The New York Rangers defense featured quite a few young defensemen. Part two of the defensemen report card will highlight some of those youngsters.
The first New York Rangers report card for the defense primarily looked at some of the veteran defensemen the Rangers have. This edition will highlight the younger defenseman the Rangers had to offer this year.
Those young defensemen that saw significant playing time were primarily Brady Skjei, Tony DeAngelo, and Neal Pionk. DeAngelo and Pionk got their chance because of injuries and the Rangers’ rebuild mid-season. They took advantage that opportunity and really left an impression.
Other than those three young defensemen, the likes of Marc Staal and Steven Kampfer were still around to help transition the young defensemen to the NHL level.
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.
Staal has been a staple for the Blueshirt’s defense for the last 11 years. 2017-18, however, might have been the most important year of his career to establish himself as a defender again.
The last two seasons were subpar seasons for the 31-year-old veteran. His play had been on the decline and he was never the same player he was before all of the injuries. But the type of season he had, was one that the Rangers could not have expected.
Perhaps after seeing former teammate Dan Girardi’s contract bought out last summer, Staal saw his fate should he have another poor season. That should not be the case though, as Staal was a nice calming force on the Rangers blueline.
The only area of Staal’s game that needs work on is his transition game. He has to stop putting the puck in the middle of the ice. It seems like whenever Staal does that, the puck is turned over and becomes a quality scoring chance for the opposition. It would also be nice for Staal to contribute a bit more offensively but that is not what he is asked to do.
Overall you have to be happy with the season that Staal gave the Rangers.
He got off to a good start offensively in 2017-18 but, he wasn’t the same impact player he showed he could be. Paired with Kevin Shattenkirk at times to start, Skjei was exposed defending the rush at times. As a result, he ended up with a plus/minus of minus 27 after a being a plus 11 in first full season.
The Skjei/Shattenkirk pairing didn’t last too long because of the deficiencies. As a result of those deficiencies, Skjei saw a decrease in playing time from Vigneault. That would only last for a little while as injuries to Shattenkirk and Ryan McDonagh forced Vigneault’s hand.
As the season progressed, Skjei saw better results. That resulted in his ice time increasing to 21:02, the second highest on the team. But, it still wasn’t all there for Skjei who knows he needs to be better next year when is role is even bigger than it was this year.
Whether or not it was just a sophomore slump, the Rangers need Skjei to be better in 2018-19.
If anyone impressed the Rangers most this season on the blueline, it was Neal Pionk. It all started in the preseason where Pionk gave a glimpse of what was to come in his first season.
Now, yes, the video above was in the preseason, but it showed the offensive ability that Pionk has. The goal was just the start of an impressive training camp for Pionk, who would start the season in Hartford. He would be given a chance to play full-time shortly after the Rangers announced they would be rebuilding.
In his 28 game audition, Pionk became a staple on the Rangers’ blueline. Paired alongside Marc Staal, his game really went to a new level. Yes, he had his hiccups along the way, but that is to be expected by a 22-year-old rookie.
At one point towards the end of the season, Pionk was on a seven-game point scoring streak. During that stretch, he scored 10 points including his first career NHL goal. The future is bright for Pionk and he got off to a great start on Broadway.
Overall it was a very successful audition.
Tony DeAngelo was one of the major parts of the Derek Stepan trade. His acquisition finally gave the Rangers a defenseman on the right side. It was an added bonus that he is still young and has a ton of upside.
DeAngelo proved that he has the ability to be an everyday defenseman. But there are still some issues that he has to work on. One of those being reliable in the defensive end. After being recalled from Hartford, he showed the potential is there for that. He just needs to show it on a consistent basis.
The offensive part of the game was never a question when it came to DeAngelo. Despite not putting up similar numbers offensively as he did in his rookie season, it was obvious he is going to be a good player.
One area that DeAngelo surprised us with, was his physical play. He was never afraid to use the body or stand up for his teammates/himself as shown in the video above. Should he carry this over in 2018-19, on top of improving his all-around game, the Rangers would be getting a solid player on the blueline.
It was a debut of mixed reviews for DeAngelo, not enough to get a sense of what type of player he is.
We all know what type of player Steven Kampfer is. There really isn’t much to question when it comes figuring out what player you will get when is in the lineup. In 2017-18, he showed that yet again.
Kampfer played in 22 games for the Blueshirts before missing time with an injury. In those 22 games, he got the job done considering what was asked of him. He was never asked to be an offensive savior, just to get the job done. And he did so.
The type of game that he brought to the table was a strong physical one. One that was not very flashy. Now it is very clear that Kampfer is not the answer on defense. But he as a seventh defenseman who can fill in when needed, Kampfer is perfect.
Kampfer will come into 2018-19 in the final year of his contract. Where he fits is yet to be seen, but it will be hard to let him go.
The Rangers defense was clearly not a strength for them in 2017-18. They had their moments where they played well, but as constructed, they showed that there is still some work to be done on the blueline for 2018-19.
What we did learn was that there are pieces for the Rangers to build around. Kevin Shattenkirk and Marc Staal bring a nice veteran presence. Brady Skjei and Neal Pionk bring some youth and speed to the blueline along with some offensive upside. All of that is great to have but there is still work to do for Jeff Gorton.