While the hockey world was trying to sort through all the deals on NHL Trade Deadline day, the Colorado Avalanche were able to sneak through one last minute transaction. Nearly two hours after the deadline had passed, the Avalanche announced that they had traded Chris Bigras to the New York Rangers in exchange for Ryan Graves. It was a swap of defenseman that were drafted in 2013, and a “change of scenery” type move for both teams.
After suffering through injuries the past few seasons, Bigras had fallen out of favor with the organization, and this move seems to be nothing more than letting two young AHLers try to crack the NHL with a new organization.
He’s a big, strong defenseman. Defends well in front of the net. He’s a pretty decent skater for his size and has an absolute cannon from the point; he recorded 103.4 mph at the 2017 AHL Skills Competition. With Hartford, he has played top pairing and key shutdown minutes the past two seasons. He has the upside of a #6 defenseman who PKs in the NHL. Unfortunately he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. For a while he was one of the Rangers’ top defensive prospects then practically overnight they added a bunch of new guys and he fell down the depth chart.
His Junior Career
After being drafted 9th overall by the Prince Edward Island Rocket in the 2011 QMJHL Entry Draft, Graves went on to have a very good junior career. Playing for three different organizations, Graves appeared in back-to-back Memorial Cups in 2014 with Val-d’Or and 2015 with the Quebec Ramparts. During his second trip to the CHL championship tournament, the Ramparts were ultimately defeated by the Oshawa Generals in the final, but Graves was named to the Memorial Cup All-Star team as one of the top-2 defensemen. He finished his QMJHL career with 47 points and 241 penalty minutes in 245 games played.
His AHL Career
Graves was in the middle of his third season with the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL when he was traded to the Avs. At only 22-years of age, Graves has taken a leadership role, showing the maturity you like to see from young players. He was already serving as one of the alternate captains on the team, and has been relied upon by the coaching staff to play big minutes on the top pair.
Last year, in only his second professional season, Graves was named to the AHL All-Star game. He grew into a big-minute player and was able to add a little offensive game to repertoire - he finished the season tied for the team lead in scoring among defensemen.
This season, with a deeper team in Hartford, Graves has seen his production take a hit. He’s still playing in the top defensive roles but hasn’t been relied upon to chip in offensively.
For right now, Graves is going to report to the San Antonio Rampage. He will likely serve as one of the top defensive guys on a team that has had no stability at all this season. If the Avalanche need another defenseman at some point during the remainder of the season, don’t be surprised if it’s Graves that gets the all of Andrei Mironov - if for no other reason that to let the coaching staff take a quick look at home before camp this summer.
Going forward, Graves is going to needs a new contract this summer. He is likely to get one or two years on a two-way contract and slot into the glut of fringe NHLers that this organizations has. He will come into camp next September battling for the 6th and 7th spot on the Avs blueline. Graves gives the team a younger option in case they decide they want to move on from guys like Duncan Siemens and Andrei Mironov this summer.