The New York Rangers made a big commitment to defenseman Patrik Nemeth, as they signed him to a three-year, $7.5 million contract this offseason. However, he has yet to play up to his contract expectations, and he has been a liability for the Blueshirts in their first three postseason games.
The Rangers signed Nemeth with the hope that he would provide stability on defense, help on the penalty kill, and play with physicality. He is also a left-handed defenseman, and the Blueshirts have more depth with their right-handed defensemen.
While Nemeth has played with physicality this season, he hasn’t proven to be a trustworthy defender. He is certainly willing to throw hits and block shots, but his lack of speed has been a problem. He also has a habit of backing in and allowing opponents to easily come into the Rangers’ defensive zone.
This season, Nemeth had two goals and five assists in 63 regular-season games. He was also minus-9. While plus-minus isn’t always the most telling statistic, all of the Rangers’ other top-six defensemen were at least plus-4 this season. His defense partners this season were Nils Lundkvist (plus-4 in 25 games) and Braden Schneider (plus-5 in 43 games.) Nemeth’s Corsi for percentage was just 37.5 this season.
Nemeth was a liability offensively, as he struggled to make clean breakout passes from the defensive zone, and he has a slow release and inaccurate shot. He wasn’t expected to produce much offense, but the problem is he hasn’t played well enough defensively to make up for his offensive struggles.
The same issues that plagued Nemeth in the regular season have continued in the postseason, and the Pittsburgh Penguins have taken advantage of his weaknesses in New York’s first three playoff games. He has repeatedly gotten caught out of position, has already taken three penalties, and is minus-4.
Rangers Have Alternative Options on Defense
The Rangers acquired Justin Braun just before the trade deadline and the veteran blueliner has done a good job stepping in for Ryan Lindgren, who has missed the last two games with a lower-body injury. Braun had a nice assist in Game 2, and he made some important defensive plays, too. Even though he’s a righty, he has experience playing on the left side, and he looked comfortable playing on the left side on a pair with Adam Fox.
Related: Rangers Acquire Justin Braun from Flyers
Lindgren is day-to-day according to Gerard Gallant, the Blueshirts’ head coach. Ideally, he will be able to return for Game 4, and Braun can move to New York’s third defense pair. If not, the Rangers could look to give a young defenseman an opportunity to step in for Nemeth.
Zac Jones is a lefty who has offensive upside, and he has experience playing with Schneider. He is not a shutdown defender, but he makes crisp passes to start the rush and he skates well. Additionally, he has gotten some experience playing in the NHL this season and at the end of last season.
Matthew Robertson is also a lefty, who played well defensively in the American Hockey League (AHL) for the Hartford Wolf Pack. He is a strong defenseman who skates fairly well, but doesn’t have the offensive upside of Jones and he doesn’t have any NHL experience yet.
Another intriguing option is Nils Lundkvist. He has some NHL experience, and played well defensively with the Rangers earlier this season, but got sent down to the AHL. Like Jones, he skates well and makes clean passes out of the entry zone, but unfortunately he is a righty and doesn’t have much experience playing on the left side.
For the Rangers Moving Forward
The Rangers are in the postseason for the first time in five years, and they need to play the players who will give them the best chance to win games. That means benching Nemeth despite having two more years remaining on his contract.
Jones, Robertson, and Lundkvist are all options who certainly have the potential to make a difference for the Rangers. The Rangers scratched Braun in Game 1, and he has stepped up for them in their last two games. If Lindgren can’t return for Game 4, hopefully, another Rangers’ blueliner can do the same.
Though Nemeth is a veteran with playoff experience, he simply has not played well enough to stay in the lineup.