Originally written on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 11/11/14

The New York Rangers have been without four of their top seven defensemen for the past few weeks, due to a slew of injuries that hit the team all around the same time. However, as the Rangers are getting closer to becoming a healthier team, there will be some significant decisions to be made about the defensive personnel on this hockey club. Of course, the order in which these players return will have a major impact on those decisions, but the final product, which I expect to be together by mid to late-January, may look slightly different than what we all originally expected. 

According to Larry Brooks in the New York Post, Marc Staal, who has yet to play a game this season because of post-concussion symptoms, could be cleared for contact as early as this week. That would then put him on pace to make his season debut within the next two weeks.

Michael Sauer has also shown some improvements as of late that would suggest he is well on his way to recovery, too. 

And then there's Jeff Woywitka, who's been battling a tricky ankle after he blocked a shot in a game two weeks ago. Woywitka could return any day now, maybe as soon as tonight's match with the rival Islanders at Madison Square Garden.

That would then see rookie Tim Erixon returned to the Connecticut Whale of the AHL, where he will receive plenty more ice time than he has up here with the big club. Erixon, though, has played very well in the several games he has dressed for, so I'll give him that credit since it's deserved. 

I don't see Erixon in the aforementioned final product on defense, though. In fact, I don't see Jeff Woywitka in there either; well, at least I don't think he should be in there. Once Marc Staal and Michael Sauer return to the lineup, my performance-based defensive corps looks something like this:

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi

Marc Staal - Michael Sauer

Michael Del Zotto - Stu Bickel

Based on what I've seen through the first 33 games, those are my top six deserving defensemen this season, with Staal obviously being an automatic. Now allow me to explain...

Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi have been lights out all season while playing together, so there is no reason why head coach John Tortorella should even consider breaking those two up. Plus, Staal is not going to be physically prepared to take on first line responsibilities upon just returning. 

Marc is better off coming back on the second pairing where he can more comfortably get back into his groove, and if things go wrong, he will have an extremely responsible partner to fall back on in Michael Sauer. I actually think many fans don't have as much trust in Sauer as they should. 

Moving on to the third and final pairing, this is where people may have some issues. I've been very hard on Michael Del Zotto this season, but that is because I know what he is capable of, and through the early stages of the year, he was not playing to the best of his ability. At the moment, however, he is playing some important minutes for the Rangers and has shown some serious improvement throughout the past month or so. In my opinion, he deserves to be in there over Woywitka, Stralman and even his buddy Steve Eminger. 

And with Stu Bickel, I cannot remember a rookie defenseman coming up midway through the season and having such an immediate impact on the club. Oh wait, yes I can - his name was Ryan McDonagh. And where is he now? On the top pairing playing against the league's best talents.

This Bickel kid is special and Tortorella is building his trust in him for sure. I have a feeling he is going to stick around for a while. 

I know there's going to be a lot of discrepancies with this, but it's how I see the Rangers putting the best defensive product possible out there. 

GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

HBO's Lampley feels 'terrible' for those who paid for fight

Has Blake Griffin taken the next step?

Mike Evans liked Winston more than Mariota

Ernie Johnson gives his Emmy to Stuart Scott’s daughters

Titus Young avoids prison, receives probation

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Manziel moves from downtown Cleveland to golf community

Ex sues Mayweather for $20M for lying in Couric interview

The NBA needs to leave 'hack-a-whoever' rules alone

Top Rank threatens to sue over Mayweather-Pacquiao piracy

Titans already tailoring offense to suit Mariota's strengths

Pettine: Manziel isn't favorite for Browns' starting QB job

Mike Wallace: 'I'm the fastest player in the NFL'

Ty Lawson could be trade target for Celtics

WATCH: Zack Greinke does great bat flip after hitting double

WATCH: Fan uses beer as ice pack after being hit by ball

La'el Collins reportedly has 'airtight alibi' in murder case

WATCH: Stephen Curry nails shot from hallway prior to game

Top eight NFL free agents on the market

No homers, no problem for Cubs' Kris Bryant

Eagles' Chip Kelly & Sam Bradford: In like, but not love

NFL releases times and dates for preseason slate

Fans file $5M class action suit against Pacquiao over injury

Making sense of the AL East pile-up

NHL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Top eight NFL free agents on the market

Eagles' Chip Kelly & Sam Bradford: In like, but not love

Manziel moves from downtown Cleveland

Making sense of the AL East pile-up

Chris Bosh on blood clot diagnosis: ‘I’m lucky to be alive’

Projecting the All-Star Game rosters

Tiger hasn't slept in three days since Lindsey Vonn breakup

2015 NBA Draft big board, first edition

Eliminate Hack-A-Player: Don't reward violating sports rules

No easy solution to the problem of early NFL draft entrants

What’s next for the Spurs?

Cauley-Stein changes middle name to 'Trill'

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.