The 29-year-old defenseman, who signed a four-year contract with the Rangers on July 1, 2017, missed the final 36 games last season because of a meniscus tear in his left knee.
“Just make sure I’m taking it slowly, not getting too crazy with it right away and overdoing it,” said Shattenkirk, who was helping out at the Junior Rangers youth camp at the MSG Training Center. “That’s what seemed to cause part of the swelling before. We have strength and everything around the knee, and that’s going to allow it to be stronger and take away that swelling.”
Shattenkirk, who said he was injured during training camp, had 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) before having surgery Jan. 19. He was able to resume skating March 6 but sat out the remainder of the season.
“I think that having the ability to be finished in April and not have to rush back to play games allowed me really to jump into the intense rehabbing and really my full summer program early,” Shattenkirk said. “Because of it, it’s allowed me to really kind of get everything back on an even playing field with the other leg. It’s really been very reassuring as you start to slowly but surely feel your strength coming back.”
Though New York missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2009-10, Shattenkirk stopped short of calling the upcoming season a rebuild, saying he believes young players including defenseman Neal Pionk and forwards Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil combined with veteran goalie Henrik Lundqvist and forwards Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello will have the Rangers in playoff contention faster than many have projected.
“You look at a lot of the younger teams around this league who have gone through a rebuild and it’s taken a year or maybe two years,” Shattenkirk said. “I think we’re fortunate we still have some veterans on the team. We still have an ace in net.
“This year is about establishing a culture of winning. I think that it’s important that when we show up in September that guys know that this isn’t a year to just slightly improve. It’s a year to try to make the playoffs. I think that is important. When you drive that home into players especially early in their career, you don’t accept anything less than making the playoffs and trying to make a run for the Stanley Cup.”
That winning culture was hard to come by for the Rangers last season. After a 3-2 overtime win against the Sabres at the 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2018, New York went 4-11-0 in its next 15 games, culminating in a 6-1 loss to the Boston Bruins at home on Feb. 7.
The next day, management announced its intent to be sellers, and veterans Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Michael Grabner and Nick Holden each was traded before the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline.
“You think of Feb. 8 and you think of where we are now, and it seems like me along with a lot of other Rangers fans and everyone in the Rangers community are pretty excited about the way this team is going in the direction we’re headed,” Shattenkirk said. “That was a rough patch. That was the low, and now it’s time for us to as players to really bear the burden and put it on our shoulders and start to build a culture here of winning that everyone’s so used to.”
Finally healthy, Shattenkirk will play a major part in that build and he’s ready to embrace his role as a leader on defense, one who will be looked at as a model by Pionk and others coming through the system.
“I had guys that I was able to look up to when I was younger and who played that role and fit that role,” Shattenkirk said. “There’s some young guys here with a lot of promise and a lot of talent. It’s as matter of not getting in their way, first and foremost, letting them do what they do best, but really instilling the core fundamentals into what goes into being a good player: consistency and playing night in and night out to the best of your abilities.”