New York Rangers: Potential Replacements for Yandle

May 20, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle (93) during the second period of game three of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
May 20, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle (93) during the second period of game three of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

After sending their best puck-moving defenseman out the door, the New York Rangers have to find another one on the cheap, which won’t be easy.

The New York Rangers defense struggled during the 2015-2016 season. With defenseman Keith Yandle signing a 7-year contract with the Florida Panthers, the Blueshirts will need to find a replacement on the back end.  Replacing Yandle will not be easy.  Keith was an elite offensive defenseman. His ability to find the open man, distribute the puck with ease, coupled with his quick transition game were all assets he employed in his time with New York. There are some options in free agency that General Manager Jeff Gorton, can explore to help address the issue on defense.

Brian Campbell

The 37-year-old defenseman is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Campbell is an NHL veteran, having played in the league for 17 seasons.  He’s coming off one of his best seasons of his career in Florida. Last year, with the Panthers, he recorded 5 goals, 21 assists, and a career-high +31 (plus/minus). Brian Campbell is a mobile defenseman that also brings good offensive awareness on the back end. He excels on the power play, and can quarterback the first or second power play units. Campbell won’t have a problem accepting a top 4 role either. Last season, he averaged 22:17 TOI per game, which was more than Keith Yandle.

There are some negatives, though. Despite having a great plus/minus last season, Campbell is not the strongest defensive player. He tends to struggle in his own end. He’s not the biggest player on the ice, standing at just 5’10, he lacks size and physicality. Another issue with Brian is that he’s aging. He’s 37, and wouldn’t be a long-term solution for the Rangers. Campbell has played in all 246 regular season games in the past 3 years, which doesn’t include the playoffs. I’m not too sure if he’s the best option for New York, but if the Rangers are looking for a point-producing defenseman, Campbell leads the list.

Jason Demers

The former 7th round pick of the San Jose Sharks, is a proven regular in the NHL.  Demers is mostly known for his offensive game but isn’t a defensive liability. He’s great at shooting and distributing the puck. He is also extremely effective on the power play, where he uses his vision and offensive awareness to set up his teammates. Another asset that Demers brings is his deceptive shot from the point. Recording 145 career points, Jason is able to bring balance to both sides of the puck.

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A potential downside to Demers is his inability to stay on the ice. He has never played a full NHL season. Demers missed 20 games last season because of various injuries, including a shoulder injury toward the end of the year that sidelined him until the playoffs. Jason should be healthy to start next season and if he plans on testing the free-agent market, the Rangers should take a look at him.

Dan Hamhuis

The former first-round pick is may be the most complete defenseman available in free agency. Hamhuis was a member of the 2014 Canadian Olympic Gold Medal team. He’s been an effective defenseman since he’s entered the league in 2003-2004. A huge part of his game is his leadership. He’s been the assistant captain for the Vancouver Canucks for many seasons. Hamhuis has excellent hockey sense. He’s skilled with the puck and can play big minutes. Dan is strong in both zones and is an asset on special teams. He’s not known for being aggressive, but can be physical when needed.

Unfortunately, Hamhuis is another player that has fought the injury bug. He has played in just 117 games in the past two seasons. Another worrisome part of his game is his skating. There are times where it looks like he’s struggling to keep up with the speed of today’s game. I think Hamhuis is the safest bet for the Rangers. They know what they’re getting with him. He won’t necessarily produce the same amount of points as Yandle, but he’s a stable guy to have on the back end. It is also worth noting that he has played for Alain Vigneault in the past, so there is a comfort zone there.

Justin Schultz

Schultz’s future in Pittsburgh is uncertain. If the Penguins choose to not re-sign him, the Rangers could have potentially a long-term option on defense. He’s a complete offensive player, capable of generating plays from his own zone, carrying the puck through transition and making confident, creative plays in the offensive zone. There’s no wonder why Schultz has racked up over 100 points already in his short career. The former draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks, Schultz has also shown a commitment to improving his game in the defensive zone. He’s not a physical force, but still is a strong player. He’s the youngest of the group, at just 25 years old. If he can progress his defensive game, Schultz can become a force on the blue line.

There are some other free agents that the Rangers could explore, but these seem to make the most sense for the team going forward.