Projecting the NY Rangers opening night defense pairs

This is a little weird, isn’t it? It’s cold out. It’s November. Yet there is no hockey on TV. For all intents and purposes, five of the last eight months have been devoid of anything hockey related. So now we are on speculative posts. Earlier this week I looked at what the forward lines on opening night might look like. Today, let’s check in on what the NY Rangers defense pairs on opening night may look like.

Gentle reminder that this is just for opening night. Things change throughout the season, and what we see on opening night won’t be what we see for the final game of the season.

The Guaranteed Spots

Jacob Trouba, Ryan Lindgren, Adam Fox, and Tony DeAngelo are all guaranteed spots this season. I know, that was a bold prediction.

The question is how they will be arranged. There’s a solid chance all four wind up in the top four. This would make sense, but it would mean moving Tony DeAngelo to the left side, something we’ve advocated for since last year. The Rangers don’t seem too keen on that idea, though.

That likely means we see a top pair of Lindgren-Trouba, with Fox on the second pair and DeAngelo on the third pair. Before you all jump down my throat, that’s how it was last year too. That’s just how the roster plays out if the Rangers don’t embrace an off-hand defenseman.

The Left Side Train Wreck

The left side is a disaster zone right now. Brendan Smith and Jack Johnson are the seasoned veterans. Tarmo Reunanen, Lihor Hajek, and K’Andre Miller are the kids vying for spots. Anthony Bitetto is there too.

For those keeping score, that’s two rookies, one third year pro who looked bad last year, a journeyman, a serviceable but overpaid veteran, and one of the worst defensemen in the league. Not exactly a murderer’s row of players there.

Of that sextet, only three are going to make the club. Two will be in the starting lineup, and one will be the 7D.

How It Probably Plays Out

Listen, Jack Johnson is going to be in the opening night lineup. The sooner we come to terms with this, the better. He will probably be paired with DeAngelo on the third pair. They will be atrocious defensively, but DeAngelo’s puck moving ability should be able to keep them afloat. He dragged around Marc Staal, so he should be able to drag around Jack Johnson.

That leaves the pairing with Adam Fox. This is where the real roster battle is for opening night. I am of the belief that Miller will get a full season in Hartford. That means the real competition is between Hajek and Reunanen. Both are playing well overseas, so it will be how they perform in camp.

Hajek probably has the inside track here. He was fine in a five game sample two years ago, but was then miscast as a top pairing defenseman last year before getting hurt. Reunanen has looked solid, but my guess is he will need half a season to get adjusted to North American ice.

So on opening night, we are probably look at:

Ryan Lindgren-Jacob Trouba
Libor Hajek-Adam Fox
Jack Johnson-Tony DeAngelo
Anthony Bitetto

It’s not the best, but ideally we eventually see one of Miller or Reunanen replace Johnson at some point in the season. This year is about the kids and improvements. The NY Rangers opening night defense pairs don’t look that great, but there’s room for significant improvement.

Show More
      • I hope not. When you produce as much copy as Dave does, such things will happen. Also, somewhere in his mind and in some of his scenarios, Smith gets dealt before the season.

  • I think Jack Johnson is less secure than you think. This is David Quinn’s team, not Jacque Martin’s. A strong word from Martin was likely enough to get Johnson signed, but won’t suffice to get him in the lineup.

    Yes, he is frontrunner at this point, but if Quinn sees the defenseman that you claim Johnson is, he won’t get in the lineup unless the Rangers are really desperate. I don’t expect any true kids on the opening night roster, but but i think Hajek will get every opportunity to make the team.

    I agree that Lindgren belongs on the top pair, but DQ may be tempted to keep Lindgren-Fox together and pair Trouba with Smith or Johnson.


    Also, I am really intrigued by your previous idea of moving Fox to the right. Moving either Fox or ADA gets the most icetime for the four best defenders.

  • What the Rangers will choose:

    What the Rangers should choose:

    • I think you are completely right on both counts. However, I have some hope that Hajek will put it together and supplant Johnson in both the will and should lineups.

