Rangers Have a Surplus of Young Defensive Talent in Their System

The New York Rangers are the youngest team in the NHL. With an average age of just over 25 years old, inexperience is certainly an excuse to continue the rebuild for another year or two. With Vitali Kravtsov set to make his long-awaited debut, he is just one of many young wingers in the Rangers organization. With the exception of Lauri Pajuniemi and Will Cuylle, Kravtsov will be the last highly-touted wing prospect to make his Ranger debut.

But there is much to look forward to on the defensive side for New York. Many defensive draft picks are still yet to make their debuts, but when they do, I expect them to make significant impacts on the lineup.

Braden Schneider

Standing 6-foot-2 and weighing in at around 200 pounds, the Prince Albert native is the current captain of the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL.

From what I have seen from Scheider’s play with Brandon these past few seasons, he has given me mixed emotions. On one hand, he displays flashes of brilliance both with the puck on his stick as well as defending on the rush. But it seems that he can tend to drift out of position while in the defensive zone during an oppositions’ cycle.

Schneider’s skating ability, while not up there with the likes of fellow 2020 draft pick Jamie Drysdale, doesn’t seem to be much of an issue. And his ability to use his stick and body to separate his man from the puck leads me to believe that he can potentially turn into a right-handed version of Jake Muzzin down the line. In my opinion, having a ceiling of Muzzin is a really good thing for the Rangers.

Nils Lundkvist

It’s very likely that Nils will be the first of these defensemen to make his debut as a Blueshirt. From Pitea, Sweden, Nils has a bomb of a one-timer and is possibly the most offensively gifted defensive prospect in the Rangers system.

Nils Lundkvist New York Rangers
Nils Lundkvist, New York Rangers, 2018 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Lundkvist can be described as having elite vision and instincts for a player his age, especially playing against men in the SHL. His physical attributes leave a lot to be desired, but Nils himself understands the importance of adding a few pounds to be able to stand his ground at the NHL level.

Crowned the SHL’s Junior Player of the Year, Lundkvist finds himself in the company of elite Canucks’ centerman Elias Pettersson. Knowing what Jacob Trouba’s contract is, if production doesn’t pick up in a few seasons, there is a very real chance we see Nils take his spot on the right side of the Rangers’ blue line.

Zac Jones

Jones stands at 5-foot-10, about 175 pounds, and seems to be a possible draft steal for the Rangers. Selected 68th overall by New York in 2019, he has only improved over the past two years and is giving Nils a run for his money as the best offensive defenseman in the Rangers’ system.

Jones is a left-handed shot, and with his offensive prowess and playstyle, he seems to be a future potential pairing with Schneider. Their body types and skillsets seem to be a good match for each other, as each partner brings different attributes to the table.

Schneider playing as more of a stay-at-home type defenseman would allow Jones to tap into his exceptional offensive ability. He has good vision, is very creative, and can snap breakout passes at a high level. He is constantly improving his all-around game and will look to prove to 30 other NHL teams why he should not have slipped to the third round.

Matthew Robertson

Big Matthew Robertson stands at 6-foot-4 and skates extremely well for his size. He is adding muscle to his large frame, and currently weighs around 200 pounds.

Matthew Robertson New York Rangers Draft
Matthew Robertson, New York Rangers, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Robertson is very good at joining the rush from the back end. His instincts with and without the puck are very impressive for a defenseman at such a young age. He was named the Edmonton Oil Kings’ MVP for the 2019-20 season.

Robertson, like Lundkvist and Jones, is working on his defensive skill set. For a defenseman with such a large stature, he does not play nearly as physical a game as some would like. Most young defensemen have a lot of room to grow in their own end, but his offensive ability was what drew the attention of most teams on draft day. Continued improvement in the defensive zone will be key for Robertson’s development.

What the Future Holds

While it would be nice to see all four of these kids join the likes of Fox, Lindgren and Miller on the Rangers’ blue line in the next few seasons, it is pretty unlikely. I would say it is pretty likely that at least one of these prospects is moved out in a trade over the next two years as the Rangers slowly transition out of rebuild mode and into more of a “win now” mentality.

I have already seen the rumors of Lundkvist and Schneider being thrown around in a potential Jack Eichel deal. Whether or not that is the deal in which we see one of them go, it is obvious that there are only six starting defensive spots open for the Rangers, and three of them seem to be taken by Fox, Lindgren and Miller. All there is to hope for is that all four of these prospects give management hard decisions to make in the near future.

Sign up for our regular 'Rangers Newsletter' for all the latest.