The Rangers have work to do on the right side of the blue line

The Rangers have a lot of work to do on the right side of the blue line.

One of the most fascinating storylines that unfolded during the 2017-18 Rangers season was the team’s crumbling blue line. New York’s defense started the year sloppy and unstable, and things only got worse from there. By deadline day Jeff Gorton made a few deals involving blue liners; he dealt Nick Holden and acquired Rob O’Gara, Chris Bigras, and three prospects: Ryan Lindgren, Libor Hajek, and Yegor Rykov.

Something that all of those new faces have in common is that they’re left-handed. Why is that noteworthy? Because the Blueshirts have a dire need to shore up the right side of the blue line at an organizational level.

First, let’s take a look at the right-handed defenders (and one left-handed defender known to play on his off-side) who are currently under contract in the organization.

Kevin Shattenkirk

29-years-old, signed through the 2020-21 season (UFA).

Shattenkirk is without a doubt the best right-handed defender in New York’s system. His first season on Broadway did not go according to plan, but Shattenkirk is here to stay.

Neal Pionk

22-years-old, signed through next season (RFA).

While the Rangers were sinking in the second half of the season a few of the team’s young players saw their stock in the organization rise; Pionk was one of them. The rookie showed tremendous poise in his first year outside of NCAA hockey. Pionk shouldered a heavy workload on a shutdown pair with Marc Staal in the last quarter of the season.

Pionk’s future in New York looks bright. He may not be a guarantee in next season’s lineup, but he has certainly earned a spot with his performance in his first 27 NHL games.

Tony DeAngelo

22-years-old, signed through next season (RFA).

DeAngelo has likely spent the last few weeks staring at his ankle, cursing his bad luck. The polarizing prospect was seeing third pair minutes before an ankle injury on March 12 that put an end to his season.

It’s hard to say where DeAngelo will land on the Rangers’ depth chart come October, but he absolutely has the skill to be an everyday NHL defenseman. Whether or not that happens with the in New York remains to be seen.

Ryan Sproul

25-years-old, UFA on July 1.

Sproul became a Ranger when Gorton dealt Matt Puempel to the Red Wings on October 21. He spent the majority of the year playing with the Wolf Pack, but finished the year in New York on a paper thin blue line.

Sproul is a pending UFA and therefore has an uncertain future in New York. Will Gorton want to keep him around to bolster the organization’s blue line depth? We won’t know until we know.

Steven Kampfer

29-years-old, signed through next season (UFA).

Kampfer last played for the Rangers’ on February 11 when a fractured hand cut his season short. The former Florida Panther emerged from the Rangers’ training camp and preseason as the team’s seventh d-man, but quickly found himself in the lineup at the expense of the next player on this list.

While Kampfer was in the lineup this year he was altogether unremarkable. A character guy, Kampfer feels like a natural fit to show the kids the ropes in Hartford next season. It goes without saying that he’s not going to be a part of the solution moving forward.

Brendan Smith

29-years-old, signed through 2020-21 season (UFA).

Smith is the only player on this list who’s left-handed. He’s also the player surrounded with the most question marks. If anyone tells you that they know what happens next with Smith and the Rangers don’t listen to them; they are a liar with plants aflame.

For those who are curious, Tyler Nanne (cousin of Vinni Lettieri) is the only current unsigned Rangers’ blue line prospect with a right-handed shot. The Rangers’ fourth round pick in 2014 missed his freshman season at Ohio State with Myocarditis (an inflammation of the heart muscle caused by a virus). Nanne missed last season as a red shirt as a result of transferring to the University of Minnesota. He scored four goals and picked up six assists in his first 37 games with the Golden Gophers this season.

It’s worth mentioning that you need not be right-handed to excel at playing the right side at the NHL level, but it certainly helps. It’s also worth mentioning that right-handed defenseman who excel at moving the puck are worth their weight in gold in the modern game because of their relative scarcity.

In many ways it’s surprising that Gorton didn’t bring in a young, right-handed defensive prospect in the flurry of his deadline deals. Because didn’t do it then, the Rangers’ general manager will have to do it in the 2018 Draft and/or on July 1. There’s a clear and present need to bolster the right side of the blue line at the organizational level.