People say timing is everything and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk’s return to the New York Rangers’ lineup on New Year’s Eve was no exception. After being sidelined for seven games, he returned to the lineup after the Blueshirts’ registered a 5-2 record since he sustained a separated left shoulder on a hit from J.T. Miller on Dec. 10. He returned to his former stomping grounds to take on the St. Louis Blues where the New Rochelle native first made a name for himself and won his ticket to play for his childhood team in the Big Apple.
“I feel good,’’ Shattenkirk told Newsday Sunday after practice. “I’m just hungry to get back and play. I feel like I’ve just been missing it, being away from the team. Last night got me really excited, seeing them pull off a big win like that. So I just want to get in and hopefully keep that momentum going.’’
Shattenkirk went on to record an assist on the game-winning goal in the Rangers’ 2-1 win Monday night. Nearing the bottom half of the Metropolitan Division, it would be in the organization’s best interest to fully start dialing into the rebuild. That means working towards the trade deadline. With two more seasons left on Shattenkirk’s contract which includes a limited no-trade clause, head coach David Quinn should be figuring out how to up his market value.
How to Showcase a 30-Year-Old Third-Pair Defenseman
Okay, so Shattenkirk doesn’t turn 30 until Jan. 29, but regardless, the Rangers are dealing with a veteran defenseman who has a $6.65 million cap hit serving the role of a third-pair defender. Those numbers are frustrating given his lack of production for the Rangers, especially since he escalated to an eventual 50-point player while in St. Louis. His potential and starry-eyed approach to playing for the Rangers was promising when the team signed him, but has ended up being disappointing.
In 46 games last season, the six-foot defenseman accumulated 23 points (five goals and 18 assists) and finished a minus-14. He averaged roughly 20 minutes of ice time per game and with the expectations that preceded him, he did not do enough. It was made known that he was playing through a knee injury during his first season before he went on injured reserve in January, but a selfish decision to not take care of his knee sooner made his recovery feel like a lifetime.
Going forward it will be interesting to see how things shift on the power play with Shattenkirk back in the lineup. Prior to his injury, he wasn’t getting many looks on the second power play unit, but in the interest of upping his value, maybe it’s time that he did. The current power play squads are well put together and if a Stanley Cup run was actually in the picture, changes wouldn’t need to be made. But because such a run is far out of reach, giving a player like Shattenkirk the opportunity to sell himself might be better for the Rangers’ long-term goals.
Why Shattenkirk’s Return Will be a Positive
Before his injury against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Shattenkirk wasn’t lighting up the scoresheet but was viewed in a positive light by his teammates and Quinn. Registering a mere eight points (one goals, seven assists) through 29 games is self-explanatory, but Quinn still sees what Shattenkirk brings to the table.
“He gives us the ability to get the puck out of our end, which is a huge quality at this level, the way teams forecheck,’’ Quinn said. “When he’s on his game, we get out of our end quicker. And the thing I liked, before he got hurt, I thought he was defending well, too.’’
Shattenkirk has become a noticeable part of the culture within the team, especially considering, along with Brendan Smith, he’s the fifth-oldest player on the roster. The New York Post reported on a players-only meeting that took place before the 4-3 win over the Nashville Predators and Shattenkirk was one of the leaders.
Although he felt “a bit awkward” about being a part of the meeting, having not been in the lineup for some time, Shattenkirk said he still offered words of praise. Most of what was discussed had been recurring since before he was injured, giving him the opportunity to be included. If Shattenkirk can help spark a much-needed win simply by being in the locker room, it’ll be interesting to see what he can do getting back on the ice with his time as a Ranger being put into perspective.
A senior sports journalism major at the University of Massachusetts with bylines in the New York Post, Stan Fischler’s newsletter The Fischler Report and the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, MA.