Coming into the season the group of New York Rangers defensemen was thought to be much improved. At the end of the season, that clearly was not the case.
For the first time since the 2014-15 season, the New York Rangers blueline was supposed to be one of the best in all of the National Hockey League. However, this was not the case.
There were plenty of reasons why the Rangers defensemen did not live up to their expectations in 2017-18. You can blame injuries, a flawed system, and a lack of dedication amongst those reasons. As the season progressed though, it became apparent that the blueline is an area of weakness, one that must be addressed in the offseason.
Grades are determined based on impact to the team, performance, and consistency. Some players might have an incomplete due to the fact that they left us wanting more or had their opportunities taken away from them.
Kevin Shattenkirk was one of the most coveted free agents coming into the 2017-18 season. He chose to take a pay cut and come to the Rangers, the team he rooted for growing up.
The pressure was on for Shattenkirk who was given his first full-time gig as a top pair defenseman. He began the season playing alongside Ryan McDonagh but that would only last a short period of time. After being separated from McDonagh, Shattenkirk found himself playing alongside Brady Skjei. That pairing had its moments but still wasn’t perfect.
At times Shattenkirk was a liability on the ice when he was not scoring points. In the defensive end, Shattenkirk was shaky at best. Perhaps some of that was a result of him playing with a torn meniscus that would keep him out for the remainder of the season. Shattenkirk had been playing through the injury all season until it became too much.
Next season, Shattenkirk looks to have an important role with the Blueshirts. He has to prove to the Rangers that he can handle top pair minutes.
He gets a pass this year because of the injury, but next year he must prove he was worth that big money contract.
Brendan Smith impressed the Rangers so much in the 2016-17 season that they gave him a long-term contract extension. He was expected to play a major role on this team, bringing a different element to this offensive minded Ranger blueline.
For some reason, Smith’s physicality was the only thing that carried over from the 2016-17 season. Every other positive from Smith’s game just disappeared as the season began. His solid play disappeared so much that he had a hard time cracking the Rangers lineup. Head coach Alain Vigneault would favor Steven Kampfer over Smith, who just signed a big-time free agent contract.
In his 44 games, Smith had 58 hits and 69 penalty minutes. Smith’s physical presence wasn’t enough for him to remain on the roster. He would be placed on waivers and sent to Hartford in favor of Neal Pionk and John Gilmour.
What the Rangers decide to do with Smith is still up in the air. It is one of their most interesting storylines entering the offseason. On a young team, it might be best for him to stay away.
If he’s back, Smith must be a completely different player than he was in 2017-18.
John Gilmour has a bright future in front of him. He showed glimpses of the type of player he could be in 2017-18, but he still isn’t there. However, his audition was a pretty good one for the Blueshirts.
One of the aspects of Gilmour’s game that the Rangers really seemed to like was his skating. He fit the Rangers’ system perfectly because of that. It was a welcomed sight, to see some fresh young legs on the ice. Those fresh legs allowed for him to join the rush like in the play above.
Gilmour really impressed Alain Vigneault. Because of that Vigneault would reward him with power play time, over the likes of Brady Skjei. Gilmour would not disappoint though, as he helped the Rangers have one of the league’s top power plays.
If there is one area for Gilmour to improve, that would be in the defensive end. He was a minus 11 in his first 28 career games. Now some of that had to do with the Rangers, and Gilmour’s, inexperience. But for Gilmour to earn a spot next year he must improve.
Overall it was a decent audition for the 24-year-old defenseman.
Rob O’Gara was given his first real taste of NHL action in 2017-18. Splitting time with the Boston Bruins and the Rangers, O’Gara got some valuable playing time.
Acquired as part of the Nick Holden trade, O’Gara would play in 22 games for the Blueshirts. Perhaps the Rangers were trying to replace Brendan Smith with the addition of O’Gara but, O’Gara was never a real physical presence when in the lineup. The 6 foot 4 inches defenseman has the chance to be a game changer physically, he just needs to put the pieces together.
Outside of the physical side of the game, O’Gara wasn’t really all that impressive. Like any young defenseman, he had his issues defensively, as seen in the video above. But, with some work, he has the chance to become a seventh or even a sixth defenseman on a good team.
How O’Gara comes into training camp next season will go a long way into determining where he fits.
There wasn’t a big enough sample size to fairly grade the 24-year-old.
If you are looking for a serviceable, seventh defenseman, Ryan Sproul is the guy who can get the job done.
Sproul is not going to be the flashiest of players or the best defenseman a team has to offer, but that doesn’t mean he can’t fill in and get the job done. He is the perfect fit for a contending team that needs a seventh defenseman or just depth in general. Given the circumstances though, he became an important part of the Rangers defense core.
After spending a majority of the season with the Hartford Wolf Pack, Sproul appeared in just 16 games with the Blueshirts. He scored five points; one goal and four assists while getting adjusted to the NHL level again.
He might not end up back with the Rangers next year being an unrestricted free agent, but he did what he was asked to do in 2017-18.