Halfway there: Defense grades

It’s that time of year again, and we get to grade the performances of the various groups in the Rangers. We decided to tackle the easiest of the bunch right now, the defensemen. They are the easiest because, well, they all pretty much have stunk this year. There’s no other way around it.

Some of the stink can be attributed to learning a new system, and some of the stink can be attributed to the system itself. The Rangers are actually halfway decent at limiting quality chances against, keeping opponents to the outside. But they give up the blue line in order to achieve this, which makes long, sustained pressure in the defensive zone unavoidable. Since the entire team is terrible with CF% –which isn’t even the best stat to really use– I’m going to focus on xGF% when looking at numbers beyond the stat line. Let’s get to the players.

Brady Skjei (3-11-14, 45 GP) 

Skjei was inked to a shiny long term deal this offseason, and has struggled mightily so far. He looks out of place, his skating actually looks timid and slow, and he’s just not the same guy. His xGF% of 4.59% is ahead of only Neal Pionk. It’s been a rough start to the David Quinn era for him. Skjei has mostly been paired with Adam McQuaid, who isn’t really ideal. He and Tony DeAngelo played together for a good amount of time as well, with equally poor results. Part of the problem is finding a good partner for Skjei, which hasn’t happened yet. But most of the problem is, simply put, Skjei has been underperforming. Grade: D

Neal Pionk (5-15-20, 42 GP)

Pionk started the season incredibly hot, with six assists in seven games to start the year. It masked some of his very poor numbers, but since he was producing, it was overlooked by most. However Pionk’s 5-15-20 line looks a lot worse when you realize he hasn’t scored since 12/22, and before that 11/21. Since that 11/21 game, he has a line of 2-5-7. So his production has fallen off a cliff, which makes his 44.07 xGF% even more glaring. Pionk is still pretty good with the puck, especially on the powerplay. He has great vision. But he’s really not that good at anything else, and is struggling even more than Skjei. He’s still in his first full season, so there’s hope some of it can work out. But he needs to improve significantly. Grade: C

Tony DeAngelo (4-8-12, 31 GP)

DeAngelo just can’t stick in the lineup, and that is a little frustrating. There is an issue with perception, since his on ice production is better than Pionk’s, but people prefer Pionk. While we don’t know anything about his attitude and how that has changed (or if), we do know that his discipline is an issue. He’s got great offensive talent, but he is outperforming his xGF% (47.52 xGF%, 56.00 GF%), so there is a regression coming. He’s been clicking with Marc Staal recently, as odd as that sounds. He’s certainly earned more playing time over some of the underperforming veterans. At the very least to see what he can do and if there’s a future for him here. Grade: B-

Kevin Shattenkirk (2-12-14, 40 GP)

Boy what a disaster it’s been for Shattenkirk. He played through a torn meniscus last season, and it’s clear he hasn’t been the same since the injury and surgery. He’s slower out there, he’s less agile, and he’s timid on the ice. With that, he’s lost his PP1 time to Pionk and then to a five forward combo, so his ice time is down. Shattenkirk, as expected, has the best xGF% numbers on the team (49.77%), but he’s being propped up by a few very strong games, overshadowing his overall poor performance. It’s not an effort thing, he hasn’t been the same since that injury. It shows. Grade: D

Adam McQuaid (0-3-3, 24 GP)

The Rangers picked up McQuaid (for Steven Kampfer, a 4th rounder, and a 7th rounder for some added toughness in the lineup. And McQuaid does his job there. The problem is that’s not good enough for the NHL anymore, and you need to be able to do more than just stick up for teammates. He’s very slow, and getting beat on rushes regularly. When that happens, the defense winds up out of position and slot line pass opportunities open up. The puck is a grenade on his stick too, but that was expected. I didn’t have high expectations for McQuaid when he came in, and his greatest value to the team will be the eventual third round pick the Rangers get for him. Grade: C

Brendan Smith (2-6-8, 31 GP)

What a disaster this Smith deal has been. He’s just been all around bad. There’s nothing else to really say about this. However in third pairing minutes, he’s been somewhat productive? I guess? His xGF% is 47.72%, and he’s been much better when propped up by Shattenkirk or Fredrik Claesson. The team is going to have to ride this one out, unfortunately. Grade: D+

Marc Staal (3-8-11, 48 GP)

Staal has been experiencing a muted “revival” this season. Revival is being loosely defined here, since there weren’t many expectations from him to start the year. But he’s been…decent? He’s been playing well with DeAngelo, and has been somewhat steady. The system certainly helps, as his best strength was keeping players to the outside. With the Rangers conceding the blue line, he can back up and do just that. I guess low expectations leads to pleasant surprises? But hey, I’ll take it. Just keep him and Pionk away from each other please, that pair is the worst on the team, and it’s not even close. Grade: B.

