The Rangers are the next team currently without a captain. The Rangers have cycled through their captains relatively quick, with three captains whose entire tenures have spanned the past decade. Centre Chris Drury finished the 2008 season with a 58 points before being named captain. Declining fast in his early thirties due to injuries, Drury scored 37 goals and 93 points in 182 games, including five points in 24 games in his final season, before agreeing to a buyout and retiring following the 2010/11 season. Right winger Ryan Callahan was named captain the next season and tallied 56 goals and 110 points in 166 games before being traded at the 2014 Trade Deadline to Tampa Bay. Defenceman Ryan McDonagh was named the next captain for the 2014/15 season and would go on to score 25 goals and 135 points in 270 games, as well as representing the Rangers in the 2016 and 2017 All-Star Games, before being traded at the 2018 Trade Deadline to Tampa Bay.
The main reason for the Rangers to not name a captain is the fact they are embarking on a rebuild. Their trades of Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh last season meant not only the departure of major roster players, but also the departure of the two players whose leadership and level of play made them the best fit for wearing the “C.” The move represents the beginnings of a rebuild, and with no real stars on the team, especially at forward, it would be understandable to not to name a new captain.
The Rangers weren’t an easy team to peg down in terms of who should be the next captain. For Shattenkirk, the entire argument rests on his offensive contributions. In his season before joining the Rangers, Shattenkirk scored a career-high 56 points, and while he was limited to 23 points last season, he also was limited to 46 games due to injury. Had he played a full season, he would have led all Rangers defencemen in points. As it stands, he was still only two points behind the Rangers’ actual defenceman scoring lead, Brady Skjei. As I mentioned earlier, the Rangers don’t have a lot of star players with leadership credentials. It’s just that Shattenkirk is a better candidate than any of the bunch of mediocre forwards besides Mats Zuccarello. Speaking of which...
Three seasons removed from a 61-point finish but fresh off a 53-point finish, Zuccarello looks to be declining. While it could just be the lack of high-end offensive ability among Rangers forwards, Zuccarello isn’t going to be making a bigger impact as he gets older. Zuccarello makes a good bit of sense as a team captain. He is consistently among the higher scorers on the team year-in and year-out, and having played for the Rangers for at least part of a season since 2010/11 and being developed since being signed undrafted, his development is intertwined with that of the present-day Rangers. Plus, he’s a really small undrafted forward. The reality of the NHL is that small players are less likely to get their foot in the door, and not being drafted makes a player have to work extra hard to get their shot, both things Zuccarello overcame to become an established NHLer.
The 24-year-old, entering his third NHL season, is coming off a season that saw him fall from 39 points to 25. Despite that, Skjei, a 2012 draftee who the Rangers will likely try to rebuild their defence around, led all Rangers skaters in TOI, even Shattenkirk. Skjei has the surface trappings of McDonagh, a mobile shut-down defenceman who, despite lacking high-end offensive ability, still carries his weight in that area.
Ultimately I’d go with Zuccarello if I had to pick a new captain. As I said, he is the Rangers’ top offensive contributor, for what that’s worth, and has been with the Rangers from a 22-year-old entering the league with cups of coffee to a veteran 30-year-old alternate captain. It makes the most sense, even if his contract expires at the end of the season.