Predicting the Rangers Blue Line in 2018
The 2018-19 season will be focused on a full rebuild, but the defense should relatively remain the same. The primary pieces are in place at the moment and the only real change is those coming back from injury. So without further ado, here is my prediction of the 2018-19 New York Rangers defensemen.
Gilmour – Shattenkirk
Skjei – DeAngelo
Staal – Pionk
John Gilmour and a healthy Kevin Shattenkirk can bolster the current offensively deficient blue line.
Gilmour has been used a lot in offensive zone starts with 57.1%, so obviously it would make sense to match him with someone as adequate on offense as Shattenkirk.
Shattenkirk, if he was able to maintain a healthy season, would have helped significantly with offensive production. In his half-season, he got 50% of his 188 shot attempts on goal and started in the offensive zone 65% of the time.
Having a solid scoring first line of defense is something the Rangers haven’t had since Brian Leetch and Sergei Zubov in 1993-94. Originally, we all thought the tandem of McDonagh and Shatty would have all implications of a solid pair, an offensive-defenseman paired with a slightly more defensive-defenseman, but that didn’t work.
The future will be trial and error, and adjustments will be made if it doesn’t work. Let’s give these two offensive-defensemen a shot to put numbers on the board and take advantage of offensive zone draws.
Brady Skjei and Tony DeAngelo are two guys that can advance the puck 200 feet, in an instant.
Skjei’s year hasn’t gone the way that anyone expected. He currently holds a -23 and is among the team’s worst in giveaways at 59. But there were still some valuable upsides to his game. Skjei got 53.5% of his shots through to the opposing netminder and has helped dish out 20 assists.
DeAngelo would still be in the Rangers lineup if he did not suffer that terrible injury a few weeks ago. He has shown ability with stickhandling the puck and quickly moving all around the ice. In his 32 appearances with the Blueshirts, his CF% was at 50.2%, got an incredible 63.6% of the shots through and 66.5% of his shifts started in the offensive zone. This doesn’t go without saying that DeAngelo needs to improve significantly. His PDO is the lowest of the D-men at a painstakingly low 93.8%.
This is where I feel the Rangers have the most freedom to switch things around. Each of these three can be interchangeable.
I originally wrote that Staal would be a second line player but now I can see, he is not that anymore. His game is getting slower, and with that, his time must be cut. Even if he is slowing down, doesn’t mean he can’t still be effective. He is having a reputable season, despite the free fall that a lot of these other Rangers defensemen have had.
With Staal, Steven Kampfer is another veteran player, which the Rangers have very few of. Kampfer only appeared in 22 games this season before going out with an injury. In that time, he underperformed but had a lot of defensive zone starts at 59.7%. With the above lines pertaining to offense and puck control, Kampfer and Staal on a line to lock down defensive situations is a smart move. He is under contract for one more season, and should be used before his contract is null and void.
The final d-man on line three is Neal Pionk. Pionk has spent a lot of time on a line with Staal since his recall from Hartford, so the chemistry has been established. He has spent the second most time on the team in defensive zone starts, behind (shocker) Staal at 60.5%. Pionk has shown offensive flourishes as well, with dishing out 13 assists and scoring a goal in 25 games.
What about Sproul, O’Gara, and Smith?
Sproul and O’gara will become free agents at the end of this season, and based off of their overall performance, they should part ways with the Rangers. Brendan Smith is under contract for another three seasons, so his place with the Rangers organization, for now, isn’t going anywhere.
As I stated before, Sproul just haven’t shown enough in his 13 appearances to merit a re-sign. His oiSV% is the second lowest among Rangers D-men at 89.1%, which is a definite negative. You can check out my article on Sproul here.
O’Gara on the other hand has been adequate, but again, hasn’t been around enough to show something spectacular. His CA% is at 42%, the second lowest on the team behind Pionk. The only difference being that Pionk has a substantial amount of more shots on net then O’Gara. In only six more games, Pionk has put 49 more shot attempts on net.
Smith was waived from the Rangers on February 8, but wasn’t claimed. He’s been with Hartford since and hasn’t done too well in his 11 games there. Finishing with only two assists in those 11 appearances, he also had a dismal -11. He could come up to the lines above in case of injuries or someone mentioned above underperforming, but for now he will more than likely spend his time in Hartford until he improves.