Defensive depth in the NHL is tough to come by. In the offseason, the best defensemen get the mega millions. At the trade deadline, defensemen always cost the most. In the new skilled NHL, getting just two defensemen who are capable of playing top-four minutes regularly is tough. The Rangers have five such players. Of those five, three are already capable of playing top-two minutes. This folks, is depth at its finest.
Perhaps the Marc Staal concussion was a blessing in disguise. With the injury, Ryan McDonagh was forced into top-two duties, and Michael Del Zotto was forced into top-four duties. Not only have both excelled in the short term, they have proven themselves worthy of staying in those roles. The evidence is in the defense pairings, with Staal playing on the third pairing since his return.
Such depth allows the coaching staff to be creative in how to deploy the pairings, and how to fill out that last defensive spot. The top-five in Staal, McDonagh, Del Zotto, Dan Girardi, and Mike Sauer (although injured) are capable of playing in all three zones. Should the Rangers look to add a powerplay specialist like Marc-Andre Bergeron (just spit-balling here, not advocating for his acquisition), then the burden would fall on the other five to compensate for Bergeron’s lack of actual defense.
The Bergeron case is just a hypothetical, but it does illustrate a point that the Rangers have tremendous flexibility when it comes to filling the hole of sixth defenseman. Right now the Rangers have survived with a rotating door of Steve Eminger, Stu Bickel, and Jeff Woywitka, not exactly much to look at, but at least they have been serviceable.
Traditionally, teams are built from the net out. This means that proper teams are built starting with a goaltender, then the defense, and finally with depth down the middle at center. The Rangers have built themselves a solid club with their defensive depth, and may just be a perennial Cup contender for years to come.