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How Brendan Smith could be the key to unlocking Kevin Shattenkirk’s game

brendan smith

Note: Big welcome to Chris (@yolo_pinyato), the newest writer at BSB. Chris has put together some phenomenal work at HockeyGraphs, and has present at the RIT Hockey Analytics Conference. We are all stoked to have him on board. Give him a follow on Twitter and check out his work, it’s great stuff.

With the Rangers season already perilously close to teetering off the edge of contention, I wanted to take a quick look at the Ranger’s big offseason acquisition, Kevin Shattenkirk.

First a quick breakdown of the data:

When looking at Shattenkirk’s shot impacts last year at 5v5, we can see that relative to competition, he was by far the best player of the Rangers’ current set of defensemen. The shot impacts are weighted meaning that if two players had the same Corsi For% but different levels of competition, the player with the stronger competition would be higher on the y-axis.

Net Shots for Relative to Competition

Nevertheless, it must be noted that Shattenkirk faced a much softer slate of opponent lineups last year than a true #1 like Ryan McDonagh did, and is by no means a traditional #1 shutdown d-man.

However, while knowing whether or not someone is an effective defender is important, but understanding what makes them effective is equally critical. I recently presented at the RIT Hockey Analytics Conference on my attempts to look at the skill sets that contribute to widely accepted stats such as Corsi For % and Game Score.

Here’s a quick breakdown for reference (year over year repeatability is in parenthesis):

  • Shooting – Primarily regressed shooting percentage (as explained here) (R^2 = .13)
  • Passing – Weighted Assists + Weighted Assists per goal (R^2 = .17)
  • Skating – Rushes + Rebs + Penalties Drawn + Shots/Hits Taken Ratio (R^2 = .42)
  • Physicality – Primarily Hits + Blocks + Rushes per Shot (R^2 = .49)
  • Shot Creation – % of all on-ice shots taken (R^2 = .49)
  • Transition – Primarily Give/Take Ratio + (Def. Zone % + CF% Rel.) (R^2 = .42)
  • 2-Way Play – Primarily (Total Hits + Takeaways) + (CF% Rel. + CF Quality of Competition) (R^2 = .24)
  • R^2 with CF% Rel. = .29
  • R^2 with Game Score = .86

When we breakdown Shattenkirk’s game, we see that while he is above average in most areas, he pales in comparison to both McDonagh and Skjei in most every area except for his passing.

Looking at how Shattenkirk meshed with his defensive partners last year in Washington and St. Louis, his best performances were with Robert Bortuzzo and Brooks Orpik. While no one would mistake either of those two for Norris caliber players, they did supplement the weaker areas of Shattenkirk’s skillset, specifically Bortuzzo’s transition skill and Orpik’s two-way play.

Combined ratings of each d-pairing

Fortunately for the Rangers, a player who combines the best of both Bortuzzo’s and Orpik’s already exists on the roster: Brendan Smith.

According to, the Smith-Shattenkirk pairing has only shared the ice for 2 minutes so far, but with the Rangers defensive pairings in constant flux, it’s an option AV should take a long hard look at.

The season has not started out as expected, but there is still some hope that Shattenkirk can rediscover some of the magic that made him such a desired asset in the first place.

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  • Haven’t commented in a few years honestly, but I always welcome new takes on statistical analysis. Welcome to the blog, Chris.

  • Very interesting take on defensive pairings. Not sure that their styles are such that they would work well together, but based on your stats I don’t see the harm in giving it a try.

  • Great post, (sometimes I believe everyone at BSB could collectively run an NHL team) but there is a small tidbit of information missing here as to why this pair hasn’t happened already. Shatt and Smith are both right-handed shots. This pairing would leave the Rangers with 2 of their 3 pairings with same-handed defenseman.

    • Smith is a lefty who plays RD. The issue becomes how do you play them together when Smitty is the latest guy to get stapled to the bench and who plays on their off hand to account for his swap? Skjei? Graves? It wouldn’t be DeAngelo.

  • I don’t like Shattenkirk on the top line, so this could work, but that’d mean that someone like Skjei gets moved up and plays his offside along McDonagh. Not sure I love that idea either.

    • McD has played the right side in the Olympics and World Cup, I think he could handle it in the NHL. Skjei/McD is the top pair I’ve been dying to see since late last season.

      • He’s certainly capable, but our best defenseman should probably play his most natural position.

        Otherwise you diminish his impact.

        • Only if you think playing a RH shot on the right side actually means something.

          For years the NHL was full of D that played on their ‘off side’. This obsession over 3RD/3LD every night is fairly new. Look back at the championship Wings and Devils teams, their top 6 D was almost exclusively LH, which makes sense, as about 70% of NHL players are left handed shots.

          • Just because something is relatively new doesn’t mean that the old way of doing things is perfectly appropriate.

            Matching defensemen’s handedness with their position is a relatively new phenomenon, but it’s a reflection of a shift in the modern game that puts more emphasis on defensemen leading the transition. It’s much easier to generate a smooth transition when you can collect the puck on your strong hand and protect it as you push up the boards.

            This is not simply some arbitrary aesthetic based on symmetrical appearance. It’s a function of the modern game.

          • “Only if you think playing a RH shot on the right side actually means something.”


