This season the New York Rangers displayed yet another new rookie since the organization made it their mission to rebuild the roster years ago. From that leap of faith onwards, the front office stockpiled prospects and draft picks. The most recent product of this plan is 20-year-old Braden Schneider.
During the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, former general manager, Jeff Gorton, traded up to snag the coveted blueliner. Schneider was selected by the Rangers 19th overall. His well-developed game and defensive reliability appealed to the organization and gave their defensive corps additional depth. The right-shot was quick to join the Rangers’ AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, where he made his debut on Feb. 7, 2021.
Though former Rangers’ captain, Chris Drury, is now in Gorton’s place, versatility up and down the roster is still a desire. With the way young Schneider seamlessly fit into the lineup, the coaching staff was allowed to experiment with the third defensive pairings, where he was slotted in. Since his debut back in Jan. 2022 on the road against the San Jose Sharks, where he also notched his first NHL goal, Schneider proved he can play at this level; but he is not quite fully there.
Indeed the rookie displayed some signs of growing pains against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, and New York Islanders. The good news is, that all three teams are highly skilled, thus exposing a weak area would not be unheard of especially for a freshman player.
Though these hiccups in Schneider’s development were exposed in the Tampa and Carolina back-to-back series, he seemed to make some quick adjustments overnight and was able to iron out some kinks the next day against the Hurricanes. Besides some minor struggles, it has been smooth sailing for Schneider already. Since the Rangers have excellent depth, he must continually perform to secure his spot, which is additional pressure that has not seemed to afflict the defender.
Takeaways From Schneider’s Sample of Games
31 games later, the young defenseman gathered two goals and six assists for a total of eight points. His first goal gave his team a 2-0 lead which provided the Rangers with some comfort to complete the 3-0 shutout on the road. Meanwhile, his second goal of the season broke a 1-1 tie against the Pittsburgh Penguins to provide a crucial turn of events that led to a massive 3-2 win also on away ice.
Though he is not here to grab points, the blueliner has been key in getting the puck towards the opposite net, another added benefit of his presence. He has a current plus-3 rating and averages almost 16 minutes a night. Thus far, he registered 21 shots on goal. Defensively, he recorded 46 hits and blocked 42 shots.
His ability to break up developing plays is one of his most refined skills. His aggressive style shows his willingness to break up passes between players of the other team, rather than taking a patient approach. His four penalty minutes demonstrate the mature level of discipline involved in his game as well. Though his physical edge and production have yet to fully transfer over to the NHL, he is making sustainable progress.
Experimenting With the Third Pairing
Pairing Schneider with the right partner is critical for his development, especially if the organization is looking to round out a homegrown defensive core. 30-year-old Patrik Nemeth is his partner on the left as of late. Nemeth, who signed with the team over the summer, played for the Colorado Avalanche before that. The bottom pair has not been the most steady frequently, especially as the staff began to rotate players in and out.
Schneider was a healthy scratch following his game against the Islanders on April 1, 2022, which was not a pretty one. Instead, head coach Gerard Gallant opted to use a veteran defense pairing with Nemeth and Justin Braun against the Philadelphia Flyers on April 3. Braun, a former Flyer as of March 2022, joined the Rangers when he was traded at the deadline. Though the tough performance which led to a 3-0 loss to the Isles was not the reason for the scratch, it did give righthanded Braun a chance to get back in the mix.
Braun only skated in two games with the Blueshirts since he was acquired but it may be time to get a look at a pairing with the rookie. At 35 years of age, he comes with over 100 games of playoff experience, a benefit Schneider could learn from. The club certainly has the pieces to experiment with, but as the regular season inches closer to an end, Gallant will need to figure out how the pairings shake out to ensure established chemistry for the postseason.
Previously, the Rangers got a good look at a rookie pairing of Zac Jones and Schneider. The 21-year-old Jones made for a sufficient pairing with his younger counterpart. Though shaping the last duo into a defense pairing akin to veteran Jacob Trouba and sophomore K’Andre Miller may have been the original blueprint, the rookie pairing actually proved they could stand on their own. Jones, has since been reassigned to Hartford as starts for the rookie may start to be rationed.
Gallant previously stated healthy competition for spots can be a good thing for his players, since it seems Schneider is not adversely affected by competition either, there may be some lineup changes where he stays in. While Braun played more of a stay-at-home role in Philadelphia, it could make for an interesting couple comprised of two defense-minded blueliners if a Braun-Schneider pairing is sampled.
High praise should be given to Schneider for navigating his debut season the way that he is. Sure, the rookie went through some tough spots, but each player is susceptible to that regardless of where he is at in his career. His high potential is widely recognized by staff and his teammates and it will be exciting to continue to see his development.
The Rangers will meet the New Jersey Devils tonight as the Blueshirts aim to gain a more substantial lead in their divisional standings. Yet, the Devils will not make it easy for the Rangers tonight once again. This is the fourth and final meeting between the two with the Rangers having the slight 2-1 advantage in the season series.
Rachel is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. She can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.