New York Rangers: On the “Kevin Shattenkirk can’t play defense” narrative

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12: Kevin Shattenkirk
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12: Kevin Shattenkirk /

There are very few people who will question New York Rangers’ defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk’s offensive ability. However, one of the common narratives about him is that he is an awful defender or that he can not play defense at all.

Kevin Shattenkirk is one of the best offensive defensemen in the league. There are very few defensemen who are able to score at the rate that he does. In terms of active defensemen in the NHL, he ranks fifth in career points per game.

However, there is this misconception that he is a below average defender. Without directly calling out people by sharing their tweets, here are a few quotes about Shattenkirk’s “lack of defensive ability”:

  • “Kevin Shattenkirk will give Rangers a dimension they haven’t had in a while. Does nothing for them defensively, however.”
  • “NYR signing Shattenkirk makes me very happy, nobody realizes how overrated he is until he comes to your team, dude plays zero defense.”
  • “I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but Shattenkirk doesn’t exactly play defense….”
  • “Yes. And Shattenkirk makes Girardi look like Chris Pronger.”

You should be able to get the idea from just these quotes, which represent just a select few examples. Kevin Shattenkirk is considered to be one of the worst defenders in the league by many people.

This narrative couldn’t be farther from the truth, however. The truth is that Shattenkirk is actually one of the better defenders in the league and that this narrative that he can’t play defense needs to end.

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Shot Suppression

Shot suppression is exactly what it sounds like, it measures how well a player limits his opponent from taking shots. The reason this stat is important is that it can be used to show which players are able to shut down the other team.

If the other team isn’t able to shoot the puck, then they aren’t able to score on you. It’s as simple as that. Using Own The Puck HERO charts, here is how Kevin Shattenkirk ranks up against a prototypical number one defender:

If you look at the shot suppression column, you can see that Kevin Shattenkirk’s shot suppression, which is an eight, is far higher than that of the typical number one defender’s, six. This tells us that Kevin Shattenkirk is able to suppress shots far better than the average number one defender.

To compare his ability, let’s look at how Shattenkirk, a player with a reputation to be a “bad defender” ranks up against Dan Girardi, who is heralded for his “defensive” ability and is also the player Shattenkirk will be replacing.

Dan Girardi’s shot suppression ability is so utterly bad that it’s a zero. Not even a one. A big fat zero.

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Scoring Chances Against

Scoring Chances Against (SCA) are the number of scoring chances that the other team creates while a player is on the ice. This stat helps identify which players are able to limit the other team from having scoring chances the best.

Using Natural Stat Trick, Kevin Shattenkirk ranked in the top 30 for least amount of SCA (at even strength) among defensemen with at least 500 minutes played. This means that Kevin Shattenkirk does not allow the other team to shoot from close up in the high percentage areas on the ice.

Using SCA and Shot Suppression stats, it helps us get a clear picture of Kevin Shattenkirk’s defensive ability. He is one of the better defensemen at limiting the opposition from shooting the puck.

When he does let up a shot, he doesn’t allow the opponent to take a shot from a high percentage area. Instead, he forces the opposition to take a shot that is easier for his goaltender to stop.

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“The best defense is a great offense”

The idiom “The best defense is a great offense” is used enough in sports that it has become a cliche. However, there is serious value to it. If your team always has the puck, the other team can’t score. It also implies that you can overwhelm another team by constantly attacking them into submission.

That’s one of the reasons that Corsi has become popular in the advanced stats community. It is used to determine who has the puck the most by measuring shot attempts since in order to shoot the puck a player has to have possession of the puck. Shot attempts also happen fairly often in a game, which helps to limit skewing, or distortion of data, since there is a larger sample size.

Using Puckalytics, Kevin Shattenkirk ranks 26th out of all defensemen with at least 55 games played and 500 minutes played in Corsi For % (CF%). Corsi For % is calculated by taking the shots attempts for while a player is on the ice and dividing that by the shot attempts against.

Any CF% over 50 would indicate that a player controls possession and has the puck more than the opponent, which is extremely ideal. Kevin Shattenkirk’s 53.04 CF% is amazing. The next highest Ranger is Brady Skjei, who was 68th with a 50.38 CF%.

The point is simple, when Kevin Shattenkirk is on the ice, his team has the puck most of the time and they tend to generate more shots when he is on the ice. This ultimately means that the other team does not have many opportunities to start a counter attack since they are too busy fending off his overwhelming offensive ability.

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What Kevin Shattenkirk does defensively is exactly what a head coach would want from a shutdown defender, and he still manages to be one of the best offensive defensemen in the league. He isn’t one dimensional like true offensive defensemen or defensive defensemen are.

These narratives that he can’t play defense are so far from the truth. It’s time that these narratives are replaced with the truth: Kevin Shattenkirk is an all-around elite defenseman and a top pairing caliber player. Any team should long to have him on their blueline.

Thankfully for the Rangers, they don’t have to long for him because he is, in fact, a New York Ranger.