When the New York Rangers traded a second-round pick in 2019, as well as a conditional pick, which has now become a second-round pick in 2020, to the Carolina Hurricanes for Adam Fox, he was expected to have success in the NHL. That’s because he was coming off a dominant year at Harvard.
Jimmy Vesey and Matt Gilroy
Just three years earlier the Rangers signed another player out of Harvard. He too, had a stellar career at Harvard. That player was Jimmy Vesey. The team hoped he could become a franchise player.
It’s safe to say that didn’t happen. Vesey failed to produce more than 35 points in any of his three seasons with the Blueshirts. He was a minus-37 over those three seasons and was traded to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a 2021 third-round pick.
Matt Gilroy, a highly-touted prospect whom the Rangers signed out of Boston University in 2009, was also a disappointment for New York. He had 37 points in 45 games during his senior year in college and was expected to continue be a good playmaker in the NHL.
That did not happen, as Gilroy produced just 26 points in 142 games with the Blueshirts. He was often a healthy scratch, and by 2014 was out of the NHL.
Unlike Vesey and Gilroy, Fox has exceeded expectations so far this season. He’s been solid defensively and has shown impressive instincts, leading all defensemen on the team with 31 takeaways in 41 games. Fox is also plus-3 in his rookie season and has smoothly adapted to the pace of the game in the NHL. He uses his stick well to deflect shots and passes in the defensive zone, and continues to earn ice time late in games when New York is clinging to a lead.
While he’s done a nice job defensively, Fox has excelled offensively, making quick passes out of the defensive zone to lead the rush, while showing great vision setting up teammates, as well as a knack for knowing when to pinch and step up in the offensive zone.
He’s already earned the trust of head coach David Quinn, who has demonstrated his confidence in Fox by playing him in 3-on-3 overtime situations. The strategy has already paid off for the Blueshirts. In an overtime game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Fox knocked the puck away from Evgeni Malkin. He retrieved the puck and broke out, then patiently held on to the puck as long as he could, before sliding a pass across to fellow rookie Kappo Kakko, who tapped it into a wide open net.
The Rangers are now at the midway point in their season and Fox has played in all 41 games. He’s tallied 5 goals and added 17 assists. That puts him on pace for 44 points this season, the most by a defenseman with the Blueshirts since Brian Leetch had 71 points in the 1988-89 season. He went on to win the Calder Trophy that season, and is now in the Hall of Fame. While Fox hasn’t been as dominant as Leetch was during his first season, he has nonetheless been very impressive.
Fox has smoothly transitioned to the NHL from college, but the second half of the season will be a test for him. Unlike fellow rookie blueliners Ryan Lindgren and Libor Hajek, Fox never played professional hockey before this season and isn’t used to playing so many games. Last season, Lindgren played a combined 70 games in the American Hockey League and NHL, and Hajek played 63 games. Fox never played more than 35 games in a season during the three he spent at Harvard.
Through 41 games, Fox has been everything the Rangers have hoped for. His play during the rest of this season will show whether or not he’s ready for an 82-game season against the best in the world. If he is, this may be the best season by a Rangers’ rookie defenseman in a long time.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, rooting for the Rangers, Yankees, Giants, and Knicks. When my dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees fell short, I started writing about sports instead. I’m a proud graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.