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It’s not often a high-profile free agent that the New York Rangers sign comes in and delivers exactly as advertised. After being burned by the likes of Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Wade Redden, and, most recently, Brad Richards, the Rangers took another shot at the big name prize when they signed Kevin Shattenkirk to a four-year, $26.6 million contract this past summer. His mission was to bring his well-documented offensive prowess on the blueline to his hometown of New York and bolster the Blueshirts power play.
Now 17 games into the season, Shattenkirk is beginning to look like the player that Rangers management had hoped for. In the midst of a six-game point scoring streak, Shattenkirk is tied with his former teammate Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues for the league lead in scoring among defensemen with 16 points. His production on the power play, to the tune of two goals and six assists—first and third among defensemen, respectively—is a major reason why.
Shattenkirk’s work has powered the Rangers to a 23.8% conversion rate on the man advantage, vaulting them to fifth in the league. Most of this can be attributed to his flourishing chemistry with man-on-fire Mika Zibanejad. Zibanejad and Shattenkirk have teamed up six times on the power play to create a goal, contributing to 75% of Shattenkirk’s power play points total. Their chemistry was on display right from the start of the season in the first period of the first game against the Colorado Avalanche:
Shattenkirk has so far succeeded where the likes of previous free agent power play “quarterbacks”, such as Richards and Dan Boyle, have failed. Both Richards and Boyle were never able to consistently helm production on the man advantage and establish chemistry. In 332 minutes of powerplay time as a Ranger, Boyle only was able to muster 2.89 points per 60 minutes (P/60). Richards saw more success, but still only produced 3.96 P/60 in 787 power play minutes. Shattenkirk, for comparison, is rated at 7.31 P/60 in his time so far as a Blueshirt and that is only a slight bump up from his career power play production of 6.26 P/60. This level of production on the man advantage is highest among all active NHL defensemen and is in line with players such as Evgeni Malkin (6.65), Pavel Datsyuk (6.39), Connor McDavid (6.23), Sidney Crosby (6.15), and Alex Ovechkin (5.61). That’s pretty good company to keep.
In fact, looking at Shattenkirk’s raw stats, you will see that he’s been among the top players in the league for quite some time:
— Tom Urtz Jr. (@TomUrtzJr) July 1, 2017
It is obviously early, but if the Rangers wish to achieve their ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup, they’ll need to have a power play they can rely on. One that produces consistently. Last season, for example, they saw their power play production drop dramatically when the playoffs came around. Despite operating at a very respectable 20.2% efficiency during the regular season, it fell to a miserable 7.7% in the postseason, going 3-for-39 through 12 games. When the difference in a series can often come down to just one goal, in the postseason—where opportunities are fewer and farther between and referees notoriously swallow their whistles—it can’t be understated just how important it is that no chance is squandered.
Unlike past big-ticket free agent acquisitions, Shattenkirk came in at both a reasonable salary and term. While there’s still a significant stretch of the regular season yet to play this year, Shattenkirk is already showing the tremendous value he can add to the team’s offense.