In the midst of a looming trade deadline at the end of this month, the New York Rangers can explore their options with their forwards but should feel a sigh of relief that their defensive corps is coming along just fine. That is putting it mildly – with a Norris Trophy winner, quality leadership from their singular defenseman veteran, and several first, second, and third-year blueliners who perform well beyond their experience, there really is no need to make moves.
The left side pairings of the Rangers’ defense seem to have shaken out, as has the right side. Composing of the right-sided defensemen in the Big Apple are Adam Fox, Jacob Trouba, and Braden Schneider. The top pair consisting of Fox and Lindgren is a welcomed constant for the team, with Trouba and Miller as the middle duo while the last pair that now includes Schneider, has been rotated through.
Indeed the organization does have defender depth, which can translate into trade chips, but at this point, there is no need to adjust the right-sided players. The Rangers’ front office spent years to acclimate the pieces required to a sturdy defense, finally, it seems the pieces are falling into place. The beauty of the core now is the emphasis on playing a shutdown style of defending, which was not the case in seasons’ past.
Fox is one of the few Rangers who does not require a lengthy introduction if any at all. At the conclusion of the 2020-21 season, after an accumulation of only 126 career games played, Fox won the Norris Trophy, a prestigious, league-wide award gifted to the best defenseman. The now 24-year-old is still performing at his Norris-caliber with 55 points in 53 games thus far, and 144 career points in 178 total games.
High praise in regards to his hockey IQ is ubiquitous, but that should not diminish how talented he truly is or how complex his game is. His quick decision-making and constant spatial awareness allow him to be an effective playmaker, but also highly skilled at keeping the puck away from the opposing team.
Fox is at the forefront of representation for the newer generation of hockey players that favors speed and refined skill over height and weight. The Rangers’ blue line varies widely in size — in fact, his size allows him to play his best style of hockey regardless.
He currently leads all defensemen in assist production (48) and is fourth in the league for points on the season. Often used as a starting player, emphasis on his consistency and versatility cannot be stressed enough. He can be placed in all game situations from getting power-play time to being sent out for a shootout.
As the lone veteran of the Rangers’ defense, Trouba sets the precedent for physicality. This season, in particular, the 28-year-old amped up how often he lays hits. Thus far, he is credited with 153 hits, just 20 shy of his career-high, which also occurred his first year as a Ranger during the 2019-20 season. The difference now is that the hits are more strategic and significant.
His blocked shot count is up this season as well. Trouba is accounted for 127 blocks in 56 games on the year. He also cut his number of giveaways by more than half since his debut season in New York. In addition to his physicality and defensive responsibilities, he has no issue chipping in offensively as well. With 28 points thus far, he already surpassed his career-high as a Blueshirt. While he collected more assists this season, his shot accuracy is something to praise, perhaps an underrated attribute of his.
Known most for his hard, but clean game, the dynamic blueliner is also one of the primary sources of leadership on the team. His pairing with K’Andre Miller, the forward-turned-defenseman who leaped right from college hockey to the NHL, is a mutually beneficial pairing, even since it did not begin that way. Yet the two were able to establish their chemistry and now act as the solid second pairing, with Trouba a wonderful example for Miller.
The only rookie on defense is 20-year-old Schneider, who scored during his debut game on the road against the San Jose Sharks on Jan. 13. Not only was he looking to increase his team’s lead over the opponent, but he immediately jumped in with shot-blocking and hits. Naturally, the edge he plays with is one of the reasons the organization traded up for him in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
Since his first game, the 6-foot-2 blueliner is doing everything right to help the team. His astute anticipation of where the opponent is moving with the puck is perhaps one of his top qualities. From there, he is successful at positioning himself to block the shot all game long.
During his 19 games in the NHL, he collected five points. It is refreshing to see a rookie play as confidently as Schneider does, especially with the early excitement around his name. With 17 shots on net already, he is not afraid to generate scoring chances, and head coach, Gerard Gallant, happily rewards the young guys for performing like that. That is why in his short tenure thus far he was already utilized on the power play, where he also picked up an assist.
Just six games after his debut, he already experienced his first multi-point game – a two-assist night against the Columbus Blue Jackets on away ice. The blend of skills Schneider brings acts as a final reinforcement for the defensive core to tie it all together. A bit of a bigger body and a similarity to Trouba, the young player has a high ceiling that is impossible to ignore.
Best case scenario, he can become a homegrown Ranger, given he is able to play on pace and avoid a sophomore slump that other Blueshirt blueliners fell into. Defense is incredibly crucial for this young team in order to make a long playoff run, just one of the necessary facets of being a Stanley Cup contender. As it is going, Schneider’s performance has not revealed his rookie status, and should play fine in a postseason invite.
Averaging almost 16 minutes per night, the rookie managed to collect 21 shot blocks and administered 31 hits thus far. He is a harmonious blend of defensive and offensive thinking with a tendency towards physicality. He also has yet to take a penalty, which reinforces his on-ice intelligence.
With the defense performing together soundly, starting netminder, Igor Shesterkin is in a position to play his best hockey as well. The team has collectively come a long way from the earlier stages of the rebuild, but have not been thoroughly quizzed yet.
The Rangers are set to meet the Minnesota Wild tonight on the road. The Blueshirts come in tonight with a 36-15-5 record as the Wild have a 32-19-3 record with several key players to watch tonight. With 26 games left the Rangers sit fifth overall in the league.
Rachel is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. She can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.