Is Braden Schneider progressing the way the Rangers had hoped?

As we begin a new year, perhaps it is time for a sanity check, to see if Braden Schneider is progressing the way the team and, perhaps less importantly, the fans have expected and/or hoped. Schneider, due to no fault of his own, was thrust into the spotlight during a perceived competition with Nils Lundkvist. However, there was never a competition between the two.

Schneider, the Rangers’ “other” 1st round pick in 2020, was always going to be the preferred option for the Rangers under Gerard Gallant. It’s just how Gallant wanted his team constructed. Lundkvist was “competing” with Adam Fox, and lost by a country mile. They shared the same role, and for whatever reason, Gallant wanted a low-event third defense pair. That was not Lundkvist.

So again due to no fault of his own, Schneider was “kept” and has since drawn some ire lately. To some, Braden Schneider isn’t progressing the way they had hoped, but in all fairness, and no offense should be taken, the Rangers don’t care what our opinions are. They care what their feelings are, and that makes sense, even if it’s a harsh truth for some.

Chaotic start to Schneider’s career

The rather small elephant in the room overshadowed what has been a somewhat productive, if chaotic, start to Schneider’s career. Drafted as a defense-first, bruising defenseman who can skate, Schneider surprised many in his first season by jumping into the rush multiple times. It showcased an offensive side to his game that many didn’t see translating to the NHL level.

Due to role and ice time, Schneider has never really put together strong offensive seasons, but he has been serviceable and is not a detriment in the offensive zone. He has 10 goals and 38 points in 159 NHL games, and is on pace to beat his young career highs in goals, assists, and points, all set last year (5-13-18).

Defensively is where many think Braden Schneider isn’t progressing, and this is where things get murky. There’s a strong argument that this was Schneider’s first “real” season, meaning he has an NHL coaching staff that is dedicated to on-ice skill development and a dependable and steady defense partner.

Before Erik Gustafsson (256:48 TOI with) came to New York, Schneider’s most common defense partners were Ben Harpur (428:23 TOI with), Zac Jones (371:40 TOI with), and Patrik Nemeth (354:43 with). Per Natural Stat Trick, Schneider was significantly better away from Harpur and Nemeth, with significant increases in CF%, xGF%, and HDCF%. Those numbers were¬†worse when he was away from Jones, but most likely because he wound up with Harpur or Nemeth.

Braden Schneider progressing fine, even if bumpy

It’s unfair to dismiss Schneider’s first two years in the NHL due to his partners/coach, but it’s also slightly unfair to weight those seasons equally given what we now know about the Gallant regime. Objectively, Schneider’s numbers were not good enough in those years, but they were somewhat on par with the rest of the Rangers during those two years.

We are shifting more towards HDCF analysis and away from overall xGF this year, and for good reason. We’ve seen how low danger chances can skew an xGF% for a game, especially this season for the Rangers. There’s also been a decent correlation between single game HD chances and wins, but that may be unique to this season.

Aside: There are many variables to how we evaluate Schneider, like role, coach, ice time, partner, etc. If you’re looking for a yes/no answer to “Is Braden Schneider progressing?”, then you’re probably going to be disappointed with the answer. But, this is just the nature of the beast right now.

If we focus solely on high danger chances against while Schneider is on the ice, then we get some interesting numbers. Keep in mind this is through 2022-2023, as we didn’t want Schneider’s numbers with Gustafsson to impact the 4th bullet.

  • Schneider-Harpur: 15.25
  • Schneider-Jones: 11.68 (not including 2023-2024 stats)
  • Schneider-Nemeth: 13:02
  • Schneider without Jones/Harpur/Nemeth: 10.75

It’s objectively clear that Schneider was dragged down by inferior partners, notably Harpur and Nemeth. The high danger chances against weren’t great with Jones, but it was far better than the other two “seasoned veterans.” For whatever reason, these pairs just didn’t work. But this is just a baseline.

Now with Erik Gustafsson tied to Schneider’s hip, Schneider’s defensive numbers look far better, sporting a 9.35 HDCA/60. It’s a full 1.5 goals below his numbers from his first two seasons. That’s partially due to Gustafsson, partially due to team structure, partially due to an improved coaching staff, and partially due to Schneider’s own development. These situations aren’t necessarily quantifiable, but they do impact players.

Still room for improvement

Where many lose the nuance is in Schneider’s RAPM chart, especially when compared with Gustafsson. To be fair to Schneider, he has spent half the year with Zac Jones, who is far worse defensively than Gustafsson. During that period, the Rangers were without Adam Fox, so matchups became an issue as well.

Again, there is no “catch all” stat. All of this matters.

The concern is with Schneider’s CA/60, which is something directly impacted by Jones. These charts make a good attempt at isolating the single player impact, but nothing is perfect and/or fool proof.

Braden Schneider’s perceived progression is likely negatively impacted by these charts, but digging a bit deeper, we find that he’s actually fine in his role. The goal for the third pair is to keep HD chances against to a minimum, which Schneider does. He’s not at a point where he can carry a pair, but if that were the case, he wouldn’t be a 3RD. He’s a 22 year old kid who is still developing.

It’s clear that Schneider isn’t progressing to a timeline many had hoped. But it’s also clear his growth was at least partially stunted by the situation he was in. We talk regularly about how Alexis Lafreniere/Kaapo Kakko had their growth stunted by their roles/linemates, but for some reason Schneider’s name is never included in that discussion. It should be.

Braden Schneider is progressing just fine. It’s been half a season, and we’ve already seen defensive improvements, again even if inconsistent. The single event may stick out in our minds, but the overall body of work and improvement is there. There are some areas to watch, but no cause to ring the alarm just yet.

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