The New York Rangers relied heavily on Adam Fox last season and though he dominated and won the Norris Trophy, the Blueshirts lacked depth on defense. No other defenseman contributed much offensively, but Ryan Lindgren, K’Andre Miller, and Jacob Trouba all played well. This offseason, the Rangers signed Patrik Nemeth as a gritty defensive defenseman and they will likely also have Nils Lundkvist or Zac Jones in their opening day lineup. Both prospects are highly skilled and can certainly contribute for the Rangers this season.
The Rangers drafted Lundkvist late in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft with a pick they acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning in the trade that sent Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to Tampa Bay. The trade hasn’t worked out well for the Rangers so far, as McDonagh helped the Lightning win the Cup in consecutive seasons and Miller has become a top center for the Vancouver Canucks. However, Lundkvist has the potential to change that narrative.
Lundkvist was one of the youngest players in the 2018 NHL Draft, but he had already played professionally for Lulea HF of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) during the 2017-18 season. He finished with two goals and three assists in 28 games. During the 2018-19 season, he continued to get stronger and finished with three goals and seven assists in 41 games.
Though Lundkvist is listed at only 5-foot-10 and 187 pounds, he wasn’t overmatched defensively as he showed impressive poise and made smart decisions with the puck. He also continued to get more confident and aggressive offensively, playing like a star for Lulea HF during the 2019-20 season and finished with 11 goals and 20 assists in 45 games.
Last season Lundkvist continued to dominate in the SHL, finishing with 14 goals and 18 assists in 52 games. His strong play earned him the Salming Trophy as the SHL’s best Swedish-born defenseman.
This offseason, the Rangers signed Lundkvist to an entry-level contract and he has played very well so far in the preseason. He looks comfortable playing against bigger and more physical players and has already shown his playmaking ability with three assists in three preseason games. He also has a quick, accurate shot and looks like he is ready to make the jump to the NHL.
The Rangers drafted Jones in the third round of the 2019 NHL Draft. Like Lundkvist, he isn’t very big as he’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, but he is a highly skilled defenseman.
Jones decided to play hockey at UMass-Amherst and quickly became one of their best players. He proved to be an excellent playmaker with an underrated wrist shot and he also played well on the power play. He finished his freshman season in 2019-20 with three goals and 20 assists in 32 games.
Last season Jones continued to develop and got stronger and more aggressive offensively. He finished with nine goals, including three on the power play, and 15 assists in 29 games. He played in all situations and proved to be reliable defensively in addition to producing offensively. He scored a clutch goal in the Frozen Four against Minnesota-Duluth and then helped UMass-Amherst beat St. Cloud State 5-0 in the championship game.
After Jones’ sophomore season, he signed with the Rangers and made his NHL debut late last season. He showed quickness and made clean passes out of the defensive zone to start the rush. He played in only 10 games but had four assists and showed promise. Like Lundkvist, Jones has played well in the preseason, and thus far, he has one assist in two games.
For the Rangers
It won’t be easy for the Rangers to choose between Lundkvist and Jones, but it appears that Lundkvist is the more likely of the two to make the opening night lineup. It’s a very encouraging sign that both have played well in the preseason and will likely play for the Blueshirts at some point this season. They both have upside and they should certainly help the Rangers on defense.
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.