New York Rangers' Ryan McDonagh & Kevin Shattenkirk: The Next Great Pairing? 1
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It has since been announced that Kevin Shattenkirk is slated to start on the first pair defense with Ryan McDonagh. On paper, this could be one of the greatest New York Ranger defensive pairs ever, but let’s take a deeper look at Shatty’s prior usage and take a look at what we might expect this upcoming season.

Kevin Shattenkirk will most certainly add an element to the New York Rangers that fans haven’t seen in a long time. There was flashes during the Keith Yandle short-lived era, but something that’s been seriously lacking since the Brian Leetch, Sergei Zubov days, and that’s a true offensive defenseman.

Shattenkirk brings a wealth of experience, deep playoff runs, and consistent 40-plus point seasons. Shattenkirk is a deadly power play quarterback and moves swiftly out of the zone starting breakouts for forwards. But with coach Alain Vigneault placing Shatty on the top pair with Ryan McDonagh, is it reasonable to believe Shattenkirk may take a step back?

Over the years, Kevin Shattenkirk has mostly been used as a third pair defenseman while playing ample power play time. For his career he has started almost 60 percent (!) of his shifts in the offensive zone coincidentally McDonagh starts well under 50 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone and is more counted on when the faceoff is in the defensive zone.

Obviously, the majority of those offensive starts for Shattenkirk could be chalked up to power plays, which faceoffs after penalties are automatically conducted in the offensive zone, but obviously, he is getting preferential treatment and his coaches were putting him into a position to succeed. Shattenkirk has also logged a career average of 21:00 minutes of ice time a game. Not terrible by any means, but when you compare this to Ryan McDonagh’s career average of 23 minutes, which jumps to almost 26 in the playoffs, it’s slightly more pedestrian.

There’s clearly something three previous head coaches are seeing that some fans might not understand. Again, yes it’s a dream pair on paper to have McDonagh and Shattenkirk together on a pair, but considering what Mac brings to the team as a more shutdown defenseman, and what Shatty brings (more offense), this one, may not be as perfect as some fans may think.

Certainly, Kevin Shattenkirk is no slouch in his own zone, and the argument can be made that putting Mac and Shatty together will be a more deadly pairing transitioning the defense up to offense. This would certainly be a big boost to McDonagh’s offensive numbers and capabilities. Shattenkirk brings a Corsi rating above 50 percent while McDonagh, who had to flounder around with some less than stellar partners, his floats just under at 49 percent.

Is it more reasonable to think that Shattenkirk’s may come down while paired with McDonagh or can we expect McDonagh’s to rise? The most likely answer is that Shatty’s may slightly dip and McDonagh’s may jump slightly. For an offensive defenseman, a Corsi rating that may dip could potentially mean less offensive opportunities even strength.

Not that big of a deal considering the bulk of Shattenkirk’s numbers do come on the power play but it’s still something to consider.

Defensemen with vision like this, most certainly do NOT grow on trees. What a pass.

Quite simply, this will be uncharted territory for Kevin Shattenkirk. By now, Shattenkirk is a nine-year veteran of the NHL and is still in the prime of his career so it should not be a massive shock to him. However, consistently asking Shattenkirk to go out and shut down opposing teams top forwards could potentially cut into his even strength production.

So Rangers fans, don’t be alarmed is Shattenkirk moves down the depth chart at some point during the year. I could easily see a Brady Skjei and Shattenkirk union, and that union working out really well. And no, if Alain Vigneault sees fit to this move, he wouldn’t be benching Shattenkirk or “putting him in the doghouse.” But a move off of the top pair will likely help Shattenkirk really meet his full potential as an offensive defenseman.

That’s what coaching is all about, playing to player’s strengths and putting them in situations to succeed. This isn’t a call for the pair to end now, and it’s way too early in the season to start making calls for people’s heads, but this so-called top pair was -3 last night against the Avalanche. That leaves a lot to be desired.

Neal Purcell has a tremendous passion for New York Rangers hockey and the sport of hockey in general. A graduate of SUNY Cortland in Upstate NY, Purcell coaches both a high school hockey team and a travel team in the winter. Purcell is also a part of a small family business in the Central New York Region.