There are a lot of us eating crow on the Rangers lately. Whether it be Ryan Strome, Braden Schneider, Ryan Lindgren, or Zac Jones, there is at least one player that we whiffed on. The latest addition is Jones, who has solidified the Rangers bottom defense pair, along with Braden Schneider. We’ve been vocal that Schneider has been solid in limited minutes and mostly bad partners, but know with Jones, the Rangers bottom pair has gone from weakness to strength in a hurry.
Update from Dave: I publish this, and news breaks he gets sent to Hartford. I’m leaving this up out of spite.
The Jones and Schneider pair is one that both old school and new school hockey fans can and will love. From an old school perspective, they are complementary skill sets of offensive/defensive defensemen, a la Brian Leetch and Jeff Beukeboom or Sergei Zubov and Kevin Lowe. Chris Drury and Gerard Gallant have been adamant about keeping these kinds of complementary skill sets together, much to the chagrin of our own Rob Luker. So far, it’s worked for the two rookies on the Rangers bottom defense pair.
Beyond the complementary skill sets, which works very well in Gallant’s zone/overload defensive zone scheme, the two have very solid numbers together thus far. Now, it’s only been 27:33 TOI together, but they’ve been as close to dominant as you can get. They carry a 55.26% Corsi-For and a 69.2% expected-goals share. They are getting a little sheltered, with few defensive zone starts, but that’s how you put kids in a position to succeed.
All due respect to Patrik Nemeth, who had good numbers before signing with the Rangers this offseason, it just wasn’t working out. He’s been back and forth with personal issues all year, and we truly hope he is ok. This signing simply didn’t work out. He will get some starts over Jones, which is fine, but it seems clear the Rangers bottom defense pair will be Jones-Schneider.
The biggest thing for the Rangers is that this duo eliminates the need for a big splash defenseman like Ben Chiarot. We’ve been very vocal about Chiarot, mostly that the cost doesn’t make sense for the Rangers. Unless he’s acquired in a package deal (Artturi Lehkonen? Christian Dvorak?), it doesn’t make sense. Why waste their best assets on a piece that doesn’t address needs?
If anything, the Rangers are going to spend minor assets on a defensive minded defenseman. We’ve covered that the Rangers have been scouting Calvin de Haan for a while, and he’s the type of player that the Ranger could go for. He blocks shots, is still a wizard in his own end, and he wouldn’t cost much more than a 4th round pick.
This is the best case scenario for the Rangers, who had a pretty big hole on the third pair for the first half of the season. With that hole filled by a pair of rookies, Chris Drury can look to depth adds for the Rangers bottom pair, instead of wholesale changes. Plus, the Rangers don’t have to waste big assets on something like this.
The good news is that the Rangers bottom pair looks great. The cautionary news is that it’s still early. It’s only been 27 minutes TOI for the pair, and there’s plenty of time for them to swan dive. That’s where the insurance of a de Haan comes into play. Jones-Schneider may not be the full time plan for this year, but it appears that next year they will fill out the Rangers bottom pair.
These are still two kids learning the game. They will make mistakes, and they will have bad games. From a big picture standpoint, this really was the best case. With the Rangers bottom defense pair now, hopefully, set, they can focus on their true needs up front, while letting this duo grow into more ice time.