The New York Rangers entered this season without much depth on their blueline and they lost one of their key defensemen when they waived Tony DeAngelo early in the season after multiple off-the-ice incidents.
Rookie K’Andre Miller stepped up and played well alongside Jacob Trouba. Adam Fox has played spectacularly and is one of the best defensemen in the NHL right now but the Blueshirts have had to rely heavily on their top-four defensemen (Ryan Lindgren, Fox, Miller and Trouba) Recent injuries to Trouba and Lindgren have exposed New York’s lack of depth in two consecutive crushing losses to the rival New York Islanders.
Missing the Strong Play of Lindgren and Trouba
Trouba and Lindgren are both very physical players who excel defensively. Trouba leads the Rangers in hits by a defenseman with 111 and Lindgren is second on the team with 98. They have also both played a big role in the Rangers’ dramatic improvement on the penalty kill from last season to this season.
In addition to their strong defensive play, both have been steady contributors offensively. Lindgren has a goal and 15 assists in 51 games and Fox is the team’s only defenseman with more points. Trouba is third on the Rangers in points by defensemen despite missing time earlier in the season with a broken hand. He has 2 goals and 10 assists in 38 games.
The Rangers have been without Trouba since he was injured on a hit by Matt Martin against the Islanders on April 20. He was replaced in the lineup by Zac Jones. Lindgren was injured when he hit his head on the curved glass at the end of the bench against the Islanders on Thursday. Tarmo Reunanen stepped in for him in Saturday’s game. Both Reunanen and Jones are small defensemen known for their skill and not their physicality.
In the Rangers’ game on Thursday, the Islanders were the much more physical team, punishing the Blueshirts and never passing up an opportunity to throw a check. They lost the majority of one-on-one battles and were outworked, eventually losing the game 4-0. The following game was more of the same, as the Islanders were once again the more physical team and repeatedly won one-on-one battles. This time the Rangers lost 3-0.
Relying too Heavily on Fox
Even before the injuries to Trouba and Lindgren, the Rangers leaned very heavily on Fox, who has developed into a star. He has averaged 24:37 in time on ice per game this season after averaging just 18:54 in time on ice per game as a rookie last season.
Fox has 5 goals and 42 assists in 51 games this season, leading the NHL in both assists and points. His 47 points are more than Lindgren, Trouba and Miller have combined this season. There has been a lot of pressure on Fox and he has been brilliant at both ends of the ice but it’s not ideal for the Rangers to have to rely on him this much.
If Fox were to miss time, the Rangers would be getting very little offense from their defensemen. This has also allowed teams like the Islanders to focus on taking away space from him and forcing him to give up the puck. In the Rangers’ last few games, he has been paired with Libor Hajek who has just 3 points in 40 games this season and isn’t an offensive threat. The Islanders were able to contain Fox in these last two games and no other defensemen were able to create offense.
While the injuries have been very frustrating for the Rangers, their blue line has a bright future. Their top four defensemen are all very good and Trouba is the oldest of the group at age 27.
The Rangers also have plenty of prospects with the potential to become key players for years to come. Jones is just 20 and has been fantastic in his two seasons at UMass-Amherst. Nils Lundkvist, a first-round pick in 2017, had 14 goals and 18 assists in 52 games for Lulea HF of the Swedish Hockey League this season. Both players are highly skilled offensively and could provide New York with an offensive boost.
Additionally, the Rangers drafted Matthew Robertson in the second round of the 2019 NHL Draft and Braden Schneider in the first round of the 2020 NHL Draft. Both players are big, strong and gritty but also have some offensive upside.
Though the Rangers lack of depth on defense has hurt them down the stretch this season, the play of their top four defensemen and their top prospects is a very encouraging sign. If New York’s top prospects pan out, they should be set on defense for years to come.
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.