A deep dive into just how good Adam Fox has been

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Back in April 2019, the Rangers made a trade that has turned out to give the team one of their most prominent defensive players of the 2019-2020 season thus far.

The Calgary Flames drafted Adam Fox 37th overall in the 2016 Entry Draft. They then traded his rights in the same deal that also sent Dougie Hamilton and Michael Ferland to the Carolina Hurricanes.

After finishing out the 2019 season with Harvard University (whose NCAA Tournament run ended in a loss), the ECAC Player Of The Year and Hobey Baker Award Finalist elected to exercise his power under NHL’s collective bargaining agreement and informed the Hurricanes he would not sign with the franchise.

Carolina subsequently began shopping his rights, which led him back to his home state and to a contract with his childhood team.

In just his first half a season in the NHL, Fox has proven to be an extremely valuable asset to the Rangers. He has stepped in and helped solidify the roster in an area where there had been big question marks since the team began their rebuild.

The second-round pick in 2019 and the conditional third-round pick in 2020 (which Carolina will receive as Fox has played more than 30 games for the Rangers) seems like a small price to pay for how dominant he has been thus far.

What he brings to the roster

Perhaps the most prominent impact Adam Fox has is on the offensive end of the ice.

Through 48 games, Fox is sixth in points on the roster with 27 (six goals, 21 assists) and second among defenseman (behind only Tony DeAngelo).

He has shown that he has the skill and ability to help generate high danger chances. When he is involved, he is constantly moving his feet, getting the puck to players in threatening positions, and doesn’t hesitate to take long shots on net.

He has also established himself as a force on the Rangers’ second powerplay unit. Fox has seen 12 of his 27 points come on the man advantage, due in part to these qualities that make him such a dangerous player to have on the blue line.

Beyond this, he has also proven to be extremely effective when it comes to possession of the puck. He has shown great confidence in his ability to pressure on the defensive end. Though he is on the smaller side for a defenseman, he has the skill to strip players of pucks using both his stick and his body.

Most important is that he is deliberate when it comes to clearing the zone. He has shown a great ability to read the on-ice condition and chooses when to pass and when to skate the puck out himself.

His passes are accurate and can range from short, quick pokes to nearby teammates to long stretch passes leading to dangerous chances. When he chooses to skate it, he is able to do so successfully despite pressure through the neutral zone.

Thus far, the way he has handled his defensive responsibility is impressive. The jump from college to the NHL is not always easy, but Fox has made it look it.

And it goes beyond just an “eye test.”

Some Numbers: Corsi

The following sections are dedicated to Tony DeAngelo.

Using Evolving Hockey’s skater chart tool, I took a look at some of Fox’s numbers in important advanced statistics categories. He only gets better.

Category All Situations Even Strength 5v5
CF/60 59.86 54.41 54.46
CA/60 47.92 51.71 52.26
Differential 11.94 2.70 2.20

First, Fox has some of the best numbers of all defensemen in his Corsi totals (the best possession statistic out there).

Fox’s 11.94 Corsi differential is the highest with DeAngelo sitting in second at 7.20. All other defensemen are in negative Corsi differential territory with third-place Jacob Trouba at -17.60 in all situations — yikes.

Obviously this number includes time on the power play, which is why his statistics at even strength and 5v5 are even more impressive.

At even strength, Fox is the ONLY roster player — you heard that right —  with a positive Corsi differential. In second place is Artemi Panarin, with a Corsi differential of just under zero at -0.61. It should be noted that while Panarin’s overall Corsi For is higher, so is his Corsi Against.

Similarly, Fox leads the team in Corsi differential at 5v5 with Panarin just behind him (in positive territory this time at 0.41). Overall, what this means is that Fox drives possession more than his opponents do against him when he is on the ice.

With Panarin logging slightly higher time on ice in each category and the fact that he is on pace for 118 points through 82 games, this proves how much of an impact Fox is having in terms of generating possession in all areas.

Some Numbers: Expected Goals For/Goals Against

Up next, is another hotly talked about advanced statistic. Though criticized by some, expected goals for and goals against (xGF/xGA) is the best measure of shot quality based on a variety of different variables. One of the best explanations of this statistic I have seen in my time writing on hockey can be found here if you want to learn more.

Category All Situations Even Strength 5v5
xGF/60 3.24 2.67 2.63
xGA/60 2.41 2.67 2.44
Differential 0.83 0.20 0.19

Similar to his Corsi numbers, all of Adam Fox’s xGF differentials are all on the plus side.

In this area, however, I was more curious to see how his xGA numbers measured up against some of his defensive counterparts. Clearly, xGA is one of the most important statistics for defensive players, as it shows the quality of shots opponents get versus the shots the players take themselves.

Fox’s xGA rate of 2.41 per 60 in all situations is lowest among all skaters on the roster. Though he arguably does not play as many “hard minutes” compared to some other defenseman, his xGA rate at even strength and 5v5 are equally as impressive.

His even strength rate of 2.47 and his 5v5 rate of 2.44 are also lowest on the team and he is the only defenseman in positive territory in both of these special circumstances. Ryan Lindgren holds second place with 2.49, but is on the negative side in differential due to a lower xGF total.

Preventing high quality shots is extremely important for a defenseman. However, the fact that Fox has limit shots and manages to produce high quality opportunity himself makes him even more of an asset.

Some Numbers: Shots For/Shots Against

While limiting high quality shots is important, the sheer number of shots a defenseman takes versus shots taken against him is also telling of just how much of an impact they have on both ends of the ice.

Category All Situations Even Strength 5v5
SF/60 33.05 30.72 30.65
SA/60 26.62 28.38 28.50
Differential 6.43 2.34 2.15

While Fox does not boast the highest number in shots for, he has some of the lowest shots against totals on the roster.

Fox again, is the only Rangers defenseman with a positive shots differential in all situations, at even strength and at 5v5. (DeAngelo is positive in all situations but not at even strength and 5v5).

While Fox does not have the highest differentials on the roster, all of the other players on the positive side are allowing more shots against, while also generating more shots for.

Fox is generating shots at a higher level than he is allowing them, he is just doing so at a lower rate than those with higher differentials. This is obviously the best-case scenario.

While it is beneficial if defensemen get shots on net, the most important part of their job is to prevent shots against.

Final Thoughts

Adam Fox is showing the potential to turn into one of the Rangers most powerful weapons, and a player they desperately need.

In looking back over his first 48 games, there is plenty that Fox has done right and he has the numbers to prove it. More importantly, in the small moments where he has made mistakes, he has bounced back.

The fact that the Lindy Ruff defensive system has not managed to devaluate his play thus far is another feat in and of itself. We have seen DeAngelo — who you could argue is similar to Fox in many regards in his skill set — break out of the Ruff system and is having himself a stellar season. However, there are others — namely Brady Skjei — who have not been so lucky.

The Rangers have been putting Fox in situations where he thrives, and should continue to do so for the sake of him continuing to develop. If fostered, Fox could turn out to be one of the best defensemen in the league.

Finally, a quick thank you to Evolving Hockey for allowing me to have some serious fun playing with their charts and pull some data this week while there was a severe lack of New York Rangers hockey to be had. Be sure to follow them on Twitter @EvolvingHockey!