Why the Rangers Should Sign Kevin Shattenkirk

Kevin Shattenkirk will be a highly sought after free agent (Photo by Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images)

Kevin Shattenkirk will be a highly sought after free agent (Photo by Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images)

 

By: Joe Golding (@JoeGolding94)

It’s no secret that the Rangers’ achilles heel was the defense that they rolled out during the playoffs. Aside from Ryan McDonagh, there isn’t really a defenseman that you can definitively say is a legitimate top two guy.

Brady Skjei, in his rookie season, did a lot more than most people would have expected, but most likely profiles as a good 2nd pair defenseman. Brendan Smith, who just re-upped with the Rangers, seems like a solid number four defenseman. Marc Staal is a shell of his former self, while Dan Girardi was bought out, Kevin Klein is expected to retire, while Nick Holden has one more year and is nothing more than a bottom pair guy. Recently acquired Anthony Deangelo is talented but also comes with some question marks.

There seems to be a significant black hole in that defense. By the looks of it the Rangers look like they could use a top four blueliner, specifically one that is right handed, and can quarterback a powerplay, prevent shots from the slot and in front of the net, and someone that can control the puck while exiting the defensive zone.

Defenseman like that aren’t available all that often, but one player comes to mind who checks all boxes and makes too much sense to slide into that top four role: New York native, Kevin Shattenkirk.

shattenkirk HERO

First off, the reason why it makes sense is because after the Rangers traded away Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta (and also assuming Kevin Klein is retiring, as rumored), they will have roughly $18.5 million to work with to sign restricted free agents Mika Zibenajad and Jesper Fast, while also adding a backup goalie. There would be plenty of money left for Shattenkirk, who should get around $6.5 million annually for six or seven years. (HockeyGraphs’ Matt Cane does salary projections, and has #22 at $6.3 million a year)

Now, there are people who are probably concerned that Shattenkirk isn’t worth the contract. The reason this is being written is to show everyone why he is worth it (and also why it would be the perfect addition).

Shattenkirk is viewed by the general hockey fan as a second pairing offensive defenseman, who is really good on the powerplay. Others view him as a first pair stud defenseman who does more than just generate offense. Due to recency bias, he’s also viewed as someone who had a sub-par stint with the Washington Capitals, which is a bit of a lazy argument. Let’s find out what Shattenkirk really is and what he would bring to the Blueshirts.

In this instance, we’re going to start with Shattenkirk’s play in his defensive zone.

It should be pointed out that Shattenkirk doesn’t start in his own zone much (just 28.6% for his career) but he does an excellent job at suppressing shots, especially in front and to the right of the goaltender, where defenseman that play on the right side are positioned. Do you know where the Rangers got killed at giving up shots against last season? Right in that same area. Just take a look:

(visual via Micah Blake McCurdy @IneffectiveMath)

Shot rates against, with Kevin Shattenkirk (visual via Micah Blake McCurdy @IneffectiveMath)

Shots against without Kevin Shattenkirk (visual via Micah Blake McCurdy @IneffectiveMath)

Shots against without Kevin Shattenkirk (visual via Micah Blake McCurdy @IneffectiveMath)

NYR shots against (visual via Micah Blake McCurdy @IneffectiveMath)

NYR shots against (visual via Micah Blake McCurdy @IneffectiveMath)

Based on that diagnosis, Shattenkirk has the right medicine for the Rangers.

The way Shattenkirk suppresses shots has certainly been a sustainable skill as well, as in the last three seasons, the longtime St. Louis Blue has the eighth lowest CA60 at 48.6 (minimum 2,500 minutes). The Rangers could really use some help in that aspect. Last season, Brady Skjei had the lowest CA60 among Rangers defenseman that played at least 500 minutes with 52.28. There were five regulars that had a CA60 that was higher than 55. Skjei was also the only one who finished with a CF% with at least 50%. Something tells me Shattenkirk can help in that facet.

Coming out of the zone is another feature of Shattenkirk’s game that he does well. In a limited sample size from the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Shattenkirk was able to exit the zone successfully about 80% of the time, and exited the zone with the puck on his stick for almost half of those exits (all exit/entry data comes from Corey Sznajder, @ShutDownLine). Having a defenseman that can transition from defense to offense with possession is not only a good way to ensure that your team is exiting their own zone, but with the right defenseman, such as Shattenkirk, offense comes much easier. It goes without saying that teams will have more success when they have the puck, rather than just dumping the puck out and giving up possession.

Last season, the Rangers blueliners exited the zone successfully about 75% of the time and had possession on those exits for about 46.5% of the time. Not a huge difference between Shattenkirk and the average of the defense’s exits but it certainly is an improvement. Just think if Dan Girardi’s minutes are replaced with Shattenkirk, and instead of a player who exits the zone with possession just 33.9% of the time to someone who’s at nearly 50%, the teams transition game will be considerably better.