            ….”After performing various tests to both validate the importance of handedness with respect to the performance of d-pairings and determine exactly how important it is as a variable, it is safe to conclude that NHL teams are justified in their pursuit of a balanced shooting d-corps. Correspondingly, handedness definitely warrants a place in the decision making process when identifying ideal pieces to fill a vacant roster spot.”

  • What are your suggested pair combinations if this move is made? How will the void at RD be filled in the top 4?

  • If you follow the numbers. Then shatty needs to play on the 3rd pair. If you consider his only contribution is offense and you have two players with better numbers they should be on the 2nd and 1st pair.

    Also remember it’s a new system that takes time to get used to. It would be a perfect spot for him to acclimate.

  • Curious…..
    Should AV get the door…. Would there be any plus if J. Capuano was brought in. More to the point would/could he help court The John Tavares… The Other Side…

  • Stats are fancy…
    But visually so far Skjei – Shatty are the best match so far, 2nd best McDonough – DeAngelo, and I want to see Graves – Pionk

  • Maybe after Thursday’s game when AV finally gets canned… And Gorton finally tells the new coach “play the kids” maybe we’ll see a top six of McD,Skjei – Smith,Shatty,Some combo Pionk,DeAngelo,Graves) can’t be any worse than what’s happening now. Please staple Staal,Holden,Kampfer to the pressbox. Maybe then THEY WILL demand a trade.

    • I been giving Jobu his rum but he don’t listen.

      Change would be good. i really think a successful coach needs to be able to have his team run multiple systems and deploy them during a game. Not just when ahead or behind but based on current performance.

      The question is does anyone else see the writing on the wall. You know they say denial is the first stage of grief.

    • I didn’t realize that firing AV would mean the Rangers are no longer subject to NHL roster rules!

      Based on your comment you want to see 10(!) D on the Rangers.

      All snark aside, you can’t ‘play the kids’ until you dump the vets. Holden and Staal are occupying the roster slots that Pionk or Graves would fill. Imagine how messed up the roster would be if Kevin Klein didn’t do the Rangers a solid last summer and ‘retire’ to the Swiss league.

      • Kampfer & Holden can be sent down(though Holden probably wouldn’t make it through; then again, he could considering his play.) with only a slight cap hit for Holden.

        Whatever they’re doing, it isn’t working. You can change the personnel and the result won’t change if the concept is flawed: you change the system or you find a coach that will.

        • Conversely, you can change the system and the result won’t change if the personnel is flawed.

          • True, but at this point I think a return to a more basic puck possession game would really help. The stretch passes don’t work on O, the man-overload isn’t working on D, because teams have scouted this system seen & how it’s not functioning well for the Rangers–and they’re attacking the systemic weaknesses accordingly.

            Zone D and a little bit of letting Shatty, McD, Skjei, and Smith use their puckhandling skills to skate and set up o-zone possession will go a long way. Letting big fellas like Hayes, Miller, Nash, and Kreider cycle the puck more while Zucc, Zib, and Buch zip around getting open will help this team a lot too. That’s my frustration here–no thought is being given to different tactics by this coaching staff, either through burnout or stubbornness.

          • There’s nothing to suggest that a transition, stretch pass mentality is anethema to an effective cycle game.

            One has to do with zone entry and the other has to do with maintaining possession once you’ve entered the zone. This Rangers team is capable of both.

            It’s the defensive breakdowns that is of paramount concern. I’m not well versed in the nuances between zone vs man coverage, but definitely adjustments need to made in regard to the defensive schemes.

          • I’m not against stretch passes, but I think the Rangers’ use of them has become predictable. Would like to see D skating puck through neutral zone, most of em can skate fairly well, and it’d set Shatty up for his strength–offensive zone passing. He can turn the puck over less that way, I think.

          • Certainly, the stretch pass is high risk, but it’s also something this Rangers team under AV historically is pretty good at. This year, not so much. But this year nothing has really worked, players aren’t executing. I’m not sure a more reserved style of skating through the neutral zone is singularly the answer.

            That becomes predictable and stale as well, and teams just clog the zone.

            I’d like to see more creativity in general and less dogmatic reliance on forcing something that isn’t there because “it’s the system.” That’s true whether it’s stretch passes or skated zone exits. The players need to see what’s available and make the high percentage play.

          • It is when the passes don’t connect and the puck is back in your own end before you know what’s happened.

            It is when connecting that creates an odd man rush/breakaway that turns back around the other way when they don’t put it in the back of the net.

  • How Brendan Smith could be the key to unlocking Kevin Shattenkirk’s game

    Play better than last night

  • Smith is reverting back to the inconsistent defenceman that he was in Detroit. Shattenkirk while providing some offense particularly on the PP has been a disaster in his own end.

    While I am not a believer of fancy stats, I do believe that the game of hockey is all about chemistry. And putting the brothers grim together as a defensive pair might just work. Shattenkirk might be more comfortable with Smith doing all the grunt work along the boards. While Smith would get more touches on the puck playing with the talented Shattenkirk and may even regain some confidence. It’s definately worth a shot.

    • At this stage of the game, why not, everything else has failed!!! To be honest, I really thought we would have a very solid defense this year, but whatever has been tried has not worked so far!!!!!!

  • It’s pretty easy , Smith actually plays D and Shittenkirk not so much … Lol

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