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Trades add fuel to hot Rangers team's fire

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Backman in action Watch
Sjostrom in action Watch
Gratton in action Watch
LeNeveu in action Watch
Exclusive: Sather on the Deadline Deals Watch
Exclusive: Renney on the Newcomers Watch
Analysis from Giannone and Fischler Watch
'This Week in Hockey' Deadline Special Watch
Sjostrom Interview at MSG Training Center Watch
Backman Interview at MSG Training Center Watch
Lundqvist-Backman Reunion Watch


By Jim Cerny,

Defenseman Christian Backman played on the Swedish team that won the 2006 Olympic gold medal in Torino, Italy.
The surging Rangers bolstered their roster at the NHL trading deadline on Tuesday by adding four players to the organizational depth chart in two separate deals. The Blueshirts acquired forwards Fredrik Sjostrom and Josh Gratton along with goaltender David LeNeveu from the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for forward Marcel Hossa and goalie Al Montoya, while also picking up defenseman Christian Backman from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for a fourth round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

Sjostrom and Backman, a pair of former first round picks, will both report to the Rangers on Wednesday and are expected to be in the lineup Thursday when the Blueshirts face off with the Carolina Hurricanes down in Raleigh, N.C. Gratton and LeNeveu will both head to Hartford where they will begin playing for the Wolf Pack, the club's AHL affiliate.

"It's a very exciting day, a very exhilarating day," said Rangers head coach Tom Renney. "Most of the teams that did deals today will tell you that they feel great about what they did, and we're no different. I feel real good about what we accomplished today."

In acquiring the 24-year-old Sjostrom, the Rangers picked up a versatile forward who can play either wing and who will bring speed to their transition game. Sjostrom, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 217 pounds, also has good size and is capable of playing a physical game.

The first round selection, 11th overall, of the Coyotes in the 2001 draft, Sjostrom has scored a career-high 10 goals this season, and was the fifth-leading goal scorer in Phoenix prior to the trade. He has recorded 73 points in 261 career matches.

"Freddy is young, still developing, still finding his game at the NHL level," noted Renney. "He's got superior speed and is a very good competitor, and is not afraid at all to get physical. This is a player we believe will round out our team."

Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather added, "Fredrik Sjostrom is a powerful skater who goes to the net hard. We think he can score more than he has. He's got 10 goals now, but he's also a guy that has an upside to him."

Noting that his team needed reinforcement on the backline due to the recent injury to defenseman Paul Mara, Sather picked up the 27-year-old Backman from the Blues in a trade the Rangers GM said he was "quite excited to make".

Backman was the Blues' first-round selection, 24th overall, in the 1998 draft, and he has played in 228 games in the National Hockey League. This season the 6-foot-4, 210-pound defenseman was 1-9-10 over 45 games played with St. Louis.

"Backman is a prototypical Swede defenseman: he can move the puck, he can skate, he sees the ice well with good vision and is not afraid to jump up and join the attack," said Renney. "We believe he can help us on our power play, and defensively he'll be on the right side of the puck at all times. He's an upgrade for us."

Certainly Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will be excited about seeing Backman playing in front of him, and not solely for the reasons presented by Renney. Lundqvist and Backman were teammates with Vastra Frolunda in Sweden and the two also helped their native country capture the gold medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics. Backman recorded one goal and two assists in eight Olympic matches in 2006.

"Because of injury and our depth situation, we've been looking to get a defenseman, along with getting stronger on the wings," Sather said. "And at the end of the day, we did that."

Sather and Renney were also pleased that the Rangers did not deplete the young talent pool in the organization to make the deals they did. Sather emphasized that at the end of the day the Rangers want their core group of talented youngsters, some of whom are currently playing in the NHL already and others who are soon to be there, to grow together and make New York a force for years to come.

"In this game, to really make a deal that really makes sense for your team, you really have to give up somebody," said Sather. "And we weren't ready to give up any of these young players just yet. I really like the chemistry we are developing."

Added Renney, "I am happy that we didn't do anything over the top. I like the group we have here and down at Hartford."

The Wolf Pack will be bolstered by the additions of a talented young goaltender in LeNeveu and a bruising, physical force in Gratton, though Sather believes that in the long run both will be NHL players.

LeNeveu, Phoenix's second=round draft pick, 46th overall, out of Cornell University in 2002, comes highly recommended by Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire, who previously held the same position with the Coyotes.

"Benoit sees him as a very good prospect who has a chance to develop into a number one in the NHL," said Sather of the 24 year-old LeVeneu. "(Benoit) has been anxious for us to make a deal to get him all year."

Although he has spent the entire 2007-08 season so far playing with San Antonio of the American Hockey League, LeNeveu does have 21 games of experience at the NHL level over the previous two seasons. In addition, he owns the NCAA Division I record for lowest career goals against average (1.29) and he broke several of legendary goaltender Ken Dryden's records at Cornell.

LeNeveu's rugged teammate from San Antonio, the 25 year-old Gratton, will join him in Hartford, though Sather did note that if Colton Orr's recent injury causes him to miss extended action then the Rangers would consider promoting Gratton to the NHL team.

Gratton, whose cousin is veteran NHL center Chris Gratton, has skated in 67 NHL games and amassed 237 penalty minutes in that span. He racked up 32 penalty minutes in a contest last March against the Dallas Stars and another 27 minutes in a match against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"Some guys made some big moves today and really changed the look of their team," Sather said of other NHL general managers. "But I didn't want to shop anything for the future. Plus I like the way we've looked recently. 10-3-2 over our last 15 games. That's pretty darn good."
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