New York Rangers: A healthy Kevin Shattenkirk is the team’s best defenseman

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 18: Kevin Shattenkirk
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 18: Kevin Shattenkirk /
NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 18: Kevin Shattenkirk
NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 18: Kevin Shattenkirk /

The New York Rangers currently have ten defenseman under team control for next season. Don’t look now, but Kevin Shattenkirk is the team’s best defenseman.

If Kevin Shattenkirk had a time machine, it’d be curious to know if he’d still sign with the New York Rangers. This was supposed to be a storybook moment for the New Rochelle native. Shattenkirk was taking a hometown discount to play for his childhood favorite team. The Rangers were just one quality defenseman away from being a serious Stanley Cup Final contender.

However, the 2017-2018 season went so far off the beaten path, it is hard to see any semblance of a quality team for the 2018-2019 season. As of the moment, the Rangers have ten defenseman, only four of which have substantial NHL experience. Outside of Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei, Brendan Smith and Marc Staal, the team has a bunch of unknown quantities.

The Rangers signed Shattenkirk as a complimentary piece last summer. The idea was to pair Shattenkirk with the team’s best defenseman, Ryan McDonagh. Of course, the Rangers traded McDonagh to the Tampa Bay Lightning at last year’s trade deadline. Based on the available sample sizes, it is clear that Shattenkirk is the team’s best defenseman.

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Going into next season, there is a clear pecking order and the defense needs to be molded around what they already have.

A case of the blues

When the Rangers signed Shattenkirk last summer, the team was going off of a substantial track record. After the Colorado Avalanche drafted Shattenkirk with the 14th overall pick of the 2007 NHL draft, the defenseman was traded to the St. Louis Blues. It was with the Blues that the New Rochelle native established himself as one of the league’s premier offensive defenseman.

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In Shattenkirk’s 490 career games before joining the Rangers, the defenseman posted 298 points. For comparison, during this same period of time, Ryan McDonagh registered 203 points. In addition to posting steady offensive numbers, Shattenkirk also had strong possession numbers.

In theory, a defenseman that helps his team generate more of the shots in a game has to do less defending. If the team is creating scoring chances, they are not in the defensive zone. So, a strong possession defenseman is among the most important features a quality team can have. Shattenkirk has a career Corsi For percentage of 53.1. That means that when Shattenkirk was on the ice, his team generated 53.1% of the shots in the game.

The clown car

The Rangers have ten defenseman for six NHL roster spots, with a seventh serving as a healthy scratch. Of the ten, the four with substantial NHL experience, Staal, Skjei, Shattenkirk and Smith, the first three are locks for the NHL roster. Assuming that the Smith remembered how to play hockey over the course of this summer, that’s four.

In no world are Tony DeAngelo, Frederik Claesson, Neal Pionk, John Gilmour, Rob O’Gara or Steve Kampfer better than Shattenkirk. So, via process of elimination, there is realistically only one other candidate for this discussion. Brady Skjei had on of the best rookie seasons in recent memory for any Ranger.

However, in his second season in the league, Skjei regressed when he was asked to take on a larger role. Although a considerable part of the regression can be attributed to playing for a bad team, there is some cause for concern. The defenseman was often caught out of position because of the team’s system of play. Under Alain Vigneault Skjei was encouraged to jump up into the play which allowed easy odd man rushes.

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This leaves Shattenkirk as the team’s best defenseman. Based on his track record at the NHL level, the veteran should be the team’s number one for at least next season. If the defenseman can come all the way back from his torn meniscus, he will easily be the team’s best player on the blue line.