The New York Rangers are a team that, despite their youth, find themselves with the right mix of veterans that has helped propel them into contention. One veteran move that has not paid off for the Blueshirts has been the addition of Patrik Nemeth on the blue line.
Given a three-year, $7.5 million deal this past offseason by General Manager Chris Drury, they brought Nemeth in as a mentor for the Rangers’ young defenders. Instead, the Rangers have an eerily similar third pairing left defender to the black hole that was Jack Johnson one season ago.
For some odd reason, Gerard Gallant and the rest of the coaching staff continue to trot Nemeth out there when healthy. Recently, the Swedish defenseman has been out with a personal issue, the second such stint this season. But when he comes back, the feeling around the Rangers is that Nemeth will slot back into the lineup on Braden Schneider’s left side.
It is a head-scratcher, and a move that neither helps the Rangers now, nor in the future. The more Nemeth plays, the fewer looks given to Zac Jones, who found himself on the third pair on Tuesday night. Jones already is the better option but has found himself outside the lineup when Nemeth is game-ready.
That trend must end, as it is time to allow Jones and Schneider to become NHL regulars, and Nemeth should be the seventh defenseman from here on out.
Jones and Schneider Shine Against Boston
For Nemeth to re-enter the Rangers lineup, one of Schneider or Jones would have to exit. For Gallant and the rest of the Blueshirt’s decision-makers, they got a glimpse of what that pairing could do together in a 2-1 victory over the Bruins. The pair was on the ice for the Rangers’ lone goal, with Schneider registering an assist on the tally.
According to the eye test, and analytically, the pair was the Rangers’ best over the entirety of the game. According to Hockey Stat Card, the young blueliners led the way for the defense, with Jones posting a 1.69 and Schneider a 1.39. Both of those marks are considered “good” per their scale.
At five-on-five, the Rangers’ third pairing finished near the top in expected goal percentage for both teams, with Jones at 87.62% and Schneider at 68.12%. The data from Money Puck shows just how good the two were alongside each other.
Jones has elite offensive instincts, and when partnered with Schneider, who can hold his own defensively, you can see the skill on display. Their skillsets mesh very nicely, and both looked more comfortable playing together than either did with Nemeth.
Nemeth does not have the defensive or physical skill to play with the two blueliners at this point in his career. Neither Jones nor Schneider has the confidence to expand their games and display their talents when paired with the veteran defenseman.
This season, the third pair on the blue line has been the Rangers’ main weakness. But the solution is standing right in front of their very eyes, and even Gallant, who has been adamant about Nemeth getting ice time, is starting to give in to the talent level a Jones-Schneider pair brings to the table.
A Look at Nemeth’s 2021-22 Season
There has been little upside to what Nemeth has brought to the table for the Rangers thus far. His 2021-22 season has been sluggish, with the typical breakdown marred the occasional solid defensive play on the penalty kill. The contract handed to him by Drury has looked worse as the year progresses. Evolving Hockey’s player cards show just how tough of a year it has been for Nemeth.
Nemeth, for the price tag especially, has underperformed. What is more troublesome about his play, though, has been his spot holding back young defensemen from regular minutes. As the off-ice events have unfolded and hindered Nemeth’s ability to get back into the lineup, Schneider and now Jones has emerged as NHL-ready options.
The Rangers are well on their way to contention, and Nemeth’s contract and spot on this roster limit them from reaching their full potential. With just two assists and a minus-12 rating on the season, the Swedish defenseman will have to be coupled with a pick to be moved at the deadline.
But for Drury and the Blueshirts to ultimately reach their full potential, it’s a move that will have to be made. Nemeth should remain the seventh defenseman while Jones and Schneider suit up nightly until that point. There is no denying that the 10-year veteran has the ability to lead and teach in the locker room. That is, of course, the main reason he was brought in.
The ability to be a leader and role model for the younger guys does not mean he must be on the ice. And that is the line that Gallant has to draw with just 34-games remaining in the season. The Rangers’ best chance to win involves a third-pair of Jones and Schneider with Nemeth scratched.
When Nemeth is fit to return, Gallant would be wise to withhold him from the lineup.
Brendan Azoff is a THW contributor and podcast host dedicated to covering the New York Rangers. His passion for hockey started when he first laced up the skates at three, growing into his love for writing and talking about the greatest sport in the world. His podcast, The Backcheck, breaks down the Rangers, Islanders, and NHL news and can be found on The Hockey Writers Podcast Network and Belly Up Sports. Brendan has been writing about the Rangers and the NHL for over two years, with his content also found on Puck Prose, Blue Line Station, and E2G Sports. If you want to connect with Brendan and stay up-to-date on his posts, follow him on Twitter. He is always available for content ideas and interviews, don’t be afraid to ask!