Rangers Need to Find a Reliable Third Defense Pair

For two consecutive seasons, the New York Rangers have gotten strong play from their top-four defensemen in Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, K’Andre Miller, and Jacob Trouba. However, they have struggled to find a trustworthy third defense pair, which has put more pressure on their top-four defensemen. Fortunately, the Rangers have a lot of defense prospects who have the potential to give them more stability from their third pair this season.

Right-Handed Defensemen: Braden Schneider, Nils Lundkvist & Ty Emberson

Last season, at just 20 years old, Braden Schneider earned a spot in the lineup for the Rangers down the stretch and into the postseason. He finished with two goals and nine assists in 43 regular season games and three assists in 20 playoff games. He played with physicality, used his speed effectively, and made clean passes out of the defensive zone to start the rush. He did make a few defensive mistakes and didn’t play quite as well in the postseason, but overall he had a very encouraging rookie campaign.

Braden Schneider New York Rangers
Braden Schneider earned a spot with the New York Rangers lineup last season (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Nils Lundkvist also played with the Rangers for part of last season. He relied on his positioning and intelligence to defend well but did not produce much offensively, finishing with one goal and three assists in 25 games. His defense partner Patrik Nemeth struggled defensively, which certainly didn’t make his transition to the NHL any easier. However, he is still just 21 years old and showed offensive upside in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) with Lulea HF, where he finished with 14 goals and 18 assists in 52 games during the 2020-21 season.

Related: Rangers’ Best Third Defense Pair Might Be Playing in Hartford

The Rangers also acquired defense prospect, Ty Emberson, from the Arizona Coyotes this offseason. The 22-year-old played with K’Andre Miller at the University of Wisconsin and spent last season with the Tucson Roadrunners of the American Hockey League (AHL). He finished with four goals and seven assists in 58 games and his solid defensive play could earn him an opportunity in the NHL this season.

Though all three defensemen are right-handed, they are all young and could possibly learn to play on the left side (which Justin Braun did while paired with Schneider last season).

Left-Handed Defensemen: Zac Jones & Matthew Robertson

Zac Jones is a skilled puck-moving defenseman and put up impressive numbers last season with nine goals and 26 assists in 52 games for the Hartford Wolf Pack in the AHL. He also has a quick release and an accurate shot. Over the last two seasons, he has no goals and six assists in 22 games with the Rangers, although he has yet to get consistent playing time in the NHL to this point.

The biggest knock on Jones is that he is only 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds and at times, struggled defensively. Still, he is just 21 years old and has the potential to contribute with the Rangers in the future. Last season, Fox finished with 63 assists and Trouba had 28, but no other defenseman finished with more than 13. As such, they could certainly use another playmaker on defense.

Zac Jones, New York Rangers
Zac Jones has the potential to contribute with the New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

While Jones is an offensive threat, another option on defense would be Matthew Robertson, who excels defensively. The 21-year-old finished with one goal and 10 assists in 65 games in the AHL with the Wolf Pack last season. He is 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, and skates very well.

Last season, the Rangers had to rely heavily on their top-four defensemen including Fox to kill penalties, which was not ideal. Robertson has the potential to develop into a shutdown defenseman who could take some pressure off the top-four.

For the Rangers Moving Forward

The Rangers have a lot of prospects on defense and they will have to figure out which players are ready to help the team now and which ones need to continue developing in the AHL. They signed Nemeth in hopes of solidifying their third defense pair last season, but he struggled and ended up getting traded to the Arizona Coyotes in the offseason. They also lost veteran blueliner Braun in free agency to the Philadelphia Flyers. Now they will have to rely on their young defensemen to step up and form a trustworthy third pair, which would make a big difference for the team next season in the standings.

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