New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault calls Kevin Shattenkirk ‘work in progress’
As a kid in New Rochelle, his best friend had season tickets, which meant Shattenkirk made many a pilgrimage to the Mets’ old home at Shea Stadium to watch his baseball heroes. “Mike Piazza was my guy,” he said.
Piazza was traded to the Mets in 1998, where he hit .338 in 109 games but was booed by New York fans for, in their eyes, failing to produce in the clutch. Shattenkirk, who signed a four-year deal with $26.6 million as a free agent last summer, has the opposite problem: The fans, by and large, like him; but his play has left the Rangers wanting more.
“I would say he’s a work in progress. There’s no doubt that our expectations and his expectations are a little bit higher than we’ve seen so far,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said on the eve of the Winter Classic against the Buffalo Sabres.
Shattenkirk, who also grew up a Rangers fan, has five goals and 17 assists in 38 games for New York. He’s on pace for his lowest offensive production since 2013-14, when he finished with a 0.56 points-per-game average.
The Rangers’ blue line has struggled as a group, and Shattenkirk is no exception, with a 47.4 Corsi for percentage at 5-on-5. The difference is that Shattenkirk, by reputation and renown, was expected to be a difference-maker.
“I expected it would be sunshine and rainbows,” he said, laughing, “But the start put me in check.”
Shattenkirk began the season with seven points in 11 games, but he struggled defensively. He has now gone 22 games without a goal.
Does he think he’s a “work in progress,” as his coach indicated?
“We’re still working through how he wants me to play, and how he wants the defensemen to play. I’ve been watching guys that have been here a while [like Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal], and there are elements in their game that I’m trying to incorporate into my game,” said Shattenkirk. “They play different defensively than I’m used to, but it’s something that I like — it’s aggressive. Intrinsically, I haven’t gotten it to become a natural instinct yet.”
But there are other factors to consider when it comes to Shattenkirk’s start. Like coming in as a free-agent prize looking to impress new teammates. Like coming home to play for your favorite NHL team, and all the pressures that come with a homecoming; for example, Shattenkirk figures there will be over 100 family members and friends watching him play in the Winter Classic.
“I think Shatty’s putting a little pressure on himself to do better in front of new teammates and friends and family,” said Vigneault. “Sometimes it takes a little time. He’s not the first player to go through this, being back home.”
It has not been the best calendar year for Shattenkirk. He was traded by the St. Louis Blues to the Washington Capitals as a “last piece of the puzzle” deadline acquisition, and then wilted in the postseason with one goal and five assists in 13 games, skating to a minus-4 rating. Now, after being an offseason free-agent prize, he’s struggled in his tenure as a Ranger, with two points in his last 11 games.
The problem for Shattenkirk is that he’s the first person to notice this, because he’s his own coarsest critic.
“I’m definitely guilty of that. Last year in the playoffs was another example of me doing that, and doing it too much,” he said. “I think it’s only natural. I’ve always wanted to be the harshest on myself, more than anyone else. And there are times when I have to let myself off the hook a little bit and relaxed.”
Despite not having a point in his last five games, Shattenkirk said he’s felt more relaxed recently. But it remains a mental battle. A search for consistency. A quest for confidence.
A work in progress.
“It’s about not worrying about making mistakes. Trying to go out on that next shift and affecting the game in a positive way,” said Shattenkirk. “That’s the mentality I have to keep the entire game.”