Rangers’ Rookie Braden Schneider Has Arrived

Following their best win of the season, an exhilarating 5-2 victory over the NHL-leading Florida Panthers on Tuesday, the New York Rangers spent the next day engaged in more mundane matters.

Having put forth a powerhouse performance in their final game before getting two weeks off for the All-Star break, the Blueshirts sent forwards Morgan Barron and Jonny Brodzinski, goaltender Adam Huska and defenseman Nils Lundkvist to the Hartford Wolf Pack, moving young players and taxi squad members to the American Hockey League. The purpose was to provide playing time for a quartet that will likely be leaned on again for key spot duty in another COVID-hindered season, but who aren’t necessarily part of the organization’s long-term plans at this point.

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One notable name that was missing from the group sent north: Braden Schneider.

Yes, the rookie defenseman with 10 games of NHL experience is exempt from waivers and can be sent down without fear of being claimed by another team, as is also the case for Barron, Lundkvist and Huska. Yet rather than take advantage of that status, the Rangers chose to keep Schneider in New York.

Braden Schneider New York Rangers
Rangers rookie defenseman Braden Schneider (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It can be dangerous to read too deeply into some situations, but this decision seems awfully revealing.

It appears, at least at first glance, that Schneider has used his short tenure since being called up from Hartford last month to nail down a spot on Broadway, a highly-regarded young player taking advantage of his shot to impress coach Gerard Gallant enough to fire the starter’s pistol on an NHL career in a Blueshirt.

Is it possible that the Rangers don’t see the 19th pick in the 2020 NHL Draft spending time in Connecticut’s capital again?

Schneider’s Style Fits Philosophy of Rangers, Gallant

The 20-year-old, 6-foot-2, 202-pounder that plays with an edge looks like a keeper, tough and heady in his own end, not afraid to shoot the puck in the offensive zone, mature beyond his years and perhaps as ready as he’ll ever be for the NHL.

Most importantly for Schneider, he is Gallant’s kind of player.

Braden Schneider, New York Rangers
The Rangers drafted Schneider 19th overall in 2020 (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

“He’s going to be a Trouba; he’s a mini-Trouba right now,” Gallant said in doling out lofty praise to Schneider by comparing him to Jacob Trouba, the Blueshirts’ stalwart defender on the right side. “That’s what the kid’s going to be.

“I like him a lot. He’s a young kid, getting better every game, plays a physical brand, has some skill. There’s a combination of a lot of good things there. He goes out there and makes very few mistakes.” (From ‘Gerard Gallant Wants His Rangers to ‘Push’ Until All-Star Break’, New York Post, 1/26/22)

Mirroring his team’s effort Tuesday, Schneider turned in the best game of his young NHL career against the fearsome Panthers, who are tied for the league lead in goals per game at 4.09 and had scored 22 in winning their previous four contests. Against a Florida attack that kept powering through the neutral zone, Schneider held strong, posting a plus-2 rating and recording three hits in nearly 22 minutes of ice time. That left him with an even rating for the season.

Related: Rangers’ 2021-22 Mid-Season: How They Stack Up Against Metro Teams

The big guy from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan hasn’t just been earning Gallant’s trust against lesser forward matchups, either. In another clear indication of how the Rangers view Schneider, Gallant moved him up to pair with Ryan Lindgren for the past three games while top defenseman Adam Fox sat out with an upper-body injury.

On Tuesday, the coach largely cut down his defense pairings to the Trouba-K’Andre Miller and Lindgren-Schneider duos in the third period, meaning Schneider saw plenty of a Panthers top six that’s populated by prolific scorers Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sam Reinhart, Anthony Duclair and Sam Bennett.

Jacob Trouba New York Rangers
Rangers veteran defenseman Jacob Trouba (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

A mini-Trouba, indeed, at least for one night. Gallant isn’t the only authority on that subject.

“Yeah! Until he takes my job and then we’ve got issues,” Trouba said when asked about if he could help Schneider develop after Schneider’s impressive NHL debut Jan. 13, in which he scored a goal in a victory over the San Jose Sharks. “There’s definitely a little similarity. Just the attitude he brings to the game. He’s young and has a bright future.”

In Schneider, Rangers Might Have Trouba’s Eventual Replacement

Trouba was laughing when he delivered the first part of the quote. Like many jokes, this one was funny in part because it contained more than a kernel of truth – and Trouba likely knows it.

With four years left on his contract after this one at an $8 million salary-cap hit and with a no-move clause, the 27-year-old Trouba can afford to kid around about someone taking his place on the roster. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Yet Schneider, the potential carbon copy, could indeed be his replacement down the line, a contention that doesn’t sound ridiculous despite his meager time with the Rangers.

That’s because anyone can see it with Schneider. More than his physical tools, he has the presence of a pro, that elusive mix of confidence and competence that has a top NHL coach completely at ease in relying on him less than a month after his debut. He doesn’t look afraid or overwhelmed by the moment as so many first-year players do.

“In my opinion he plays the game the right way,” Trouba said.

It certainly appears that former general manager Jeff Gorton’s decision to trade up three spots in the first round of the 2020 draft, fearing that the Metropolitan Division rival New Jersey Devils would grab Schneider at No. 20, is about to pay big dividends. In the same vein, it looks as if former team president John Davidson’s reaction to the move was more than justified.

For now, Schneider is giving Gallant exactly what he wants – size, physicality and steadiness on the third pair – as he and the 30-13-4 Rangers get a much-needed break before girding themselves for a 35-game push to the finish. They’re looking to return to the playoffs after a four-year absence (their berth in the NHL’s 2020 Qualifying Round notwithstanding) and, they hope, a deep postseason run.

“I feel like each game I’m learning the up and downs of playing in the NHL,” said Schneider, who comes across as thoughtful, measured and humble in news conferences. “You can’t expect a perfect game out of yourself every night. Even though you want it to be perfect, it’s not going to be perfect.

“I feel every game I’m getting more comfortable and confident, and yeah, I’m happy with how I’ve progressed in the short time I’ve been here.”

If Schneider is indeed a keeper, he’ll join Norris Trophy winner Fox, Lindgren and the rising K’Andre Miller in a young blue line core, acquired and developed in-house, that could anchor a versatile and potent defense for a decade.

The Blueshirts have viewed Schneider as a key part of that future since triumphantly getting their hands on him 15 months ago. They probably didn’t expect that time to arrive so quickly, however, for the kid who looks like he might be here to stay.