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Kevin Shattenkirk Injury Gives Rangers Opportunity to Evaluate Young Defensemen

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The injury to Shattenkirk is brutal, but out of the darkness there is some light.

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

The Kevin Shattenkirk injury announcement was an unexpected gut punch to the New York Rangers no matter how you slice it. In recent weeks Shattenkirk was starting to hear some criticism for his disappearing offense, but the injury news adds some context to the situation. If he was undergoing treatments and injections, the hot start and subsequent fade off completely makes sense.

The Rangers are going to be without their star free agent acquisition for an indefinite amount of time, and there may be one small sliver of a silver lining.

The injury to Shattenkirk creates an open roster spot, but more importantly an opportunity on the right hand side. It would not be surprising in the least if Steven Kampfer were to see an increase in minutes based on how Alain Vigneault has handled him, but for the time being Tony DeAngelo is back in the conversation.

He was sent down to the Wolf Pack on October 24 after appearing in eight games with the Rangers. During his time with the Rangers he skated 69:55 at 5v5 and was a positive player in terms of shot attempt differential, with 80 shots for and 63 against for a 55.94 shot attempt for percent share. For strictly shots on goal, DeAngelo was on the ice for 53 shots for and 42 against, that translates to a 55.79 percent shot share for the Rangers. These numbers were good, and rare for the possession challenged Rangers, but he was in the negative in terms of goals.

Shayna Goldman | @hayyyshayyy

With DeAngelo on the ice, the Rangers only scored two goals while surrendering six which results in a goals for percentage of 25. This situation is similar to that of the KZB line – as they dominated possession but were unable to translate that into a ton of goals, so perhaps there was an element of luck (PDO) involved. For what it is worth, DeAngelo’s 5v5 PDO stands at 89.5 which suggests that he’s been very unlucky.

Regardless, he was sent down to Harford and really struggled at first. DeAngelo appeared in 11 games in October and November, and tallied just three assists. In December, he started to pick up his game a bit with two goals and six assists for eight points in 12 games, but in seven January games he has just two assists. Here’s a look at DeAngelo’s numbers 5v5 in relation to the Pack defense as a whole.

Wolf Pack Defense 5v5 GF Numbers

Player GP 5v5 GF 5v5 GA 5v5 GF% Off-Ice 5v5 GF Off-Ice 5v5 GA Off-Ice 5v5 GF% Rel. GF%
Player GP 5v5 GF 5v5 GA 5v5 GF% Off-Ice 5v5 GF Off-Ice 5v5 GA Off-Ice 5v5 GF% Rel. GF%
Alexei Bereglazov 13 9 7 56.3 9 23 28.1 28.1
Vince Pedrie 23 10 17 37 17 38 30.9 6.1
Neal Pionk 40 26 31 45.6 40 60 40 5.6
Tony DeAngelo 29 18 26 40.9 33 44 42.9 -1.9
Ryan Graves 40 17 26 39.5 46 60 43.4 -3.9
Brandon Crawley 36 17 24 41.5 44 53 45.4 -3.9
John Gilmour 36 19 28 40.4 41 51 44.6 -4.1
Ryan Sproul 30 12 20 37.5 35 49 41.7 -4.2
As of 1/15/18 Zach Ellenthal | @zellenthal

These numbers aren’t exactly what you want from a defender with AHL experience, as he’s fourth in both 5v5 goals for percentage, and relative goals for percentage.

You don’t want to ignore the AHL struggles, but you can say that the numbers show that DeAngelo was doing some good things at the NHL level from a puck possession perspective. That gives some hope that he can step back into the NHL and use this opportunity given as a form of motivation. The primary role he is stepping into should get him some power play time, and that should compliment his skill set.

  • 2016-17 NHL: 14 points in 39 games | 8 power play points
  • 2016-17 AHL: 16 points in 25 games | 7 power play points
  • 2015-16 AHL: 43 points in 69 games | 19 power play points

Depending on usage, he also needs to show he can defend at the NHL level, and that’s something he talked about during the summer with Adam Kimelman of NHL.com

I’ve got to continue to improve defensively. Even last year there were some things I’ve got to do a lot better. Sometimes the offense makes up for it, but through an 82-game schedule you’ve got to be able to defend as well. … It’s just being in the right place at the right time and moving guys and staying in front of guys’ lanes. Gap control is a big thing.

It is hard to guess who DeAngelo will play with, because he only appeared in eight games. His most frequent partner was Ryan McDonagh; the duo spent 37:37 5v5 minutes together and posted a shot attempts differential of zero, a shots for differential of plus-four, and a 53.85 percent shot share.

Whatever AV decides, hopefully he is consistent in how he deploys DeAngelo. This is a prime opportunity to evaluate what type of player he is and how he fits into the big picture of the Rangers. He’s a great skater and puck mover, and he needs to be put in a position where the Rangers can benefit from his strengths.

Shayna Goldman | @hayyyshayyy

If he shows that he isn’t a fit after an extended period with consistent usage, then the coaching staff would be justified in sending him back to Hartford.

That would open up an opportunity for Neal Pionk on the right side. Pionk, 22, has a goal and 12 assists for 13 points in 40 games played. He’s played very well at 5v5 and has one of the better 5v5 GF% relative to his teammates.

Pionk was signed as an undrafted NCAA free agent after tallying 51 points (11 goals and 40 assists) in 82 games with the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He was one defender who stood out in the preseason, and he would be very deserving of a promotion if DeAngelo doesn’t work out.

I say Pionk primarily because the other logical choice, John Gilmour, is left handed. Vigneault has broken away of his rule of having a balance of left and right handed defenders on each pairing, but it is unlikely he’d call up a rookie and play him on his off side.

Gilmour, 24, is having an All-Star season with 22 points in 36 games after tallying just 25 points in 76 games last season. The Rangers picked up the 6’0”, 194-pound rear guard as a free agent who was originally drafted by the Calgary Flames with No. 198 overall pick (seventh round) of the 2013 draft.

As much as the Shattenkirk injury hurts, this is a great chance to see what the kids can do. It will allow the organization to evaluate the current crop of talent, and will let them know if they have what it takes. This could be very important in terms of trades, free agent signings, and potential buyouts going forward.

For example, if the Rangers are sellers of say Michael Grabner and Rick Nash among others, they may look for forwards if they feel that DeAngelo, Pionk, Gilmour etc. can realistically fill an NHL role next season. Conversely, if they aren’t ready than maybe the team looks for young defenders instead. This would then extend to how the Rangers draft and what free agents they target.

This is not to say that the Rangers are going to learn everything they need to know over the next few months, but it will be much more information to use in the decision making process than they already have.

The Rangers sit in a wild card spot as of this writing, but there are a number of teams within striking distance. Losing Chris Kreider was a big blow, and the latest injury to Shattenkirk doesn’t help. Hopefully the Rangers can make the most of a bad situation, and get a better sense of how good or bad their prospect pool is on the blue line.

Stats via Natural Stat Trick unless otherwise noted.