Assessing the New York Rangers Defense: Next Year and Beyond

Despite being one of the weakest defenses in the NHL this season, the Rangers defense next season should be a bit more formidable.

Throughout the 2017-2018 season, the achilles heal of the New York Rangers has been their defense. Ridden with poor schemes, poor deployment, and poor players, the defense has consistently struggled all year and have been as bad as a top-three worst NHL defense.

Players like Kevin Shattenkirk struggled with assignments and practically any type of defensive coverage (partially due to playing through an injury). Brendan Smith, Marc Staal, Nick Holden, and Steven Kampfer, all of whom had tremendous roles on the defense this season, struggled to do much of anything early in the season.

Then, even though it seemed impossible, the defensive issue for the team got even worse. Smith was demoted to Hartford, Holden and defenseman Ryan McDonagh were traded, and Kampfer and Shattenkirk were both injured. Now, the Rangers began to find even more holes in their already porous defense.

The team began to fill itself out with young talent that began to make its way through the system. Players like Rob O’Gara, John Gilmour, Anthony DeAngelo, Neal Pionk, and Ryan Sproul made their way to the NHL.

To be blunt, Sproul and O’Gara have not been very great. Their styles, reminiscent of the prototypical, and archaic, “shutdown” defensemen, are concerning. Their skating abilities are decent, but they do not seem to possess any ability to lead a rush up the ice, which does not bode well for them.

Gilmour impressed early on with his speed and ability to create offensively. While his defense was suspect, his offensive potential outweighed his issues in coverage. Recently, his offense has sputtered out and his issues in coverage remain.

DeAngelo, the opposite of Sproul and O’Gara, is a supremely talented offensive player. With a tremendous skating ability, as well as excellent vision and playmaking ability, DeAngelo has a very high ceiling. His defense is abysmal, but it is nothing that can’t be worked out. Even if DeAngelo becomes a mediocre defenseman, his presence at the NHL will be as a solid top-four defenseman. Despite this, Deangelo has showed very little improvement defensively and often looks lost in his own end. These are things he must figure out. DeAngelo looks to be out for the remainder of the season with injury. His status as a mainstay for next season remains a question mark.

The only rookie defenseman that has truly impressed has been Neal Pionk. His composure with the puck, coupled with his skating ability, are excellent attributes to have as a modern day NHL defenseman. Defensively, his coverage has been very good, as he has often found ways to stop even the best in the game, such as all-time great Alexander Ovechkin.

The play of each of these young men must be taken into account. While it is impossible to foresee the hiring of a new coaching staff, injuries, and free agency signings, it will be interesting to produce an estimation of what the Rangers defense will look like next season.

It is evident, barring any major trade or setback, that Brady Skjei, Shattenkirk, and Staal will be starting on the team’s defense next season.

Pionk will likely be given a starting position on the team as well next season, where he will have a full season to flourish and to grow.

The remaining two spots appear to be more of a question mark. Prospect Ryan Lindgren will likely look to compete for the spots with both former NHL’er Smith and DeAngelo.

My prediction is that Lindgren remains in the AHL for a season of growth at the professional level. Smith, due to his contract, will likely receive another chance with the team. DeAngelo’s potential as a offensive defensemen will be too salivating to pass up, despite the fact that he will likely be on a shorter leash than other players.

Let me know what you guys think. If you have any questions as to why certain players or prospects weren’t mentioned, I’ll be happy to answer them!

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