Kevin Shattenkirk

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Hartnett: 2019 A Clean Slate For Shattenkirk To Prove He Belongs In Rangers' Plans

Defenseman Has Been Plagued By Injuries Since Signing In '17

Sean Hartnett
January 01, 2019 - 12:34 pm
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Kevin Shattenkirk hasn’t had the best of luck since accomplishing his childhood dream of pulling on a Rangers sweater. Back in the summer of 2017, Shattenkirk accommodated the Blueshirts by sacrificing term and agreeing to a four-year, $26.6 million contract.

At the time of his signing, the majority of the hockey world hailed the deal as a big win for the Rangers. After all, Shattenkirk was the prize of the free agent class and acquiring him without a backbreaking six- or seven-year commitment was a no-brainer.

A torn meniscus played havoc with Shattenkirk’s first season at the Garden. The right-handed defenseman was troubled by knee issues and took multiple cortisone shots to manage the inflammation in his left knee. He underwent knee surgery in January 2018 and was eventually shut down for the remainder of the season.

Shattenkirk finished Year 1 of his contract with 23 points in 46 games, which was pretty respectable given the pain he was enduring and the injury robbing him of explosive skating that feeds his offense-generating ways.

MORE: Hartnett: Rangers Face Tough Decision On Hayes' Future

Year 2 as a Ranger started with the introduction of a new coach, a new system and the possibility of Shattenkirk receiving major minutes given the experienced departures on the Rangers’ blue line. Again, injuries prevented the 29-year-old from playing his best brand of hockey.

There was always going to be a re-acclimation period when Shattenkirk returned to the ice this season after so much lost time due to the knee injury. Just at the point when Shattenkirk appeared to be turning the corner, he suffered a separated left shoulder in Tampa Bay on Dec. 10 and was placed on the injured reserve. He missed seven consecutive games before returning to the Rangers’ lineup on New Year’s Eve in St. Louis.

Shattenkirk marked his return with an assist on Boo Nieves’ game-winning goal, as the Rangers earned a 2-1 win at Enterprise Center. In all, Shattenkirk spent 16:18 on the ice, including 1:48 in power-play time. The contest was also the defenseman’s first game in St. Louis since the Blues traded him to the Washington Capitals on Feb. 27, 2017.

His seven years of excellent production in St. Louis mean very little now. A hockey player is only as good as what he can offer his team in the present. Those glory years in St. Louis and mixed returns in the 2017 and 2018 calendar years in the Big Apple are all in the past.

2019 is a clean slate for Shattenkirk. The new year offers a fresh opportunity to impress Quinn now that his injuries and in the rearview mirror. Previously, Quinn only used Shattenkirk for 18:19 of ice time per game – the fifth lowest among Rangers defensemen. That’s a concerning number for a player who averaged 21:17 per game in St. Louis and whose career average is 20:53.

Shattenkirk is very much in a prove-it situation. Quinn recognizes the elite puck-moving and all-around quality that Shattenkirk brings when he’s summoning his best, but Rangers fans have only witnessed that from him in dribs and drabs.

“He gives us the ability to get the puck out of our end, which is a huge quality at this level, the way teams forecheck,’’ Quinn told Newsday on Sunday. “When he’s on his game, we get out of our end quicker. And the thing I liked, before he got hurt, I thought he was defending well, too.’’

In Year 1 of Quinn’s reign, much of this roster is under pressure to prove its worthiness of forming this team’s core for years to come. The Rangers spent the second half of last season dismantling much of the veteran core that Quinn’s predecessor, Alain Vigneault, leaned on.

Further changes are coming as the Feb. 25 trade deadline nears. The futures of key pending unrestricted free agents Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello are yet to be decided, and if the duo aren’t extended in the coming weeks, they will be wearing new uniforms come late February. Veteran defenseman Adam McQuaid is also a pending UFA.

The Rangers’ rebuild could go a lot deeper than moving expiring contracts for assets that can help in the present and future. Opportunities to deal away older players on expensive contracts could emerge. Shattenkirk’s track record as one of the league’s most productive defensemen and foremost power-play point-getters could make him an attractive reclamation project for a contending team. A 10-team no-trade list puts some control in Shattenkirk’s hands should real interest percolate at the trade deadline.

In the new year, Shattenkirk will have the opportunity to prove that he can perform as a top-pairing defenseman. He will have the chance to demonstrate all the reasons why he’s worth the $6.65 million average salary that the Rangers committed to him.

I’m of the opinion that Shattenkirk can control his destiny as a Ranger if he rekindles his best. This is the franchise that he grew up admiring and the one that he wants to help shape into an eventual Stanley Cup contender. If Shattenkirk can summon his A-game while staking his claim on the Blueshirts’ top defensive pairing and first power-play unit, then it will be an easy decision to keep him in Rangers blue for years to come.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey.