By Bob Crawford
Twenty-eight-year-old defenseman Danny Syvret, a veteran of eight seasons in pro hockey, came to the New York Ranger organization July 1, in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers for Kris Newbury. Syvret, who had spent much of the previous five seasons in the Philadelphia organization, had been through the process of being traded before, but is particularly enthused about coming into the Ranger fold.
“I’m pretty excited,” he said. “For me, I’ve sort of jumped around a bit on a couple of different teams, so it’s nothing really new to me, but every new team you go to is exciting. I went to Ranger (training) camp when I was 19, and one of my close buddies, Brandon Prust, was a player for the Rangers and I still keep in touch with (former Junior hockey teammate) Dan Girardi and Mike Del Zotto, so I’ll have some familiar faces when I come to camp.”
Syvret and Girardi enjoyed great success together in the Ontario Hockey League, winning a Memorial Cup, the championship of all of Canadian Major Junior Hockey, with the 2004-05 London Knights. Knowing Girardi as well as he does, Syvret was not surprised by Girardi’s rise from Wolf Pack ECHL callup to top-pair NHL defenseman.
“We played against each other all the way up when we were younger,” Syvret said of himself and Girardi, “and then he was a solid defenseman in the OHL, and the way it turned out, our team, the London Knights, needed a quality, stay-at-home defenseman that could move the puck, but also just be a real reliable defenseman. So they went out and got Girardi, and I had obviously known him from playing against him and with him growing up. A real good player, but then he wasn’t drafted and I think he got a walk-on tryout in Hartford and played well, and just sort of climbed the totem pole.”
In contrast to Girardi’s stay-at-home style, Syvret’s calling card has always been his skill as an offensive defenseman. The 5-11, 205-pounder was the Adirondack Phantoms’ second-leading scorer last season, with 6-34-40 in 76 games, and has 252 points in 483 career AHL contests.
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“I’m more offensive than not,” was Syvret’s response when asked to describe himself as a player. “I like joining the play and sort of controlling the play, I like playing with the puck. I don’t know if there is a player I could compare myself with, but I try to play a little like Brian Leetch. I think he jumped into the offense a little bit more, and obviously has a lot better numbers than I have, but as far as stature of body and everything and style of play, we’re pretty similar. I’m not going to go out and crush anyone or run anyone over, but I’m going to try to be in the right position, and I feel like I’m a fairly smart player.”
If Syvret can channel even a little bit of the Hall of Famer Leetch, the Rangers will be ecstatic, and Syvret feels that the Rangers are a team that gives its blueliners plenty of latitude to join the attack, again using his two good friends as examples.
“Obviously Del Zotto plays that way,” Syvret said, “and Dan Girardi was more of like a stay-at-home guy who just wants to distribute the puck well, but over the past couple years watching games, he’s jumped in and has got offensive numbers a lot better than he had in the previous years. So hopefully I’ll be able to fit into that system pretty well.”
There is something a little extra special, too, about joining an “Original Six” franchise, even for a player who has been around for a while like Syvret has.
“Being Canadian, you like playing for Canadian teams, but as far as the American teams go, it’s New York, Philly, Chicago, Boston that everybody sort of associates themselves with, especially up north of the border,” he said. “There are still fans of all four of those teams up north. So I’m pretty excited to get to camp and show what I have and hopefully get some games with the Rangers.”
Syvret is one of several experienced defensemen that the Rangers have acquired since the end of this past season, a group that also includes Justin Falk and Aaron Johnson. With Stu Bickel still under contract and the likes of Dylan McIlrath pushing hard for a job in the NHL as well, there should be some healthy competition for blueline spots in the Ranger camp this fall.
“You never know what to expect,” Syvret said about his approach to the anticipated training camp battle. “Everything’s sort of out of your control as a player, but all you can control is going in and trying to play well and prove that you are deserving of a spot. So I’m going to try to do that and however it goes, so be it, but I can only control what I can.”
Syvret has spent all of the past two seasons in the AHL, but he does have 59 career NHL regular-season games to his credit, and also got a big taste of Stanley Cup playoff action with the Flyers in 2011, suiting up for ten of Philadelphia’s 11 postseason contests that year.
“It was fun,” said Syvret of that NHL playoff taste. “We played Buffalo in the first round and went seven games, and it was good because Buffalo is pretty close for my parents to come watch. So they got to come watch the games that we played in Buffalo. And obviously Boston had a real good team that year. We ran into a little bit of injury troubles, that’s when (star defenseman Chris) Pronger started to get hurt so I was sort of in for his spot, and obviously that’s not for me, big shoes for anyone to fill, and obviously everyone just jumps up a slot. He’s a big body, smart player, probably one of the best defensemen to play the game, and when a team loses someone like that, it’s going to be tough for them to win. So we ended up losing to Boston, and obviously (eventual Stanley Cup-champion) Boston went on and had a real good finish.
“I haven’t played very many games in the NHL, but as far as experience-wise, I feel like I’m up there. I’ve played in a Memorial Cup Final and a World Junior Final and I’ve got a little bit of a taste in the NHL for playoffs. Nothing usually fazes me. I don’t really get too high or too low, I just try to play my game and keep things to what I’m used to, and hopefully it turns out for the best.”
That even-keeled approach served Syvret well with the Phantoms, who finished out of the playoffs last year with the lowest point total (69) in the AHL’s Eastern Conference. If Adirondack had played as well against the rest of the league as they did against the Whale, though, the Phantoms might have been in first place in the conference. Adirondack was 4-1-1-0 in a six-game season series against Connecticut, and often had the Whale reeling from fast-paced offensive pressure.
“In Adirondack we had some troubles with the Flyers getting a lot of injuries, so we had a lot of our players on recall, but at the same time we were a really young team,” Syvret said. “The more games you play, obviously the more you learn. It was a tough couple of years in Adirondack, just that whole process of trying to get better, obviously as a player, but as a team, and I feel as though this year they’ll be fairly good. It’s that same core of kids that have kept coming up and coming up.
“I don’t know how it worked out, but we seemed to have the number on (Calder Cup finalist) Syracuse too, which is obviously a great team. I think we split the season series, and looking at standings, we shouldn’t be in the same building as them. But sometimes you just have a team’s number, and we seemed to have Connecticut’s a little bit, but I liked going in and playing them. I like the way they play there, a fairly offensive team and pretty good young players. So it should be an interesting year to start.”