    • Out of all the jokes of potential top 4’s… That last group of yours should be the one to lean on… It’s still going to be a ugly one to watch…..

      Do you really think that Fox-Trouba pairing will be able to square off against other team’s top lines in the toughest division? That top 4 Is easily the first or second worst group within this division…. Literally no matchup game’s for the coaches there.. Other benches won’t mind any of their top 9 lines to face off with that. Hajek has hopefully been training real hard for this chance. The only other way to offset this crap would be for Lindgren to show up as Lindgren 5.0 compared to last season ( doubt it, he isn’t to good in the dz himself ).

      • Whether Fox-Trouba can do the job or not is to be determined.

        But the fact is that Trouba plays much better with an accomplished defender on his side. Fox is the best the Rangers have at defending, and he has played the left side in the past.

        For those that think that Lindgren is the Rangers’ best defender, then they would be very much mistaken. Lindgren is really a 3rd pair guy that looks better because of Fox.

        Ranger fans should really appreciate what we have in Fox, one of the better D men in the league. Unfortunately his play looked worse than it was against the Canes, because the rest of the team was a sh-t show, in that series.

  • Any ideas when we see Miller this season, if at all? Been looking forward to see how he looks with the big boys.

    • If at all? The dude should be a 3/4 year college player and a 2/3 year AHL player. Add into the player personnel to work with up here (other than Fox) and down there.. He will need seasoning down in the AHL for quite some time.. There have been superior D men who have played the position 24/7 and still needed a lot of practice in the minors.. I could be wrong and management could force feed him like they did with Chytil, Howden and Andersson.

      If he was ready than people would be comparing him to Pronger by now… In other words, he’s going to need work and practice.

  • Gah, I don’t know.

    It should be:

    Johnson or Bitetto or Hajek-Brendan Smith

    It will be:

    Johnson or Bitetto or Hajek- ADA

    I really don’t think Reunanen is going to cut it this training camp, I think even Robertson is already ahead of him on the depth chart. He looked closer to me than Reunanen in last year’s camp and has only improved metrically since then (based on his last season improvement).

  • The Finnish kid isn’t an NHL prospect. Miller will most likely make the team at least to start the season

    • “Miller will most likely make the team at least to start the season”

      So another Chytil situation? Great… I would have added Howden but he looked pretty well with Fast on a line at first..

  • Overall this D crew, other than Lindgren, lacks snarl and sandpaper, this was exposed last year against Carolina in the playoffs. Team as its constructed now will always impress in the regular season, but come playoff time their overall softness will contribute to their early exit, too easy to play against.

  • The pairings as I see it for Opening Night:

    Hajek — Trouba

    Lindgren — Fox

    Smith — D’Angelo


  • I think a lot’s going to depend on the schedule, in that if the games are properly spaced out, and/or the number of games is very much shortened, we’re much more likely to see a top for of 8/23/55/77, however it’s aligned. Otherwise, I’ll agree with TommyG…

  • “This is a little weird, isn’t it? It’s cold out. It’s November. Yet there is no hockey on TV. ”

    Its nice and warm here in sunny Florida!

  • I am hoping that they try DeAngelo on the left side. Then the top 4 would be solid, and you can pair Hajek or Johnson with Smith on you bottom pair.

    My fear is that the mediocre pairings discussed in the article and comments above will be more likely.

  • instead of johnson, we could have had borowiecki from ottawa for cheaper…plus it would have been a 2 for 1 deal…serious sandpaper too!!

    • Hey Pete….I really think JG missed out on Joel Edmundson, tough to play against, snarl, Stanley Cup winner and LD. Signed for 3 yrs with Montreal. Gives time for our younger D to develop. IMHO would’ve been great for Trouba.

  • Libor Hajek will get another shot in the bigs and I believe another year older and playing overseas, he will have a good training camp.

    JJ will start the season in the press box. My guess is ADA will get a crack on the left side with Troubs. Fox and Lindgren pairing stays intact. Libor on the 3rd pair with Skinny Smith.

    Stay safe fellow Ranger bloggers.

  • Back to top button