Now that we have exited the defensive zone, let’s look at entering the offensive zone entries. The Rangers lacked defenseman entering the offensive zone with the puck, only carrying the puck in at an average of 26.5% of the time. Having a defenseman jump up and act like a fourth forward can cause some confusion and lead to plenty of scoring chances. Here is another part of Shattenkirk’s game that will help the Rangers. In that same sample size from the 2016 playoffs, Shattenkirk was able to carry the puck into the offensive zone 39% of the time. If you’re reading this it’s too late now and think he’s great, just wait until you see what happens when he’s in the offensive zone.

We all know Shattenkirk is an offensive dynamo. Just how good is he though? For starters, in the last three years among defenseman who have played 2,500 minutes at 5v5, Shattenkirk rates 17th in shots/60, 28th in points/60, 18th in CF%, and 16th in first assists/60, just to name a few. So, as you can see, he ranks in the top 30 in some important stats at 5v5. I think we can all conclude that Shattenkirk is an offensively gifted player. Well let’s check some powerplay numbers.

Shots for with Kevin Shattenkirk (visual via Micah Blake McCurdy @IneffectiveMath)

Shots for with Kevin Shattenkirk (visual via Micah Blake McCurdy @IneffectiveMath)

Shots for without Kevin Shattenkirk (visual via Micah Blake McCurdy @IneffectiveMath)

Shots for without Kevin Shattenkirk (visual via Micah Blake McCurdy @IneffectiveMath)

In that same stretch of time, Shattenkirk has 70 points on the man advantage, good for second behind Erik Karlsson, who’s known to be pretty good. Shattenkirk has 3 less points in almost 400 less minutes on the powerplay than Karlsson. His 17 powerplay goals are also good for 5th among defenseman. Amazingly enough, he also ranks 6th among ALL skaters in points.

Shattenkirk is also the clear cut leader in 5v4 points/60 at 6.84. The next highest is Victor Hedman at 5.24. The gap from first to second in 5v4 points/60 is the same as the gap from 2nd to 47th. I’m trying so hard not use exclamation points, it’s just those numbers are insane.

In fact, since he entered the league, #22 has the third most powerplay points among all defenseman. Furthermore, since he made his debut he has finished 35th, 9th, 20th, 8th, 6th, 2nd, and 2nd in powerplay scoring among defenseman.

The Rangers powerplay has improved through the years, even finishing 11th last year. But the thought of adding a legitimate quarterback for the powerplay will only make it more efficient.

One last point I’d like to make about Shattenkirk is that he actually has the ability to carry defensive partners. Look no further to being paired with Brooks Orpik in his brief time in Washington. When paired with Orpik, Orpik’s CF% shot up almost 3%. His other partner in St. Louis, Carl Gunnarsson, should be bowing to Shattenkirk. Together the two were at a 51.3 CF%. When Shattenkirk was without Gunnarsson, he was at a 53.8 CF%, while Gunnarsson without Shattenkirk was at a ghastly 46.8 CF%.

Every single defenseman that Shattenkirk has played with has a higher CF% when paired with him, with the exception of Colton Parayko. His six most common partners in his entire career actually see a 7.81 CF% increase when paired with Shattenkirk. Just to compare that, let’s hypothetically say he gets paired with McDonagh, who was at a 46.4 CF% last season. If McDonagh got the same increase he’d be at a 50.02 CF%. Make no mistake, Shattenkirk can carry a pairing.

The final note I’d like to make for the more casual fan who doesn’t think Shattenkirk is a first pairing D: In Dom Luszczyszyn’s Game Score (measures single game productivity), Shattenkirk finished the year at an average game score of 0.72, the equivalent of not just a first pair player, but a number one defenseman. Although his playoff game score average wasn’t as impressive (0.54), it still equates to a top pair defenseman. The highest game score average for Rangers defenseman, you might ask? Ryan McDonagh, at 0.48.

Kevin Shattenkirk is a fantastic defenseman. I think if he was given top pair minutes, he would absolutely thrive in that role. Every team that has the cap space should be calling him and offering him a contract. He’s one of the 15 best defenseman in the NHL and would make any team better. I See him getting a Keith Yandle type of deal, something in the range of 6 years and somewhere in between $6-6.5 million per year. If the Rangers sign him, that fixes probably the biggest issue they’ve had for the last few years.

All data from naturalstattrick.com, stats.hockeyanalysis, hockeyviz.com, capfriendly.com, theenergyline.wordpress.com

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