New York Rangers Defence: Behind The Blueline

Roope Hintz; NHL Rumours

There are just over two months until hockey season and the New York Rangers are entering the 2019-20 season with a new look. With a blockbuster offseason under their belt, the Rangers have plenty new, shiny pieces. However, those pieces still need to be put to the test. Especially the New York Rangers defence. Here, we peek behind the blueline at what to expect from the New York Rangers defence.

New York Rangers Defence

With Kevin Shattenkirk‘s buyout, the Rangers defence has been nearly solidified. Only a few dark horses remain when it comes to opening day. At the current time, Brady Skjei and childhood friend, Jacob Trouba are expected to play the first pair.

Skjei and Trouba

The arrival of Trouba signifies more than just an old friend on the team. Skjei has been without a solid defensive partner for more than a year. Ryan McDonagh leaving the Rangers left a gaping hole in the blueline that Skjei couldn’t fill on his own. Consistently rotating partners created an unstable environment for Skjei to grow and his performance suffered. Shattenkirk never lived up to his potential on the squad, putting even more pressure on Skjei’s shoulders.

With Trouba on Skjei’s right, a sigh of relief can be heard. Trouba is a skilled stick handler and solid two-way defenseman. He’s able to play a variety of roles, including stepping in on the power play and penalty kill. Skjei’s size and checking abilities will allow him to be the brute force to compliment Trouba’s agility. Seeing them on the top pair provides a lot of exciting opportunities for the Rangers squad and increased playmaking flexibility.

Trouba’s signing to the Rangers is just as big of a bonus for him as it is for the Rangers. For the first time in his NHL career, he’ll be on a top pairing. On the Winnipeg Jets, he was second to both Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers on the right side and did not want to play on the left. In New York, he’ll have no shortage of minutes.

Staal and DeAngelo

Projected on the second pairing, we have Anthony DeAngelo and Marc Staal. It’s truly a blessing for Staal that he’s still on the Rangers. When Dan Girardi was bought out in 2017, many assumed that Staal would be next. However, he’s continued to hover around 19 minutes of ice time for the last four seasons. He fared well with points last year. He had 10 assists and three goals for 13 points. His tenure on the Rangers will only help the still-evolving DeAngelo.

DeAngelo is still without a contract this season. However, he’s coming off his best season to date with 30 points and with the hole on defence thanks to Shattenkirk, the Rangers need him. Instead of moving on Brendan Lemieux, the Rangers will likely pull the trigger with DeAngelo since they’re bleeding forwards. Without DeAngelo, the team would be doing themselves a disservice.

2019-20 marks the new beginning for the Rangers. Kaapo Kakko, Aretmi Panarin, and the aforementioned Trouba are glittering pieces to a once flailing team. There’s no reason for the Rangers to expose themselves to more hardship than they’ve already had. Additionally, DeAngelo could be a real contender with another year under Coach David Quinn. Quinn’s knack for developing young talent will be out in full force this season, something DeAngelo could still greatly benefit from. Here’s hoping they sign on the dotted line before long.

Some projections also put Brendan Smith on the second pairing with Staal. However, his play has arguably been worse than DeAngelo’s and at a time in his career when it shouldn’t be.

Smith spent over five years with the Detroit Red Wings before joining the Rangers. There’s no real excuse for his production to have dropped off as much as it has. In three years with the Rangers, he has 25 points, one less than DeAngelo’s last season record. DeAngelo is a better fit on the second pairing with Staal. He’s got more to prove and more to give.

Fox and Hajek

Adam Fox and Libor Hajek round out the pairing projections on the third. Fox decided to forego his final year at Harvard to not only join the NHL but his favourite childhood team. Additionally, the Rangers are a team positioning themselves for the long haul. Fox’s offensive prowess will be a big help for the blueline. He lead the NCAA last season in assists with 39. Additionally, Fox was fourth in the NCAA with overall points, 48 in 33 games. His positive attitude as stated by his Harvard coach Ted Donato, is just as valuable to his teammates as his playmaking ability.

Hajek, who made his NYR debut last year, has only played five games in the NHL. However, those five games left a strong impression on the NYR front office. This will no doubt aid him when it comes to final roster selection. The Czech-native scored one goal.

Derailed at the end of the season with an injury, Hajek’s preview was cut short. However, once he relaxed after a few games, Coach Quinn noticed he turned a corner. If Quinn believes in Hajek as much as it seems, he’ll see plenty of opportunities this coming season. The hockey sense of projected linemate, Fox will only benefit him as he settles into his role.

Overall, Rangerstown can look forward to a much-improved blueline compared to the last four years on Broadway. It’s not perfect, but it is safe to say the New York Rangers defence has improved significantly.

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