A lot has changed this offseason for the New York Rangers. With new additions like Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba, the Rangers looked to speed up the rebuild. In order to do so, they also had to make some tough decisions. One of these decisions was to buy out New York native defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.
With Shattenkirk on his way to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the opportunity opens up for some of the youth to impress and make their case for a starting spot. The Rangers have Marc Staal, Brady Skjei, Brendan Smith, and newly-signed Jacob Trouba to solidify four of the six starting defensive spots, which leaves two spots vacant. One of those is likely to be filled by Tony DeAngelo, as long as they re-sign him.
Most Likely to Win the Spot
One of the front runners in the race is 21-year-old Libor Hajek. Standing at 6-foot-2, 204-pounds, the left-handed defenseman impressed the Rangers coaching staff at the conclusion of last season. He has a head start since the organization gave him a chance to show them what he can do at the NHL level. In five games, coach David Quinn was impressed so much that he played almost 22 minutes in his last outing before getting injured. His skillset and potential were showcased in five games, recording his first career NHL goal and having a plus-1. In those five games, he was able to give the coaching staff something to look forward to.
Adam Fox, is another player that will get a great shot at having that starting spot. The Rangers signed the 21-year-old to an entry-level contract on May 2nd. They got his rights from the Carolina Hurricanes for a second-round pick and a conditional third-round pick in 2020 if Fox plays in 30 NHL games this season. That is looking more than likely to happen.
Fox was a highly looked upon college prospect that teams were jumping at the chance to acquire. In his last season at Harvard University, he had 9 goals and 39 assists. He led the NCAA in assists and was fourth in scoring. The last college defenseman to lead in assists was Matt Carle in 2005-06. He showed that he wasn’t only an offensive defenseman, but his defensive skills are noteworthy, too. At the end of his collegiate career, he finished with a plus-45, which is very good for a defenseman in four years in the NCAA. With all the hype around this prospect, he will have a great opportunity and chance to make New York’s opening roster.
Just like Hajek, Ryan Lindgren got his first chance to showcase what he can do for the Rangers towards the end of the season. The Blueshirts picked him up on Feb. 25 in the 2018 season, along with Ryan Spooner and a draft pick, from the trade sending Rick Nash to the Boston Bruins. Shooting left-handed, he is known as a stay-at-home defenseman — a steady, strong defensive player. In 65 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack, he went on to tally 12 assists and a minus-1. Being minus-1 isn’t a good looking stat on paper, but it isn’t as bad as it seems.
The Wolf Pack was not a good defensive team last season, where they gave up the third-most goals in the AHL with 266 goals against. The Rangers have a lot of offensive-minded defensemen, giving Lindgren an advantage. The Rangers will be looking to balance that out. With his stay-at-home mindset, he will get his opportunity to prove himself again when training camp opens up.
Likely to Make a Case
The Rangers got a steal with the trade that brought them Yegor Rykov and a second-round pick (which became Miller) from the New Jersey Devils for Michael Grabner. He signed an entry-level contract with the Rangers, stands at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, and has been playing in the KHL overseas. In 47 games with HK Sochi, he had nine points, three goals, and six assists. That might not seem groundbreaking, but he tied for second in points by a defenseman 21-years-old or younger in the KHL. The upside from this is that he is learning from playing more minutes and progressing under standout Rangers defenseman Sergei Zubov, who is the coach of HK Sochi.
Rykov might not be a front runner for a starting spot before camp, but he seems motivated to prove that he can play in North America. He brings depth to this organization in the defense and has an upside from his size and style of play. He hopes his experience playing in the KHL will help him adjust to playing over here for the Rangers. However, he will face a bit of a learning curve when adapting to the rink size. He will need to learn the speed and precision of the game necessary for the smaller rinks in North America. If he doesn’t crack the lineup for the Rangers, he will be playing for the Wolf Pack where he can continue to learn the style of play in the Rangers organization.
With all the talent that will be shown at camp, it wouldn’t be surprising to see two of these names make their way into the lineup. That being said, there are still opportunities to impress where the Rangers could be forced to make more decisions on the back end like scratching or burying Brendan Smith in the AHL. This is an exciting time for the Rangers defense.
An Eye on the Future
K’andre Miller was the 22nd overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Rangers. Standing at a staggering 6-foot-4, he uses his strength and speed very well. In his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin, he scored 5 goals and 17 assists, with a plus-7. With his 22 points last season, he became the top scorer in defenseman drafted in the first round in their first 26 games in the NCAA. With names like Zach Werenski and fellow Ranger Jacob Trouba, his future looks very bright.
Miller has also shown his skillset representing team USA in the World Junior Championship Summer Showcase. He tallied one goal and two assists in the six games he played. He was looked at as the go-to guy on the ice in the later games of the showcase. He was able to show his more offensive game while on team USA’s first pair, grabbing an assist on the power play in the game against Finland. Even though he could have turned pro, he will look to build off his successful 2018-19 season by playing another year with Wisconsin. They begin their 2019-20 season with two exhibition games against British Columbia on Aug. 30 and Sep. 1.