Brady Skjei
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

If the New York Rangers shake up the defense, which young players are safe and which aren’t?

The NHL draft is in 12 days. The free agency party gets started in 22 days. With the second overall pick, the New York Rangers plan is simple: after the New Jersey Devils choose between Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, take the super prospect they passed on. Hughes is still expected to go number one, but Ranger fans won’t be disappointed with Kakko, especially after his play at Worlds.

Yes fans, the rebuild is going according to plan. Not only is Kakko (or Hughes) coming, there’s also Vitali Kravtsov, Adam Fox, Yegor Rykov, and maybe even the newly signed Tarmo Reuanen can crack the roster. Things are looking up, most particularly on offense. The blueline, however, has some serious holes to fill.

Jeff Gorton and company have some tough decisions to make. Yes, the idea of the rebuild is to get younger and bring in new talent, but does that mean every young guy on the team is safe? A good chunk of the Blueshirts defense is very young, and as previously discussed, they might just need a little patience. However, they still need to show enough that they are worth keeping.

For this, we are strictly looking at the Rangers rostered defensemen that are 25-years-old or younger. Players like Libor Hajek and Ryan Lindgren don’t have a big enough sample size in the NHL to judge them off of.

Brady Skjei

Other than Marc Staal, and despite just being 25-years-old, Brady Skjei is the Rangers longest-tenured defenseman. Skjei began the season paired up with Adam McQuaid and to put it lightly, the duo struggled. Looking at pairings that skated for 200 minutes or more, Skjei and McQuaid ranked second worst with a CF% of 43.30. That rating just barely edged out the duo of Staal and Neal Pionk.

However, once McQuaid was sent packing, Skjei started to find himself again. When paired with Kevin Shattenkirk, the duo had a CF% of 50 and a rel CF% of 3.60. So, at least the Minnesota native was able to end the year on a high note.

Skjei matched his point total of last season with 25, scoring eight goals and 17 assists. More importantly, he bettered his +/- rating from last year to -4. Hey, it beats -27.

Skjei started off slow and began to pick up the pace at the end. Being the second most tenured Ranger defenseman and finishing the season on the upswing might just be enough to keep Skjei on Broadway. But if he doesn’t take a giant step this upcoming season, that might be enough for the front office to shop him. Until he fully proves his game is back on track next year, his spot should not be guaranteed.

Verdict: Expendable

Tony DeAngelo

What a difference a year makes for Tony DeAngelo. The New Jersey native didn’t quite get his feet on the ground his first season in New York. But this year, the Rangers got a completely improved player. DeAngelo put up a career high in points with 30, (four goals, 26 assists), the highest among defenseman. Not only that, but he improved his +/- from -18 to 6.

DeAngelo still had some growing pains, there were times when coach David Quinn benched him, but he responded to his scratches by stepping his game up. Despite his inexperience, DeAngelo earned more ice time, averaging 19:20 per game, a huge improvement over last year where he averaged 16:34.

DeAngelo did have some mixed results among defensemen in advanced stats. His CF% was 45.89 (fourth) and his xGF was 48.07 (third), but his GF% was 54.35 (first) and his SCF rating was 46.57 (second). There is still room for improvement, but he is only 23-years-old and has plenty of time to improve.

It looks as though some tough love worked here. Now DeAngelo just needs to keep building his strengths and show Quinn that he does not need to bench him anymore.

Verdict: Safe

Neal Pionk

The undrafted free agent out of Minnesota-Duluth was on a tear from October to December. Pionk posted five goals and 14 assists in that span. Oh, and don’t forget that beautiful goal against the Montreal Canadiens. However, the growing pains began to set in.

From January to the end of the year, Pionk only posted one goal and six assists. That and his +/- rating took a dip to -16. These are areas where Pionk excelled at the beginning of the year. Coach Quinn was not afraid to make Pionk a healthy scratch during his struggles.

If his late-season struggles were not enough to throw a question mark on Pionk’s roster stability, it’s the newly acquired Fox. Fox is a very similar player to Pionk in style of play. If Fox has proven himself to be the more consistent player, Pionk very well could end up being shipped off somewhere else.

Pionk has potential, but if he doesn’t make adjustments, the Rangers won’t hesitate to replace him.

Verdict: Expendable

Alexandar Georgiev

Cheating on this one because he is a goalie, but let’s end this on a positive note. His main goal is defense, after all, pun intended.

Despite being an All-Star, Henrik Lundqvist would probably like to forget this season. Lundqvist went 18-23-10 with a .907 SV% and 3.07 GAA. You can take into consideration that the Rangers have an inexperienced defense in front of him, but no matter what, Hank tends to put the blame on his shoulders.

Thankfully, answering the call was 23-year-old netminder, Alexandar Georgiev. The Bulgaria native had a record of 14-13-4 this year. Not only did he start a good chunk of games towards the end of the season, but he also posted a .914 SV% and a 2.91 GAA. Who can forget his 55-save performance against the dangerous Toronto Maple Leafs? The Rangers gave up a lot of shots this year and Georgiev answered the call.

The Rangers also have another potential starting goalie, Igor Shesterkin, signed to an entry-level contract. Can Georgiev and Shesterkin become the next great goalie duo in the NHL? We’ll see when the King’s reign in New York is over. With the Rangers needing a new goalie or two for the future, Georgiev certainly earned some trust from Quinn and company.

Verdict: Safe

There isn’t a great sample size of these young players to fully judge them on their time in the NHL, but that’s a good thing. The Blueshirts have plenty of young blueline talent waiting in their system and they will have plenty to choose from when creating the new defensive core for the future.

Stats and sources: Blueshirt Banter 2019 Report Cards.

WPU Graduate. Die-hard Ranger fan. Pain loving Jet fan. Loves to make comic, movie and TV references. Born and raised in Central Jersey. Twitter @JohnnyLonny82 Instagram @JackKnife82