A New York Rangers powerplay without the captain manning the point? It may sound crazy, but it also might be just what’s needed.
Ryan McDonagh is the best defenseman that the New York Rangers have. Nobody can deny that. He shuts down the top forwards of other teams on a nightly basis. He’s also very solid offensively, scoring at least 32 points every year in the league, excluding his rookie season and third season, in which he played 40 and 47 games respectively.
He’s the captain of the team for a reason, and he’s the leader on defense. He plays in all three situations—at even strength, on the penalty kill and on the powerplay. He’s very good at all three of these roles.
But it would benefit the Rangers to take him off of the powerplay.
McDonagh has never been a force on the powerplay, which is what a team is hoping for from the quarterback of their first unit when they’ve got a man advantage. Take a look at his recent history on the powerplay:
- 2013-14: 13 points (2 G, 11 A)
- 2014-15: 12 points (3 G, 9 A)
- 2015-16: 9 points (2 G, 7 A)
- 2016-17: 15 points (1 G, 14 A)
Last season was the first in which he reached 15 powerplay points. And while his production before then isn’t bad, it’s not dominant, either. The Rangers simply have better options to use instead of McDonagh.
On the first unit, the man who was brought in to play with McDonagh is the top dog. Kevin Shattenkirk has been used and will continue to be used on the first unit. Take a look at his powerplay numbers over the past four years for a comparison:
- 2013-14: 25 points (9 G, 17 A)
- 2014-15: 25 points (4 G, 21 A)
- 2015-16: 26 points (6 G, 20 A)
- 2016-17: 27 points (8 G, 19 A)
Shattenkirk has produced at least 25 powerplay points in each of the last four seasons. He’s collected double-digit powerplay assists in every year of his career except for the strike-shortened season of 2012-13. Entering Tuesday night’s game against his former team, St. Louis, all three of his points with the Rangers this season have come a man up.
Shattenkirk showed his vision on the powerplay with his assist on Mika Zibanejad’s goal in the season opener. Shattenkirk has long been an elite powerplay quarterback and will continue to hold that role on the Rangers’ top unit.
Many coaches, including Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault, prefer to play with four forwards on their first powerplay unit. The top powerplay unit for the Rangers is thus Chris Kreider, Zibanejad, and Pavel Buchnevich, with Shattenkirk and Mats Zuccarello on the points.
The Rangers could play McDonagh on the second powerplay unit, but it makes more sense to go with Brady Skjei and Tony DeAngelo, who are both more offensively minded.
Skjei is an incredible young defenseman, especially as an offensive player. He collected 39 points last season, which was ninth among all rookies. It’s very rare for a young defenseman to produce at that high of a rate as a rookie.
Skjei’s powerplay production left something to be desired, as he produced only seven assists and not a single goal. However, it isn’t unusual for a young defenseman to struggle on the powerplay.
They often don’t have the confidence or experience to deal with the speed at which penalty killers in the NHL play. Working with Shattenkirk during practice and watching how he handles the powerplay duties should help Skjei improve a great deal.
DeAngelo is the rare exception to the narrative of a young defenseman struggling on the powerplay, as he was able to produce eight of his 14 points with a man advantage for the Arizona Coyotes last season (in only 39 games) while playing on the second unit behind Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Anytime a young player with DeAngelo’s upside can produce over 50 percent of their points on the powerplay, they need to be featured in that role. While DeAngelo was scratched against the Blues Tuesday night, he should see time on the powerplay when he’s active.
The ideal second powerplay unit for the Rangers would be Rick Nash, J.T. Miller, and either Jimmy Vesey or Kevin Hayes, with Skjei and DeAngelo on the points.
Taking McDonagh off the powerplay will strengthen the other areas of the Rangers game. Not playing as many minutes on the powerplay, where he doesn’t dominate, will allow him to play more minutes at even strength, where he does.
McDonagh’s point total may decline a little bit, although it probably won’t be a huge drop as he produces a good percentage of his points at even strength.
He has shown himself to be the ultimate team player, which is why he was named the captain. If coming off the powerplay will help the team win, you’d better believe McDonagh will be all for it.