Rangers Must Decide Which Defense Prospects Are Part of Future

The New York Rangers have more talented defensive prospects than they have room for, given the strong play of defensemen Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Jacob Trouba, and K’Andre Miller. The Blueshirts will have to evaluate which young defensemen will help them the most this season, and which will help the team the most in years to come. On Tuesday, the Rangers called up Braden Schneider, and sent Nils Lundkvist to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League (AHL.)

Schneider’s Rise as a Prospect

The Rangers traded up to acquire the 19th overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, and selected Schneider. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound defenseman was known for his physicality and strong defensive play for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League (WHL.)

Despite having a reputation as a shutdown defender with the Brandon Wheat Kings, Schneider is also a very good skater who improved offensively in the WHL. After finishing with eight goals and 16 assists in 58 games during the 2018-19 season, he became more confident and aggressive offensively, finishing with seven goals and 35 assists in 60 games during the 2019-20 season. He dominated at both ends of the ice, showing improved playmaking while using his long reach, strength and intelligence to continue playing well defensively. He finished with five goals and 22 assists in 22 games for the Brandon Wheat Kings last season.

Braden Schneider, New York Rangers
Braden Schneider has developed into one of the New York Rangers’ top prospects (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This season, Schneider has played for the Wolf Pack in the AHL, and has continued his dominant defensive play. Though he is still just 20 years old, he hasn’t been overmatched physically in the AHL, and he has made smart, effective passes to start the rush. He has also made smart decisions about when to join the rush or pinch in the offensive zone and he has nine assists in 24 games.

While Schneider doesn’t have a lot of professional experience, he has played very well this season, and it’s certainly possible that he can help the Rangers right now. If he struggles, the Blueshirts can always send him back to the AHL.

Lundkvist’s Rise as a Prospect

New York selected Lundkvist, a right-handed defenseman, with the 28th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. He had already played professionally for Lulea HF of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) during the 2017-18 season (he was only 17-years-old at the time.)

Related: Rangers Need to Start Trusting Nils Lundkvist

Though Lundkvist is only 5-foot-11 and 187 pounds, he played well defensively, rarely getting caught out of position, and improved offensively with Lulea HF. He finished with 11 goals and 20 assists in 45 games during the 2019-20 season. Last season, he continued his impressive offensive production, finishing with 14 goals and 18 assists in 52 games, and he won the Salming Trophy as the SHL’s best Swedish-born defenseman.

As a rookie with the Rangers this season, Lundkvist has done a nice job defensively, but the 21-year-old blueliner has yet to produce offensively the way he did in the SHL. He has one goal, three assists, and is plus-4 in 25 games with the Blueshirts.

Nils Lundkvist, New York Rangers
Nils Lundkvist played well defensively but didn’t produce much offensively with the New York Rangers this season (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Lundkvist has made smart, safe decisions with the puck, and used his intelligence and positioning to defend well against bigger players. Despite his effective play, he has only averaged 13:56 in ice time per game, and should play a much bigger role with the Wolf Pack. Playing in the AHL should provide an opportunity for the young blueliner to get his scoring touch back and he may get another opportunity with the Rangers later this season.

For the Rangers Moving Forward

Given the Rangers’ strong start to this season, they should use whichever defensemen give them the best chance to win games. Veterans Patrik Nemeth and Jarred Tinordi have struggled, which has created an opportunity for young defensemen like Schneider and Zac Jones.

The Blueshirts will also have to make important decisions in the coming years about which young defensemen they want to build around and keep long-term. The Rangers’ top-four defenseman are all young and have all played well this season, which means there are only two starting spots up for grabs for prospects like Schneider, Lundkvist, Jones, Tarmo Reunanen, and Matthew Robertson.

This call-up is an exciting opportunity for Schneider as he looks to earn a spot on the Rangers this season and to prove that he will be a defenseman they can rely on for years to come.

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