New assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson will likely be in charge of the defense, much the way Mike Sullivan was in charge of the defense last season. A noted tough guy/fighter during his playing days, Samuelsson was also incredibly sound defensively and a reliable top-four defenseman for the Whalers, Penguins, and Rangers. Samuelsson spent five years as an assistant with Phoenix, where he had a profound impact on the young defensemen.
Among those that Samuelsson tutored in Phoenix (that are still there): Keith Yandle, Zbynek Michalek, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and David Schlemko. Yandle has already solidified himself as a top pairing defenseman, and OEL might turn into one of the best defensemen in the league (at worst, he’s a top-four guy). Other guys to pass through Phoenix during Samuelsson’s tenure: Ed Jovanovski, Keith Ballard, and Derek Morris. That’s some track record for a five year assistant coach.
With the Rangers, Samuelsson will have the opportunity to work with veterans like Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, and Anton Stralman. He will also be given the opportunity to help develop Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh, and John Moore. His experience in Phoenix included a wide range of defensemen, so there are few questions about whether he is qualified for the job.
Although this is already one of the top defensive units in the league, there is always room for improvement. The next step for someone like McDonagh is to add more offense to his game, while MDZ could use some more consistency. These are both areas where Samuelsson excelled with Phoenix, developing Yandle into a top-15 defenseman in the game. The effect won’t be immediate, but the addition of Samuelsson will be one that will help long-term.