GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The July decision to come back home to play is in the past. The summer workouts in Stamford, Conn. with familiar faces from the hockey world are finished.
And this August, New Rochelle native Kevin Shattenkirk didn’t have to pack up and drive west to St. Louis, where he had spent seven years of an All-Star career.
On Saturday, Shattenkirk’s transition to Broadway became even more tangible, as he practiced for the first time in camp with the Rangers, the franchise that he idolized as a youngster.
“I was a little anxious to see how camp works here,” confessed the 28-year-old, offensively-gifted defenseman who hopes to be a difference-maker for the Blueshirts. “You kind of feel like a rookie again and you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.”
That won’t be necessary. The Rangers are welcoming Shattenkirk, a mobile, roving defender who has produced at least 25 power-play points in each of the last four seasons. The last Blueshirts defenseman to do so was Brian Leetch.
Some things already seemed comfortable and instructive, such as a conversation on ice with teammate Rick Nash. And in video sessions, Shattenkirk discovered that coach Alain Vigneault’s buzzwords were the same used by the Blues.
“I’m not worried about him understanding the defensive side of the game,” Vigneault said. “The one thing I want him to do is bring his offensive instinct, his creativity with the puck, I want that to flow. I’m definitely going to give him some leeway.”
After a brief stop in Washington, where he was traded late last season, the prized free agent who later left millions of dollars on the table to sign a four-year, $26.6-million contract with the Rangers, understands high expectations.
“Being a guy who gets traded and automatically everyone just assumes because you’re traded to a Stanley Cup contender [the Capitals] that you’re automatically the favorites, that’s a lot of pressure,” he said Saturday. “Here, I think it’s going to be a little bit more of a situation that I can ease into a bit, but I place those expectations on myself. I’m pretty critical of myself. I want to perform and I want to be the guy who can come in here and live up to the hype.”
Shattenkirk is joining a team that rises and falls by speed. “They seem to stretch teams out a lot and put pucks into areas to speed to,” he said. “They want to make sure we’re not just flipping pucks out. Offensively, these guys are maybe going to have to adjust to me a little bit. I move around the offensive zone and try to find little holes and spots to jump in. But it’s just a matter of everyone getting some game reps, figuring out who can make those plays, who can’t, who’s at the net.”
Off-ice, back in a familiar environment, Shattenkirk admitted that “there can be a lot of distractions and it’s up to me to manage that. All my family and friends have a pretty good understanding of how it all works. If I were 22 and coming back home, it might be a different situation; I’m mature enough now. Everyone knows the score: They don’t get free tickets, and they better not be bugging me for them.”