Three months since he decided to make his boyhood dream come true, the time is nigh for Kevin Shattenkirk to not just make his official Rangers debut on opening night Thursday at the Garden, but to be the power-play dynamo and transformative top-pair defenseman the reshaped Rangers are expecting him to be.
It is that latter task, with Shattenkirk set to open the season to Ryan McDonagh’s right, which will be new for the New Rochelle native, who throughout his NHL career has never been asked to consistently play on the shutdown pair and contain other team’s best players on a nightly basis.
“I think that’s any D-man’s aspiration is to have that challenge every night,” Shattenkirk told the Daily News. “You want to play against the best. You want to welcome that opportunity.”
Certainly the Rangers are getting one of the best power-play quarterbacks in the NHL; forty-nine percent of his career points (146 of 298) have come on the power play. He had the fourth-most total points by a defenseman last season with 56, and his 27 power-play points were tied for eighth among all skaters.
He has the reputation of being a gifted offensive player, which as a defenseman is something Shattenkirk uses as a chip on his shoulder.
“I think as soon as you get labeled as an offensive guy, they just assume you can’t play defense a lot of times,” Shattenkirk says. “I’m in a new place now and it’s up to me to prove that and make sure I can live up to that side of the job as well, which is the most important part of being a defenseman. Everyone plays in different ways. I’m not a guy who’s a bruiser and gonna throw guys off of pucks, but as long as you’re effective and keep the puck out of your net, I think that’s what most important.”
Shattenkirk is on record as being quite critical of himself. That shows in his self-assessment of his preseason. “I think I’ve just played a little too tentative at times and I need to be a little more aggressive in joining the rush and getting up, and just skating in general,” he said. “I think I was a little flat-footed and overthinking and watching during the games.”
He missed Friday’s practice for maintenance, but with three more practices before opening night Shattenkirk believes more reps with McDonagh will get him closer to where he needs to be. Early on, McDonagh has noticed that Shattenkirk hangs onto the puck until the last second to draw in forecheckers, making them unable to anticipate where to go. “He’s really good at passing through guys and threading the needle there,” McDonagh said. “He creates a lot of time and space for the rest of the guys on the ice.”
With Shattenkirk in the fold, Brendan Smith re-signed and Dan Girardi bought out, the Rangers should boast a strong top-four with McDonagh, Shattenkirk, Smith and Brady Skjei, coming off a terrific rookie season. But it is impossible to say right now whether the Rangers are better than the team which lost in the second round to Ottawa.
The trading of top center Derek Stepan to Arizona was necessary in order for the Blueshirts to sign Shattenkirk but left them with a big void down the middle, which to start they are hoping 18-year-old rookie Filip Chytil can help fill. Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes must show progress.
Adding a puck-mover the quality of Shattenkirk, though, does play into Alain Vigneault’s preference to move swiftly out of the defensive zone to jump-start transitions. The Rangers hope to be even quicker than they were last season.
There will be a honeymoon period for Shattenkirk, who left money and term on the table to take a four-year, $26.6 million contract, but he understands the pressure coming. He felt it when he was traded from St. Louis to Washington at last season’s deadline, at the time making Washington the unequivocal Stanley Cup favorite.
It all begins on Oct. 5, a date Shattenkirk says has been circled on the calendar since he signed, which now feels like a long time ago.
“I want to perform,” he says. “I want to be the guy who can come in here and live up to the hype.”
LW Chris Kreider
C Mika Zibanejad
RW Pavel Buchnevich
LW Rick Nash
C Filip Chytil
RW Mats Zuccarello
LW Michael Grabner
C Kevin Hayes
RW J.T. Miller
LW Jimmy Vesey
C David Desharnais
RW Paul Carey
1st D line
2nd D line
3rd D line
Kevin Shattenkirk (free agent)
Filip Chytil (No. 21 pick, 2017 draft) d
David Desharnais (free agent)
Anthony DeAngelo (trade with Arizona)
Paul Carey (free agent)
Ondrej Pavelec (free agent)
Derek Stepan (trade with Arizona)
Dan Girardi (buyout, signed with Tampa Bay)
Antti Raanta (trade with Arizona)
Oscar Lindberg (selected by Vegas in expansion draft)
Kevin Klein (retired, signed with ZSC Lions in Switzerland)
Brandon Pirri (free agent, on PTO with Florida)
Tanner Glass (free agent, on PTO with Calgary)
Adam Clendening (free agent, signed with Arizona)