Zac Jones has earned more time at the worst possible moment
UNIONDALE, NEW YORK - MAY 01: Zac Jones #6 of the New York Rangers skates against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum on May 01, 2021 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

What a nice story it’s been for Zac Jones. All season he’s been in the Libor Hajek role, healthy scratched and only playing when there are injuries. Over the last few weeks, Jones has been “forced” into the lineup as the Rangers lost three defensemen in about a week. Jones has taken advantage of the opportunity, but it came at the worst possible time.

Under normal circumstances, Jones’ strong play would warrant serious consideration to stay in the lineup. He’s earned it.

But these aren’t normal circumstances. It’s expected Jones will stay in the lineup until all three of Ryan Lindgren, Jacob Trouba, and Erik Gustafsson are healthy. After that, it’s anyone’s guess.

The call for Jones to replace Gustafsson is loud but misguided, and has nothing to do with Jones himself. The comparison is of season long numbers, not of recent play. Jones’ strong performance over the last few weeks have dragged him out of the red for sure, but the struggles of Gustafsson are significantly overblown.

If Gustafsson only had a strong 1-2 months and then was, as some people say, utter garbage, he wouldn’t have such strong possession metrics. While a chart does not tell a whole story, it certainly helps debunk what a vocal minority things.

Again this is not about Jones and his performance lately. He’s been great. But it’s a hard sell to have him replace Gustafsson in the lineup in late March/early April with the playoffs looming. His growth and development has earned him a real shot for next season, but it isn’t realistic to assume he will just be thrown into the lineup for the playoffs.

That’s where the timing of all this is unfortunate for Jones. If this were January, there’s a strong case for seeing what Jones can do in a much more extended look. And perhaps we will see Jones play the next 10 games anyway, even if both Lindgren and Trouba are skating. After all, there’s a strong case to rest them both and not rush them back before the playoffs.

And before you say it, neither Lindgren nor Trouba will serve as the 7D. This is really just a conversation of Gustafsson or Jones.

Once the playoffs start, it’s a whole different story. Barring injury, Jones will likely go back to his 7D role. It’s the expected move and, quite frankly, the right move at the moment. Jones’ play has earned him that true look next season. For now, Jones will be the next man up due to injury. And you know what? That’s perfectly fine.


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