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2021 Report Card: Kevin Rooney

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A murderer of penalties, an impersonator of a-holes

Philadelphia Flyers v New York Rangers Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

The New York Rangers signed Kevin Rooney on Oct. 9, 2020 to a two-year deal to fill the role of a defensively-minded depth forward who could kill penalties. There was a vacuum that needed to be filled after the departure of Jesper Fast in free agency and Rooney represented a low-risk, cost-effective option.

Oh, and Rooney’s a center. So, having him in the middle on the fourth line meant asking less of Brett Howden in the defensive zo- well, not quite. But it could have. And, hey, the head coach that made that mistake is gone now so we won’t go through that again, right?

Right?

Expectations

I don’t think anyone had unrealistic expectations for Rooney.

When he signed with the Rangers, Rooney was a 27-year-old center who had 19 points in his first 95 NHL games — all with the New Jersey Devils. So, the Rangers knew who he was — a fourth-line center who had a reputation for being good away from the puck. It was understood that he was could punch his ticket into the lineup by killing penalties and by working his tail off.

You get the idea. He was expected to be a defensive forward who killed penalties, won faceoffs, and battled hard in the corners. Rooney is a discount bin Jesper Fast who plays center. With really great hair.

Buffalo Sabres v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Performance

In his first year with the Rangers Rooney set a career-high in games played (54), goals (8), and points (14) in his first year and, generally speaking, did what was expected of him. Well, other than the faceoff thing. He really crapped it up on faceoffs and, as we all know, if you aren’t winning faceoffs as a fourth-line center you better be able to administer justice with your knuckles or something.

Rooney went from being an underwhelming 47.0 percent on draws in 2019-20 with the Devils to a craptacular 45.0 percent in 2020-21 with the Rangers. At least he had the courtesy to be bad at draws in nice, round numbers.

Did I mention he scored eight goals? Let’s talk about the goals. Rooney scored eight of them — six at evens and two on the penalty kill — and finished the season with a 12.9 shooting percentage. Look, we all know he wasn’t brought in to score goals but it was nice to see him light the lamp a little more than we expected and if you don’t love shorties, then I don’t love you.

Rooney saw an average of 12:21 TOI/GP, 1:51 of which was on the penalty kill. Mika Zibanejad (2:21), Pavel Buchnevich (2:18), and Brett Howden (2:02) were the Rangers forwards who were on the ice more often than Rooney when the Rangers were trying to murder penalties.

So, was Rooney good on the penalty kill? Well, let’s look at some shapes and complementary colors to geyser some truth into our minds.

The Rangers had the 10th best penalty kill in the league (82.3%) — that’s good! But, going by the orange and violet blobs below, they were better off without Rooney on the ice.

Micah Blake McCurdy, hockeyviz.com
Micah Blake McCurdy, hockeyviz.com

Did you know that Rooney spent 65:49 of his time on the PK with Brett Howden on the ice and was away from him for just 10:39 of his time killing penalties? That’s like playing soccer while wearing a cinderblock as an anklet, or something. So, we don’t really have much of a sample to use to examine what Rooney looked like without Howden on the kill. And, really, that’s unfortunate because, going by the eye test, he didn’t seem all that bad. With that said, it feels like the Rangers' regular season was seventeen years ago and I have the memory of an Etch A Sketch tossed in a concrete mixer.

I asked Shayna what she thought of Rooney as a penalty killer and she quipped, “He tries hard.” I think that sums things up nicely. He’s adequate and works quite hard.

Grade | Mike: B, Banter Staff: B-

Big picture, this was a really big year for Rooney. He stayed up with the Rangers all year long and after they failed to make the playoffs he won a bronze medal at the 2021 Worlds as a member of Team USA. Not bad for a guy who was undrafted and had one goal in 38 games in the AHL in 2017-18 as the captain of the Binghamton Devils.

In my opinion, Rooney is a good example of how an unremarkable NHLer can have value. He’s a serviceable stopgap eating up ice time that will — or should we hedge our bets and say “should” — be in the hands of a capable youngster in a year or two. He isn’t going to actively hurt your team but he also isn’t going to win you hockey games.

Also, I think we need to give Rooney some bonus points for impersonating Tom Wilson’s ridiculous tough guy gorilla flex from the Rangers bench. I am changing my answer. Rooney gets an A+.

Worth every penny. Thanks for reading.

Data courtesy of naturalstattrick.com.