This season is a big one for John Moore. The Rangers gave him a one-year deal at the eleventh hour of the offseason, which means that, once again, Moore is in a contract year (and will again be an RFA). The Rangers' lack of hurry to sign him did have a lot to do with the fact that he was a restricted free agent, but that doesn't change the fact that re-signing Moore was not high on the Rangers' list of offseason priorities. However, the Rangers did seem comfortable in having John Moore in the mix this season as their third pair defenseman on the left side, with veteran Kevin Klein as his defensive partner. This season, Moore is looking to prove that he can be a mainstay on the Rangers' blue line and not just a guy to eat up bottom-pairing minutes every night. The Rangers were certainly hoping for more than that when they acquired him in the Marian Gaborik trade.
Advanced stats folks will justifiably tell you that Kevin Klein, despite his recent overtime snipe, is an overrated player that is simply not worth the cap hit that his contract takes up (especially for the length of time that it takes up). Klein is competent in shorthanded play but is often on the ice when bad bounces happen or things go poorly and not all of that can be chalked up to bad luck. Having Klein as a defensive partner might help Moore off the ice more than it helps him on the ice, but Klein's style of play tends to compliment Moore's. With that being said, one would hope that we would see Moore jump into rushes more often playing alongside a "stay at home" guy like Klein, but it might be hard for Moore to do that when he is being told by the coaching staff to play mistake-free hockey on the third pair. It's likely that the Rangers defense, especially the third pair, is encouraged to keep it simple, especially in their own zone and especially after we saw the high price of bad turnovers thanks to Mike Kostka. Moore certainly doesn't want to be making the kind of mistakes that got Michael Del Zotto chased out of town.
Perhaps it is unfair to set the bar too high for a 23 year old third pair defenseman who is more often than not the guy who sees the least amount of ice time when the blue line is healthy, but that isn't what John Moore was supposed to be. He has the tools to be something much, much more.
The Jackets then used the 21st overall pick on Moore, a two-way defenseman who played last year for Chicago of the USHL. He was named the top defenseman in the USHL this past season, and has all of the tools required to be a top pairing stud defenseman...
Source: The Cannon, 6/26/09
Just because Moore was taken in the first round doesn't mean that he'll one day be a top pairing defenseman. Just look at the Devils' Adam Larsson, who was the 4th overall pick in 2012 and still can't hold down a spot on the Devils' blue line. In fact, when you type "Adam Larsson" into Google, the first suggestion it has is "Adam Larsson bust". Defensemen notoriously take longer to develop and find their games in the NHL and it is clear that John Moore is no exception.
Despite being a truly superb skater and having great NHL size, his game just isn't where it should or could be. Of course, that doesn't mean that he is without value. Moore is a pretty good option for the Rangers' third pair and a fine option for the second power play unit (Moore is averaging just under a minute of ice time per game on the man advantage this season), but we all know that he can be something more. It's hard to judge just how high his ceiling is given what we've seen from him and how little of him we get to see every night, but I'm hoping that we'll soon see that spark and shift in his game where confidence replaces hesitance and we see some more of that size and speed on display
The question is, will we see that happen this season?
With the Rangers' blue line looking seriously banged up early in the season, more responsibility will and should fall on the shoulders of guys like John Moore. Moore is now in direct competition with Matt Hunwick for ice time and it is up to him to show both in practice and in games that he should be the guy getting more ice time. He has to show that the can be trusted to kill penalties and be on the ice late in important games. Does Moore have what it takes to change some of the opinions about him and earn the trust of the coaching staff this season? There is only one guy who can answer that, and that person wears #17 and plays on the Rangers' blue line.