The injury to Adam Fox has forced the New York Rangers into some tough decisions in the lineup. Right now, Ryan Lindgren is slated to be on his off-side with Erik Gustafsson on the top pair while Zac Jones is reunited with Braden Schneider. That third pair has been crushed in two games together, and while the only way to go is up, there’s a need for Jones in particular to step up.
Jones made the team out of camp basically by default, as the Rangers weren’t going to risk losing him on waivers. He had a tough camp, and has had an even tougher first two games in the lineup. He and Schneider were decent last season, at least compared to the other options like Ben Harpur, but this year they seem to have run into a wall. Teams are targeting them, for good reason, and they look somewhat lost.
This doesn’t appear to be a Schneider thing either, as he’s looked fine alongside Gustafsson to start the season. That may be more of a Gustafsson thing than a Schneider thing, since Gustafsson isn’t necessarily adjusting to a new system, but Schneider has looked comfortable this season. Jones does have noted defensive issues, and pair that with Schneider still adjusting, it spells disaster.
So the onus is on Jones to work with the coaching staff to improve, and improve quickly. Fox is going to be out another 3 weeks minimum, and you can rest assured knowing the Rangers won’t rush him back. Jones may just need some games to get back into the swing of things, but to say he not only needs to prove himself, but at least get back to last year’s level of play isn’t much of a controversial statement.
Last season, again in limited minutes, Jones looked better. He wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but the Jones-Schneider pairing wasn’t a defensive black hole like it is this season. They’ve been on the ice for 3 goals against in two games, and were specifically targeted by both Columbus and Minnesota. They’ve been pinned regularly in their own zone, unable to move the puck up the ice.
That’s what Jones’ bread and butter is supposed to be – moving the puck up the ice. He’s struggling there, likely due to the pair’s struggles defensively. With Fox out for another 3 weeks, this is Jones’ time to step up and prove he belongs. He’s not going to be perfect, and he’s going to need a bit of a ramp up like most other young defensemen.
It’s not entirely fair to judge a rookie defenseman based on a month with a team learning and adjusting to a new coach, but that is the reality of the situation. This is the true evaluation period, at least for this season, in what the Rangers have in the young defenseman. Perhaps Chris Drury has learned from his Libor Hajek mistake, and may be able to salvage some trade value should Jones simply not be a fit for the current roster.