There was minimal attention paid to the New York Rangers’ signing of Colin Blackwell at the beginning of free agency last October. It appeared he was just another AHL veteran/NHL tweener who’d been signed as eventual fodder for the Seattle Expansion draft. There was good reason for this thought as Blackwell’s NHL career prior to signing with the Blueshirts consisted of 33 games, 3 goals, 7 assists, and 10 points.
At the AHL level he’d tallied a line of 41-64-105 in 187 games, which equates to an uninspiring points per game average of 0.56. Throw in the fact that Blackwell—drafted in the seventh round of the 2011 draft—came to the team at just 5’9”, and it is easy to see why he was overlooked.
Blackwell had a fine season in terms of box score stats with the Rangers, starting off slow with a line of 8-4-12 in his first 26 games (January to March), before going off in April finishing the month with 4 goals, 6 assists, and 10 points in the 16 games played. He failed to record a point in the final five games, and ended the year with 12 goals, 10 assists, and 22 points in 47 games played, which was a career high on all accounts.
Blackwell was a decent performer for the Rangers in terms of catch-all above replacement stats, and ended the year 8th on the team in Goals Above Replacement with a mark of 5.2, while also being worth 0.9 Wins Above Replacement according to Evolving-Hockey. His worth was driven by offensive contributions, as his Offensive GAR was 7.2, whereas his defensive GAR was -2.6.
In terms of fancy stats, Blackwell finished 7th among regulars with a Goals For Percentage of 55.45 at 5v5, 16th in Corsi For Percentage (45.4), and 12th in Expected Goals For Percentage (46.65). The red flag here is the discrepancy of his actual performance vs. his expected performance, but it isn’t a surprise given what we know about Blackwell as a player. This was a career year for him after toiling away previously jumping between the minors and the NHL, and while there are positives to look at, he’s still an unknown as a player.
Lastly, here’s a visual look at his end of year player card, and how he ranked among other players in the league.
What the Rangers ultimately need to decide, besides whether or not he will be protected/exposed for the expansion draft, is what type of role he will be in next season. It is fair to say he benefited playing on a line with Ryan Strome and Artemiy Panarin, but given the depth on the team he’s someone that should be skating in the bottom six. But that begs the question of whether or not he’d be as productive of a player in that role away from the team’s upper echelon skill players.
Grade: B- | Banter Consensus: B+
Blackwell did everything the team wanted him to do this season, and more. I wrote about the season he was having in February, and how he’d proven himself to be a great fit and value signing.
The Rangers have a number of options ahead of them, and I think there’s a world in which Blackwell can be a positive contributor for the team next season. The goal for the front office would be to add additional talent that allows the Rangers to have a hybrid bottom-six which features work ethic and skill, and Blackwell to me is someone I feel would thrive under Gerard Gallant in a third or fourth line role.
But with Pavel Buchnevich, Kaapo Kakko, and Vitali Kravtsov all right wingers ahead of him on the depth chart, a trade of Blackwell to another contending team as a Barclay Goodrow/Blake Coleman lite wouldn’t at all surprise me either. That said, Blackwell had a fine season in which he showed he can be an NHL player, and played well enough that he should be able to extend his career a few seasons. He was a bargain buy in free agency, and in some ways reminded me of Benoit Pouliot’s 2013-14 season with the Rangers.