What Can Rangers Expect Out of Kevin Shattenkirk in 2017-18?

What type of expectations will the Rangers’ top pairing defender have to live up to?

The New York Rangers’ addition of Kevin Shattenkirk is a move that has received significant attention this summer, and that level of attention will only grow once he steps onto the ice for his first game as a Blueshirt. On the evening of June 30 it was quiet on the Rangers’ front, and even big names in the media such as Bob McKenzie of TSN had Shattenkirk linked to other teams with the Rangers out of the picture. That all changed on July 1 when it was revealed that the New Rochelle native made a pitch to play for his hometown team that was too good to pass up. Quite the power move.

Given the circumstances of his signing, Shattenkirk is bound to know that “with great power comes great responsibility.” In this context, responsibility is a proxy for the word expectations. The Rangers know what their expectations for Shattenkirk are. Likewise, the media, fans, season ticket holders, etc. have expectations for Shattenkirk.

It would be fair to say that each side’s level of expectations are different, and at some point, there will be disagreement over the Rangers’ $6.65 million first-pairing rear guard and his level of production. Nevertheless, with all of that said, what are some realistic expectations for Shattenkirk’s first season on Broadway?

Realistically, during the 2017-18 season, Shattenkirk should skate on the first pairing averaging at least 20:00 a game, tallying at least 25 points on the power play and between 45 and 55 points total. This expectation is because of the type of player Shattenkirk is, the situation he finds himself in and the supporting cast around him.

The world of sports is a business of “what have you done for me lately?” and Shattenkirk is coming off a season in which he scored 13 goals and added 43 assists for 56 points in 80 games spent with the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals. This season was the best of Shattenkirk’s career to date.

Many will attribute it to him being a player in a contract year looking to juice his stats for extra dollars.  Shattenkirk finished the year with a points per game average of 0.70, short of the paced 0.79 points per game during the 2014-15 season in which he only played 56 games. Career to date he’s averaged 0.61 points per game which equate to 50 points in an 82-game season.

Cashing in during a contract year is a fair argument to make, but it is important to note that Shattenkirk remained consistent in an area where he is going to be most valuable for the Rangers, and that is the power play.

During the 2016-17 season, Shattenkirk tallied 27 points. It was the fourth consecutive season in which he tallied at least 25 power play points. During that four-year span, he has a total of 104 power play points, second to Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators and notably ahead of Keith Yandle, Brent Burns, Shea Weber, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, P.K. Subban, Kris Letang, Torey Krug and Drew Doughty.

Power Play Stats By Defensemen 2013-17

Erik Karlsson32316981140.35
Kevin Shattenkirk28925791040.36
Keith Yandle3309911000.30
Brent Burns3152466900.29
Shea Weber3134346890.28
Oliver Ekman-Larsson3163850880.28
P.K. Subban2981767840.28
Kris Letang2181562770.35
Torey Krug3191562770.24
Drew Doughty3242155760.23

One of the reasons the Rangers signed Shattenkirk was to help the power play, and that is an expectation he should meet. The Rangers’ power play personnel will include players such as Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello, Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, Chris Kreider, and Pavel Buchnevich and so on. There is no shortage of players with offensive ability, but the missing piece has been a power play quarterback.

Shattenkirk has consistently produced in this area, and he will seek to become the first Ranger defender to log 25 or more power play points in a season since Brian Leetch tallied 26 during the 2001-02 campaign.

In recent years, Michael Del Zotto and Keith Yandle have come close to the Leetch threshold, both finishing with 22 power play points respectively. Given the personnel, it is likely Shattenkirk will log his 5th consecutive season of registering at least 25 points on the power play.

The other expectation for Shattenkirk is to play on the top pairing with Ryan McDonagh. Contrary to popular belief, Shattenkirk is not a defender who is terrible in his end. Before getting into why his defensive shortcomings are more a much to do about nothing, it is interesting people raise this point about Shattenkirk considering the player he is replacing.

Part of the “Shattenkirk is bad in his own end” takes feel amplified by recency bias from his stay with the Washington Capitals.

During the 2016-17 season, Shattenkirk had two primary defense partners, and he skated with both for over 300 minutes of 5v5 ice time. The first was Carl Gunnarsson with the Blues, and the other was Brooks Orpik of the Capitals.

Here is what the pairings looked like regarding goals for percentage, total goal differential per 60 and score-adjusted Corsi For percentage from Data Rink.

Your first reaction is probably woof, so here is the Rangers’ top two pairings from 2016-17.

So given what we know about Shattenkirk, it is fair to say it was not his sole fault for an unfavorable generation of goals and a poor total goal differential per 60 minutes. You can say that he is responsible for positive possession number because Shattenkirk is a noted shot generator and suppressor. You can also say skating with Brooks Orpik was not a favorable situation for Shattenkirk, as the soon to be 37-year-old is an anchor both on the ice and on the Capitals’ salary cap.

By taking this context of Shattenkirk’s most recent season and looking at the Rangers’ most recent season, it is hard to claim that he’s poor defensively and won’t be a fit on the top pairing. In many ways, Shattenkirk is tailor made for McDonagh. Here is what the Rangers’ top pairing is set to look like, and what it looked like last year.

After looking at the two pairings side by side, Shattenkirk will be just fine. Shattenkirk’s defensive abilities will never get him confused with a defender such as Niklas Hjalmarsson, but he is an excellent offensive defenseman who is competent in his own end.

Ultimately, fans can expect Shattenkirk to produce like No. 1 defender during the 2017-18 season, and it is going to be fun to watch him skate alongside Ryan McDonagh.

In terms of coverage, here is a look at each defender’s playing style via a visual created by Ryan Stimson using data from his passing project, and that of Corey Sznajder

For a full explanation and context on how the charts are compiled, check out this blog posting.

The only thing that could be questionable is deployment by head coach Alain Vigneault, but there is a possibility that Jeff Gorton may intervene here.

When Gorton spoke to the media on a conference call after the signing, he said, "It's clear we feel he's (Shattenkirk) a top-four defenseman in the League. We feel we have very good left-hand defense that he could play with any one of them and have success. In particular, Ryan McDonagh and Brady Skjei have done really well on the left side. Whatever way we go we think it's going to work out well for him, but we're obviously bringing him here to play him a lot.”

What these comments suggest is that he doesn’t intend to allow Vigneault to bury Shattenkirk on the third pairing, ala Keith Yandle, and that he doesn’t view Nick Holden or Marc Staal as options for the top four. As an aside, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rangers flip Holden based on a number of extra bodies on defense who could contend for a roster spot. This group includes Anthony DeAngelo, Neal Pionk, Alexei Bereglazov, Ryan Graves and so on.

You can also infer that by signing Smith to a four-year deal worth $4.35 million deal annual, Gorton views him as a top-four defender as well. Putting the puzzle pieces together suggests that usage should not be an issue, but that will be an “I’ll believe it when I see it” philosophy for fans.

Usage concerns aside, Shattenkirk is going to be able to take some more chances offensively with the Rangers because McDonagh covers a lot of ground. Likewise, McDonagh won’t be in a position where he has to cover for his partner constantly. The blend of skill sets and total overall ability is as close to a perfect match as you can get.

Stats via Data Rink, Hockey-Reference, NHL.com and Corsica unless otherwise noted.