At the old age of 39, with a shortened preseason, and playing on a team with depth at defense, Dan Boyle was considered the potential odd man out on the New York Rangers’ blue line heading into 2015. Heading into the Christmas break, he has moved past that label, instead representing stability on New York’s shaky defensive corps.
Boyle has been a target of ridicule since his arrival on Broadway, being widely considered the replacement for statistical analyst darling Anton Stralman, despite the fact that New York could have signed both him and Stralman and traded Dan Girardi at the trade deadline in 2014. With the Rangers employing Girardi, Kevin Klein, and Dylan McIlrath on the same side of the defense as Boyle, there has not been a job handed to the aging defenseman despite his positive track record.
Through the first thirty games of the NHL season, Boyle has found himself a healthy scratch six times. While the Rangers have amassed a 3-3 record without him in the lineup, they have learned over the course of the season that he is an invaluable member of a defense that has struggled to avoid costly turnovers.
Since starting the season 17-3-2, New York has played to a ghastly 3-9-2 record, surrendering 55 goals in that stretch. Boyle has been one of the few bright spots, providing offense on the power play, while not making any major defensive turnovers as well. His possession numbers, though by no means fantastic, have remained above fellow defensemen Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal, who have all received more playing time than Boyle.
Boyle’s Corsi For Percentage of 47.9% ranks above the trio, as well as his Corsi For Percentage Relative of 0.7, and his PDO, a stat that measures on-ice luck, is below Girardi and McDonagh at 102.9.
Boyle’s ability to add offense from the blueline has been a major help for New York, who have seen Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider mired in long-term slumps, in addition to Derek Stepan being lost to injury for ten games. With Stepan out, Boyle took his spot in the “Ovechkin area” on the power play, thriving with the added opportunity.
Boyle scored in consecutive games from the same spot, and has tallied seven points in his last eight games. One of those points came on the overtime winner Monday night, as Boyle pointed Derick Brassard into the play he wanted to execute, allowing Boyle himself to dish the puck over to Mats Zuccarello for the game-winning goal.
Boyle’s positive streak has come with Girardi out of the lineup, but when he returns from injury the Rangers will be forced to make a decision between Boyle, Girardi, Klein and McIlrath. Only three of those four can play on any given night, and McIlrath has emerged as a weapon himself with increased playing time.
New York would be wise to keep Boyle in the lineup, as his contributions on the power-play, as well as his ability to possess the puck and know what to do with the puck when he has it have been bright spots during a dismal stretch for the Rangers.