New York Rangers' Core of Young Defensemen are Ready to Break Out

Sean Hartnett@HartnettWFANCorrespondent IJuly 29, 2010

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 04:  Marc Staal #18 of the New York Rangers celebrates against the Washington Capitals on February 4, 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Once Rangers GM Glen Sather is able to lock up restricted free agent defenseman Marc Staal, the Blueshirts will have a strong group of talented blue-liners, all under the age of 26.

With exceptional goaltender Henrik Ludqvist behind them, New York should be one of the stingiest defenses in the NHL next season.

Staal experienced a slight increase in his point totals last season and should continue to develop his offensive game.

Mainly, Staal's chief asset is his calm attitude, despite being only 23. His positioning on the ice and responsible play is that of a 10-year veteran. 

Staal will never be a bruising hitter, but once he is able to add some more bulk to his 6'4" frame, he should become an even more effective overall defenseman.

The Rangers have already locked up Daniel Girardi this summer for the next four years at $3.325M per season. He is the typical, steady "stay at home" sort of blue-liner, but occasionally chips in offensively. 

Girardi likes to throw his body around and plays with reckless abandon, frequently blocking shots.

Michael Del Zotto might actually have greater future potential than Staal. He led Rangers' defensemen with 37 points in his rookie season. 

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Still only 20, Del Zotto is very advanced for his age and could one day be a terrific power play contributor. He needs to develop his defensive awareness, but is already a talented blue-line distributor and a very quick skater.

Hobey Baker award winner Matt Gilroy had tremendous success at the collegiate level, but had a difficult time adjusting to the NHL in his rookie season. 

Gilroy was thrown into the fire immediately by coach John Tortorella and showed some early promise, but was sent down to minor league Hartford. 

When he was recalled, Gilroy had an "up and down" time with the Rangers and was mostly a healthy scratch toward the season's end. He seems to possess enough all-around ability to be a solid NHL-er and should bounce back in 2010-11.

Ryan McDonagh was acquired from Montreal in the Scott Gomez trade and signed an entry-level contract with the Blueshirts this June.

He is considered an all-around defensemen by scouts and is a terrific skater with great speed. McDonagh will compete for an NHL spot in training camp.

Even with the trade of Bobby Sanguinetti to the Hurricanes, the Rangers have great depth when it comes to defensemen.

Sather has done a fine job at stock-piling young talent. Their 10th overall pick in the 2010 draft, intimidating blue-liner Dylan McIlrath, could one day give the physical force that the club needs.

If the likes of Del Zotto, Staal, McDonagh, and Gilroy are able to continue growing, New York will one day have a strong core of defensemen that could match most top NHL teams. 

Their progress will determine how far the Rangers can go in the 2010-11 season and years from now, when McIlrath is ready, the Blueshirts will have a very formidable defense.