The New York Rangers have won five games in a row following a disappointing performance in a 5-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 3. Despite the team’s improved play, key defenseman Jacob Trouba is struggling and hurting the team right now. Though he is the team’s captain and he is signed through the 2025-26 season, the team can’t wait forever for him to turn it around, and it may be time to demote him and give Braden Schneider a shot as a top-four defenseman.
Trouba is coming off of an excellent 2021-22 season, in which he helped the Rangers make a run to the Eastern Conference Final. He played with physicality and toughness, defended very well, made smart decisions, and contributed offensively with 11 goals and 28 assists.
After becoming one of New York’s most reliable players last season, Trouba has regressed this season. Though he is still very physical and is never afraid to step up at the blue line, he has made far too many poor decisions. In the Rangers’ 3-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 15, he got caught in the offensive zone resulting in a 2-on-1 opportunity going the other way. He stumbled while trying to get back and ended up taking a penalty.
One of the few weaknesses in Trouba’s game last season was his lack of speed, but he got caught in the offensive zone far less often than this season. Whether it’s fanning on shots, getting his shots blocked, or pinching and not getting to the puck, he keeps getting caught. While young blueliners like Schneider and K’Andre Miller have enough speed to catch opposing players, Trouba does not, so his mistakes are often more costly.
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Another big problem for Trouba this season is his turnovers. Turnovers are a major concern for the entire team, but it’s especially worrisome seeing the Rangers’ captain make so many sloppy ones. A lot of times he simply hasn’t lifted the puck out of the defensive zone, allowing opposing defensemen to keep the puck in. In the team’s 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 12, he casually handled the puck in front of his own goal and had his pocket picked, resulting in a Devils goal.
Trouba is also not producing offensively the way he did last season. He has no goals and nine assists in 31 games, even though he has a heavy slap shot. He misses the net too often but he still has 87 shots on goal, and he has hit the post a couple of times. He is not the offensive threat he proved to be last season, but bad luck has also played a part in his lack of production.
Braden Schneider’s Strong Play
One of head coach Gerard Gallant’s options regarding Trouba is demoting him to the Rangers’ third defense pair. He still is an effective penalty killer who is capable of helping the team, but he has not played like a top-four defenseman this season.
Like Trouba, Braden Schneider is a righty, and he is not a typical third-pair defenseman. The 21-year-old is physical, skates well, and he is getting more confident as the season goes on. After playing cautiously in the Rangers’ first few games, he is starting to pinch in the offensive zone at the right times and looking to shoot the puck more often. He has four goals and three assists in 31 games.
Gallant briefly used Schneider in the top four with Miller and played Trouba with Libor Hajek during the Rangers’ five-game winning streak but ended up deciding to move Trouba back into the top four. Schneider is expected to be a top-four defenseman eventually and he could help stabilize the team’s second defense pair now.
For Trouba and the Rangers Moving Forward
Regardless of whether or not Gallant opts to keep Trouba in a top-four role right now, the Rangers need him to play better. He deserves credit for sparking the team with big hits and dropping the gloves when they played poorly. However, he needs to limit his turnovers and make better decisions with the puck.
The Rangers do not need Trouba to play like a superstar, but they do need him to be a trustworthy defender who steps up on the penalty kill and late in games. He is an important player and though this is a disappointing first 31 games for him, he certainly has time to turn his season around.