The New York Rangers have had an impressive turnaround this season after finishing 20 points shy of a playoff spot in 2018-19. Stars Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad have received well-deserved praise for the team’s success this season but it would not have been possible without the outstanding play of rookie defensemen Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren. They may not have been well known at the start of the season but they have developed into New York’s top defense pair.
Lindgren Has Come a Long Way Since the Start of the Season
While Fox made New York’s lineup out of training camp, Lindgren began the season with the Hartford Wolf Pack in the AHL. He lost weight in the offseason and spent time working on his skating and conditioning, leading to improved play in the AHL. He only had one goal and one assist in nine games but was physical, excellent defensively and showcased his improved skating ability. His strong play earned him another shot with the Rangers.
Lindgren and Fox became defense partners shortly after Lindgren was called up. He looked comfortable playing in the NHL this season and showed the same tenacity he played with in the AHL. He fearlessly blocked shots, excelled on the penalty kill, and showed toughness in all situations. He also has become known for his big hits and hasn’t backed down when opponents challenge him to fights.
In addition to Lindgren’s toughness and defensive skills, he has been a bit more aggressive offensively and has used his improved skating ability effectively, including getting better at timing when to pinch in the offensive zone to keep the puck in. He has also shown he can consistently make smart, effective passes, both out of the defensive zone and in the offensive zone. He had one goal, 13 assists and is plus-16 in 60 games this season.
Lindgren has improved offensively but he is still a defensive defenseman. His trustworthy play has also allowed Fox to be more aggressive offensively.
Fox Improved as Season Progressed
Fox got off to a slow start this season, failing to score a point in his first seven games. While he was solid defensively, he wasn’t showing off the incredible playmaking skills that made him such a coveted prospect.
He quickly looked more comfortable and adjusted to the fast pace of the NHL. He began to get more confident and showed poise, intelligence and great vision. His skills were on full display when he went coast-to-coast and set up Kaapo Kakko for an overtime goal in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, as seen below. He also made great stretch passes and became a weapon on the power play.
Fox has eight goals, 34 assists and is plus-22 in 70 games this season. He has one goal and 12 assists on the power play despite spending the majority of the season on New York’s second power-play unit. He had two goals and nine assists in his last nine games.
Heading Into the Playoffs
Fox and Lindgren have formed excellent chemistry together and have become the team’s top defense pair this season. They have proven they can be trusted defensively and relied on offensively.
Both defensemen have improved as the season progressed and were playing their best hockey when the campaign was suspended. Lindgren’s strength and toughness should translate well in the postseason, as should Fox’s poise, intelligence and creativity.
It’s common for teams to rely heavily on veteran defensemen in the postseason, but in order for the Rangers to have success, they will have to trust both of their impressive rookies. They lack experience but have all of the tools necessary to succeed while earning the trust of both head coach David Quinn and their teammates.
The Rangers lost depth when they traded Brady Skjei to the Carolina Hurricanes that left Jacob Trouba paired with Brendan Smith, who has spent the majority of this season as a fourth-line forward.
New York’s other defense pair is Tony DeAngelo and Marc Staal. Both have played well, though Staal is not an offensive threat at all and shouldn’t get much ice time when the Blueshirts are trying to come from behind late in games.
Fox and Lindgren need to get a lot of playing time because they have excelled in all situations. In order for the Rangers to make a run this postseason, the team will have to rely on their rookie defense pair to once again rise to the occasion.