What are the Rangers plans for Zac Jones?
The old regime of the Rangers pulled a fast one on us last year, signing defenseman Zac Jones out of college straight to a pro contract. It was a surprise for many, as Jones was expected to return to UMass for his junior season, especially after UMass won the Frozen Four. But Jones was signed and played the last 10 games of the season with the Rangers, putting up four assists and looking relatively strong. Initially, it looked as if the Rangers had plans for Zac Jones to be in the top six this season.
But then the offseason happened. The Rangers gave three years and a limited NTC to Patrik Nemeth. Nemeth is likely to be stapled to Lundkvist’s hip. This in turn makes us wonder what the Rangers plans are for Jones. Initially set to be paired with Nils Lundkvist to stabilize the third pair, Jones now finds himself on the outside looking in.
Held his own in the NHL
One of the keys is that Jones held his own in the NHL over his 10 games. The four assists were nice as well. The key thing is that from a defensive standpoint, Jones was relatively fine in the small sample size.
The xGF/60 is a little rough, but given he spent the majority of his ice time paired with Libor Hajek, that’s actually a lot better than it could have been. Jones’ numbers shot up when away from Hajek, which again is expected. But again, this is a very small sample size. Let’s focus on the fact that the numbers back up what we saw, that Jones was comfortable at the NHL level and probably would have been fine this year in a starting role.
When the Rangers signed Nemeth, it created even more of a logjam on defense. The 3LD spot was Jones’ for the taking, now it’s more or less Nemeth’s unless something goes horribly wrong. Given the multi year contract for Nemeth, plus the organization’s love of both Ryan Lindgren and K’Andre Miller, it makes you wonder what the plan is for Jones.
The entire summer was about Jack Eichel, and the signs pointed to Jones being one of the center pieces of a trade. After all, he had no apparent roster spot, despite being NHL ready. It made logical sense, as he checked a lot of boxes that Buffalo was looking for. Now with Eichel’s surgery and expected return date of December announced, those plans appear to be on hold.
Jones is likely still trade bait, either for Eichel or a name we haven’t heard yet (Hertl? Pettersson?). That is, unless the Rangers decide they want to keep him over Miller.
AHL bound, first injury call up
For now, it looks like the Rangers plans are to send Zac Jones to the AHL to start the season. He’d benefit from a stint there, hopefully with the Rangers learning their lesson from the Howden/Hajek fiasco. Jones will get 20+ minutes a night in all situations in Hartford, something he won’t get in New York. He is one of many key prospects to watch in Hartford this season, and it will be fun to see what he can do if paired with Braden Schneider.
Jones is likely to be the first injury call up, likely serving as the true 7D instead of Jarred Tinordi. Tinordi will get games before Jones, but in a long term injury situation, expect Jones to be called up.