The grades are in for the New York Rangers defense. For most of the defensemen, let’s just say it’s a good thing Christmas is a month away.
The New York Rangers defense has been abysmal this season. There have been blown coverages, costly turnovers, puck watching and bad schemes all year long. While the scoring, until recently, has been stellar and the goaltending has been solid (considering the defense in front of him), the defense has been the weak point of the Rangers.
Despite this negative assessment, the Rangers defense seems to be coming around in recent weeks. But, there are still some weak points on the defense, as some players have underperformed tremendously thus far. Others have exceeded expectations. Let’s take a look at the grades I have assigned to each of the Rangers defensemen.
- Kevin Shattenkirk: A
- Brady Skjei: B+
- Marc Staal: B
- Nick Holden: B-
- Ryan McDonagh: C+
- Brendan Smith: C-
- Steven Kampfer: F
This is how I would grade the New York Rangers’ individual player defense in the first quarter of the 2017-2018 season. In these rankings, there are both shocking and expected results.
Player by player, I will explain my reasoning behind each defenseman’s assigned grade. The grades have been designated based on how the player has performed as compared to what he is capable of. For example, Nick Holden is not actually having a better season than Ryan McDonagh. But, because I expect a lot from Ryan McDonagh and nothing from Nick Holden, their grades will be a little different than one would expect.
Let’s take a look at the reasoning behind each player’s grade!
Kevin Shattenkirk: A
The Rangers’ free agency prize has performed better than even I believed he would perform. Shattenkirk is currently second on the team in points (17) and has been a big reason for the revival of the power play. While his defensive efforts have been questionable, this is not what he was signed to do. He was signed to produce offense, to quarterback the power play and to get shots through to the net. Shattenkirk has done all of these things very well. The only reason he does not receive an A+ is due to the fact that his defense has been worse than I anticipated but hey, he’s doing everything the Rangers signed him to do and more! Doesn’t bother me.
Brady Skjei: B+
After a slow start to his sophomore season, Skjei has seemed to pick up his two-way defensive play. Like many other Rangers, Skjei began the season by turning the puck over and making bad breakout passing decisions. Now, he seems much more comfortable. While his offensive numbers are not staggering, they should pick up alongside his newfound defensive partner, Kevin Shattenkirk. His defensive play has improved dramatically this season as well, as Skjei is making the right decisions regarding coverage, outlet passes and even hitting. But, with a slow start and poor offensive numbers, his grade is marked as a B+. I expect this rating to rise to at least an A- by the end of the season.
Marc Staal: B
Who would have thought that the other half of the notorious third defensive pairing of the 2017 playoffs would have the third highest defensive grade to start the 2017-2018 season? Not me. Marc Staal has been a very solid third pairing, defensive defenseman this season. He has made proper reads, is skating well against opposing players and hasn’t even been caught puck watching, an endeavor that Staal has made his forte over recent years. While he has had lapses, here and there, in his adequate play, Staal has exceeded my expectations tremendously this season. Staal receives a B thus far. Despite this good grade, I have to think in a pessimistic manner; this is Marc Staal after all. But I do sincerely hope he keeps this up. He has been tremendous for NYR thus far in the 2017-2018 season.
Nick Holden: B-
This is the among the top two most shocking grades thus far. If anybody told me they would be able to give Nick Holden a B-, I would have died from laughter. He had been nothing short of terrible after the halfway point of the 2016-2017 season. His playoff performances were even worse, as he served as the second half to the infamous Staal-Holden line. But, playing alongside captain Ryan McDonagh, Holden has performed rather decently. His most notable performance was in his shutdown role against the league’s most skilled player, Connor McDavid. I expect Holden’s grade to deteriorate as the season progresses, but I hope we can keep getting such great play out of him. He’s been, dare I say, decent. Of course, he has still had blown coverages and has made costly turnovers. Coupled with these instances, he barely any offensive upside. But, he has shown great awareness in his own zone and has communicated well with McDonagh. I hope for the best for you, Nick Holden.
Ryan McDonagh: C+
Yes, captain Ryan McDonagh, the best two-way defenseman on the New York Rangers, has a lower grade than Nick Holden and Marc Staal. Why is this? How could this be? Ryan McDonagh has been nothing but a shell of his former self so far this season. He has been terrible on the power play, often making poor decisions on whether to move the puck or shoot. He has been pedestrian at best in his own end, making costly decisions that have cost the Rangers games, yes, games! He has even looked slower this season as if he’s laboring on the ice. It looks like an injury is behind his issues, as the Rangers announced Wednesday that he’ll miss the next few games. Hopefully, some rest cures what ails him, because we need our captain.
Brendan Smith: C-
The Rangers signed Brendan Smith to a contract over the offseason for four years, at 4.35 million a year. Thus far, he has been, well, bad. His first couple games of the season were plagued with turnovers, poor penalties and bad reads in the defensive end. These occurrences resulted in a benching of Smith in favor of Steven Kampfer. Upon Smith’s return, in which he saw a benching for a period of six games, he has played better. His skating ability, grit and offensive upside are all on display at this point in time. I expect Smith’s rating to rise tremendously over the course of this season because of all of his gifts and skills. Hopefully, his C- will become a B or a B+ by the season’s end.
Steven Kampfer: F
Oh, Steven Kampfer. Kampfer is easily the worst defensemen on this New York Rangers team. He does is a poor skater, has no passing ability, no puck handling skills and makes poor decisions in his own end. He has even faced criticisms of not being worthy of a spot in the NHL as a defenseman. Kampfer, to me, could be a decent sixth defenseman. He is very physical, clears the crease and plays decent one on one defense. But, until his skating and passing improve, he should have no place on this Rangers defense. I would hope he no longer plays until he shows obvious signs of improvement, but you never know with Vigneault.
As an overall unit, the Rangers defense, while possessing a great deal of upside, has been collectively poor this season. I really hope each player can play to his expected potential. If they can, the Rangers can be a dangerous team the rest of the way.