Hartnett: Final Grades For Rangers Defensemen

Sean Hartnett
April 18, 2019 - 1:21 pm
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Some Rangers took impressive strides forward during David Quinn’s first season behind the bench, while others met expectations and some struggled to play their best hockey. Tuesday’s column focuses on how the defensemen fared in 2018-19. Goaltenders and coaches will be graded next week.

Tony DeAngelo – Ahead of the 2018-19 season, it was clear that this would be a make-or-break year for DeAngelo. Fortunately for the Rangers, the 23-year-old blueliner made good on his potential and responded the right way to Quinn’s challenges. Contributing 30 points (four goals, 26 assists) in 61 games, DeAngelo provided excellent vision and creativity. His play in the defensive end improved considerably. His overall development is trending in the right direction and Rangers fans are excited about his future. FINAL GRADE: B+

Fredrik Claesson – Signed to a one-year, $700,000 contract, there wasn’t much risk involved in signing Claesson as a depth defenseman. The 26-year-old Swede gave the Blueshirts excellent value by playing a very sound defensive game for most of the season. I’m not sure if Claesson was signed to bridge the gap until some prospects are ready to make the jump to the NHL or if he fits into the long-term vision. Either way, he’s a quality depth defenseman. FINAL GRADE: B

Brady Skjei – It’s been a couple of underwhelming seasons from Skjei, who began his Rangers career so brightly. He hasn’t been able to replicate the production or the steadiness shown during his 2016-17 rookie season. That said, I’m a total believer in his talent. If the Rangers remain patient with him, they’ll be rewarded. FINAL GRADE B-

Brendan Smith – The Rangers hoped for a bounce-back from Smith, who spent much of last season in minor league Hartford. Smith provided enough reasons for Quinn to keep him in the lineup, though some of his playing time came as a fourth-line wing. I think there was a decent bounce-back, though not quite to the heights of his best years in Detroit or his superb performance level with the Rangers during the 2017 playoffs. FINAL GRADE: B-

Marc Staal – No longer the defenseman of his prime years, Staal continues to be a serviceable veteran presence by providing value on the penalty kill and using his long reach effectively. Being on the hook for two more seasons of a $5.7 million cap charge is not ideal for the rebuilding Rangers, but emerging youngsters will benefit tremendously from Staal’s ultra-professional example, excellent work habits and incredible intellect. FINAL GRADE: B-

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Kevin Shattenkirk – Last week’s column detailed the reasons for Shattenkirk’s decline and why he hasn’t lived up to his $6.65 million cap hit. I’d roll the dice by giving Shattenkirk one more season in Rangers’ blue to heal up and a chance to prove that he can be a difference-making defenseman once again. FINAL GRADE: C+

Neal Pionk – Challenged to play top-pair minutes, Pionk struggled with a sudden increase in responsibility. The problem with Pionk is that his defensive deficiencies currently outweigh his offensive contributions. He’s going to need to take a page from DeAngelo’s book by taking forward strides in every aspect of his game – though he does not possess the high-ceiling offensive potential of DeAngelo. At age 23, there’s still time for Pionk to improve and work on correcting his flaws. FINAL GRADE: C+

John Gilmour – Appeared in five games. FINAL GRADE: INCOMPLETE

Libor Hajek – Appeared in five games: FINAL GRADE: INCOMPLETE

Ryan Lindgren – Appeared in five games. FINAL GRADE: INCOMPLETE

Defensemen traded during the season: Adam McQuaid C+

Check back next week for goaltender grades and a review of the coaching staff and general manager Jeff Gorton.

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