When the New York Rangers signed Kevin Shattenkirk as a free agent in July, the organization believed it strengthened its defense. It hasn’t looked that way recently.
Kevin Shattenkirk has been struggling recently, giving the puck away and making some poor decisions. On Thursday night, with more of the same thing occurring, Shattenkirk found himself in an unusual place—on the bench!
On the Devils second goal of the game by Blake Coleman, as the Rangers were on a power play, Shattenkirk gave up the puck as he tried to skate around the Devils’ Pavel Zacha. Blake Coleman picked it up and scored a shorthanded goal to tie the game at two.
These mistakes have been a reoccurring theme for Shattenkirk recently. The situation reached its breaking point in the third period when Alain Vigneault decided to keep Shattenkirk on the bench.
For the game, Shattenkirk played a total of 16:23. In the third period, he only had six shifts for a total of 3:20. Not the kind of minutes you would expect from a top defenseman in the NHL. To add to the tough night at the rink, Shattenkirk took two minor penalties.
Surprisingly, Shattenkirk played the last 1:08 of overtime when the Rangers had a power play and Vigneault was trying to avoid the shootout. But that didn’t happen and the Devils won the contest in the shootout on a winning goal by former Ranger Brian Boyle.
Now the Rangers have to determine if Shattenkirk’s success on offense outweighs his poor defense.
In 34 games, Shattenkirk has five goals and 17 assists for 22 points—but he’s also a minus-five. Of the five goals, two have been scored on the power play. Nine of his 17 assists have come on the power play. Three goals and eight assists at even strength in 34 games are not what was expected of Shattenkirk when the year began.
Is it possible that Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz was correct when he said Shattenkirk wasn’t a top-tier defenseman?
Is Kevin Shattenkirk a first-pair blueliner? Depends who you ask: Capitals coach Barry Trotz doesn’t think so https://t.co/C33TYKiNAQ #Rangers pic.twitter.com/1XFeBlYTzf
— Newsday Sports (@NewsdaySports) December 8, 2017
“I think everybody thought of him as a 1-2, and he really wasn’t. He was a little lower,” Trotz told Steve Zipay of Newsday. The comment hurt Shattenkirk to no one’s surprise. With his play more visible in the city that never sleeps, the question of what kind of player Shattenkirk is has begun to get asked once again.
Here’s the honest answer: Shattenkirk is not a top-tier defenseman. That is is this writer’s opinion. He tends to have a lot of trouble when he faces pressure and he isn’t quick with the puck, which gives the opposition plenty of opportunities to cause a turnover—the aforementioned Coleman goal on Thursday night serves as a prime example. Shattenkirk also isn’t that aggressive when battling on the boards or in front of the net.
These are not new problems. Looking back at his time in Washington, he had the same issues, but he only skated in 19 games with the Caps. Here in New York, the mistakes glow through the arena.
Shattenkirk’s best asset is his ability to create something on the power play. When he plays with Mika Zibanejad, the power play was ranked in the top 10 in the NHL. When Zibanejad was injured, the power play struggled, even with Shattenkirk leading the team from the point. The power play needs Kevin to be on top of his game if it is going to be more productive then last season.
Shattenkirk has to improve in all aspects of his game if he wants to get to be the top defenseman for the Rangers. Vigneault has given him plenty of time to adjust to their system and to playing in his hometown. The season is quickly approaching the halfway mark and the New York Rangers need Shattenkirk to step up if they have any chance to advance to the playoffs and beyond.
The opinions of the kind of player Shattenkirk is and how he has played have been written and spoken about often in the last few days. On Friday Shattenkirk was a guest on the Boomer Esiason’s show on WFAN in New York.
WFAN Morning Show: #NYRangers Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk In Studio. LISTEN: https://t.co/km07OhZdF7 #NYR pic.twitter.com/BcNUHKACnI
— WFAN Sports Radio (@WFAN660) December 22, 2017
Boomer even made it a point during Shattenkirk’s visit to the station to tell him to stop turning the puck over. It’s a statement most fans are making as this continues to be a huge issue right now for the defenseman.
Defense schemes can be taught to a player. Can Kevin Shattenkirk learn how to play a tighter style of play or will he continue to be the kind of overrated player Barry Trotz believed he was?