Fredrik Claesson (2-3-5, 26 GP)

I can’t understand why Claesson can’t stay in the lineup. He’s been nothing but solid and quiet, which is a compliment for this team. He makes a good first pass, and actually does a good job in all three zones. He’s been arguably the best defenseman on the team, which says a lot about the state of this blue line. Grade: B

Ryan Lindgren (3 GP)– Incomplete

Show More
  • Pionk not only fails the eye test his metrics are poor as well. His development has taken a step backwards and the Rangers should consider moving him.
    Claesson is highly overrated as he is vulnerable to getting burned on the outside and rarely blocks shots or gets his stick into passing lanes. His work along the boards is average at best.

    • On an MSG broadcast a few weeks ago (I think it was a pre-game) they panned a shot of Pionk in his undershirt bending over & lacing his skates. He looked like a skinny high school kid… man, if he is 6’ and 190 then I am Hulk Hogan. I’d venture to say he’s being outmuscled a lot (IMO it’s obvious) especially on 5v5 ice time. I just don’t know if his body has the capability to fill out that much anymore. He’s a good hockey player, just doesn’t have the strength, I don’t believe.

  • Some of the stink can be attributed to the fact that the players in question are piss poor, and being misplayed. ADA should not be taken off of the ice for the rest of this season, instead they keep playing Pionk, and Staal who are just down right terrible.

    Your score and grade of the d-corp is right on except for Staal. The guy can’t skate, has a poor shot, is blind in one eye, and is soft as Carvel ice cream, yet they march him out their as a top pair player, what a joke……….

    Bring up the kids and see what we have to work with in the future!!!!!!!!!!

  • ADA merits at least a B, I’m hard pressed to find anything to complain about with his play (in comparison to all the other d’men on this team). Yes, he’s taken a few “odd” penalties here and there but I love his feisty play. If he isn’t in the mix for the rebuild it will be a big mistake.

    I also think the grades for Skjei and Shattenkirk are a tad low. Not saying either merits a big bump, but if Brendan Smith is getting a D+ then both those guys deserve at least a C-.

    Pionk gets an F for defense, a B for offense. The problem is the F is a pretty hard one and it’s purely based on his lack of strength and Hockey IQ — at least with guys like Staal, McQuaid and even Shattenkirk any deficiencies on d are more related to injury and age, not a lack of knowing what to do in the defensive zone.

  • Unjustifiable grade for Marc Staal. Judge his performance (which has been abysmal—he’s part of the worst pair that Quinn has regularly iced this year), not the expectations for how bad he’d be this year.

    Overall, considering how horrendous this group really is, you were really gentle in your assessment, Dave. They bleed shots, can’t hit, most can’t even clear the puck in an organized transition out of the defensive zone. They play in a panicky manner, have terrible positioning, and are a generally unathletic group of athletes. Did I mention their lack of physicality? Because they really lack physicality. This group of defenders makes most games difficult to watch.

    • Without Pionk in the line up and with both DeAngelo and Lindgren in the line up, they were actually stable. Not good, but stable.

      That being said, Staal is not an NHL D man, like I said below. I think Dave gave him a “B” because he’s been better than anyone expected, which is not a high bar to begin with.

  • Pretty good David.

    Staal is what he is, but the NHL has passed him by. The only thing that’s keeping him here is the misguided love that Sather has for him, like he’s Glen’s long lost son. But the guy has no business being here.

    I loved Vinny Prospal, but at the end, the poor guy could not get back on D because he was shot, as a player. Staal is not that bad, yet, but as the league gets faster skaters, Staal’s ability to keep up will decline even faster.

  • ADA has been the best of the 8 so far, you are really overrating Pionk I’ll give him a C for his points in the the first 20 games and an F since to me D- is a fair grade.

      • Overall? He brings little to offense to the position. Not saying that’s a deal breaker or anything, but it has to factor into an “overall” rating. That’s why I think the best d’man has been ADA, despite the fact he hasn’t had to bear the brunt of the defensive work against the other team’s top players … still he’s been good with what he’s been charged with.

        • Claesson is not an offensive player at all.

          But what he can do is defend well and pass the puck to get out of the defensive zone. 2 things the Ranger D has a hard time with.

  • Asides from the 1st month, Pionk has been a below replacement level player.

    I want him playing 27 minutes a night.

    If you’re gonna be bad, be really bad without gutting the roster.

  • Back to top button