the Minnesota Wild organization. Originally a seventh round selection (202nd overall) by the Wild in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Boogaard has accumulated 544 penalty minutes in 255 National Hockey League games.

His addition to the team is, pure and simple, about making the Rangers a more difficult team to play against.

“He’s obviously the biggest and the toughest,” Sather said of Boogaard. “I think we need that presence here. There were too many times last year when we saw guys scraping snow into Henrik’s face in front of the net, and I didn’t like it. I don’t think we’re going to see that happen any longer here.”

Boogaard related that there were several teams interested in signing him, but he decided to skate for the Rangers because of the great opportunity to play in New York and for the chance to be reunited with his former Wild teammate Marian Gaborik.

“Me and Gabby go back to when the team drafted me when I was 19 years old and then built a relationship from there,” said Boogaard. “I love doing what I do, and wouldn’t trade it for the world and I’ll get it to do it on the center stage now, that’s for sure.”

In keeping both Prospal and Christensen in the fold, the Rangers return two of their regular centers from 2010-11. Prospal, an alternate captain with the Rangers a year ago, was the club’s second leading scorer last season with 58 points in 75 games. He was second on the team with 38 assists and tied for second with 20 goals, the fifth time in his career he reached the 20-goal plateau.

Forwards Erik Christensen and Vinny Prospal were two important members of the Rangers last year and both will be back for more in the 2010-11 season.
Prospal has 949 games of NHL experience and should reach the 1,000-game milestone in a Rangers uniform next year. He has scored 218 goals, and notched 657 points while playing for the Rangers, Flyers, Ottawa Senators, Anaheim Ducks, and Tampa Bay Lightning since the 1996-97 season.

“I thought he played very well,” Sather said of Prospal. “He’s a great guy, fits in with us. And we just wanted to have him come back.”

The 26-year-old Christensen became an important member of the Rangers after being claimed on waivers from the Ducks last December. In 49 games with the Blueshirts, Christensen notched 26 points on eight goals and 18 assists. The point total was just shy of the career-high 33 he recorded in 61 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins back in 2006-07.

“Christensen is a guy with all kinds of untapped ability and he started to show that here,” said Sather. “He got his confidence here and the coaches trusted him. He was playing 17 to 18 minutes a night at the end of the season.”

Another center that will vie for a spot along with Prospal and Christensen with the Rangers this season is Stepan, who turned pro after two strong seasons at the University of Wisconsin.

Stepan, who captained the United States to a gold medal at the 2010 World Junior Championship tournament and led all players with 14 points in the seven-game tournament, recorded 54 points in 41 games with the Badgers last season. His point total led Wisconsin and ranked second among all college players in the nation.

That another key Rangers prospect is joining the professional ranks might just be the best news of the day for Sather, who said that there are still several spots available on the roster this season and that he is hoping youngsters within the organization play well enough to earn those roster spots.

“We have a lot of prospects who I think are going to be play in the NHL one day,” said Sather. “I think we are much better off than where we were. It looks to me right now that things are starting to develop.”
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