New York Rangers 2023-24 report cards: Grading the defensemen

NHL: New York Islanders at New York Rangers
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

A historic regular season and disappointing playoff finish are behind the New York Rangers, who scattered to their respective homes around the world a week ago. Though there’s plenty of offseason business ahead, including the 2024 NHL Draft on June 28-29 and the start of NHL free agency on July 1, it’s still worth taking a look back at each individual player’s performance in 2023-24.

Let’s examine the play of the seven defensemen that were on the Blueshirts roster all season.

Related: Rangers 2023-24 report cards: Grading the goalies

Grading Rangers defensemen in 2023-24 regular season and playoffs

Each defensemen (listed alphabetically) received a separate grade for the regular season and postseason.

Note: Chad Ruhwedel, Connor Mackey and Brandon Scanlin did not play enough games with the Rangers to be graded.

Adam Fox

Regular season: A-

Playoffs: B-

NHL: New York Rangers at Colorado Avalanche
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Though he missed 10 games after sustaining an injury following a knee-on-knee hit from Carolina Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho on Nov. 2, Adam Fox still scored an NHL career-high 17 goals and was in the conversation to be a finalist for the Norris Trophy, though he ended up just outside the top 3 in voting as the best defensemen in the NHL. He also averaged a point per game (73 points in 72 games) and surpassed 70 points for a third straight season.

As his stats indicate, Fox was remarkably consistent all season. He excelled in all game situations, led the Rangers in average ice time per game (23:27) and had solid metrics. Simply, he was, as expected, New York’s best all-around defenseman.

In the playoffs, though, Fox wasn’t nearly the same difference maker as he was in the regular season. He had a four-game point streak early on, but went five straight games without a point afterward. He aggravated the knee injury after being on the receiving end of another knee-on-knee hit from Washington Capitals defenseman Nick Jensen in Game 4 of the first round and that clearly compromised him.

Like the other defensemen, his 5v5 metrics were not great, though Fox was the only one for more goals for than against (10-7) in those situations. Still, his production was disappointing in the playoffs, just eight assists in 16 games, and no goals for the second consecutive postseason.

Erik Gustafsson

Regular season: B

Playoffs: C-

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Washington Capitals at New York Rangers
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

When you consider Erik Gustafsson was paid only $825,000 this season, you realize that he was a steal, an incredible bargain. The 32-year-old played 76 regular-season games and all 16 in the playoffs, mainly on the third pairing and second power-play unit. He stepped in and up nicely when Fox was hurt in November, playing his best hockey of the season. He had 15 points by Nov. 27, but just 16 the rest of the season, though, as his production tailed off considerably.

Gustafsson had the best 5v5 scoring chances for percentage of all Rangers defensemen (54.78 percent) and was largely not the defensive liability he’d been much of his NHL career.

In the playoffs, Gustafsson managed three assists and did not score a goal. Though not a great number, his scoring chances for percentage 5v5 (44.64) was second best among Rangers defensemen, behind Fox (48.29). Like the others, though, he spent far too much time chasing and failing to win puck battles. He also didn’t record a point in the final eight postseason games.

Zac Jones

NHL: New York Rangers at Boston Bruins
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Regular season: B

Playoffs: N/A

There are a lot of teams that’d be quite happy to have Zac Jones as their seventh defenseman. The 24-year-old got into an NHL career-high 31 games and was solid, if unspectacular, especially when filling in during a rash of injuries in March to Jacob Trouba, Ryan Lindgren and Gustafsson. He also stepped into the third pairing in November when Gustafsson moved up into the injured Fox’s spot.

Jones scored two goals, had seven assists and often moved the puck quickly and confidently out of his end of the ice. He had a memorable two-point game in Ottawa against the Senators on Jan. 27 and a big goal in a wild win on the road against the Arizona Coyotes late in the season. On the downside, Jones was on for more goals against than for 5v5 (22-19).

The youngster didn’t get into any postseason games, despite some calls for him to replace Trouba and/or Gustafsson. He’s in line to battle for a spot on the third pair next season, though.

Ryan Lindgren

NHL: New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers
Brad Penner-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Regular season: B

Playoffs: C

You know what you’re getting with Ryan Lindgren: a hard-nosed warrior, outstanding penalty killer and stay-at-home complement to his partner Fox. By and large, that’s what the Rangers got out of Lindgren this season, when he led the Rangers with a plus-22 and added 114 hits and 104 blocked shots. He also scored three goals and totaled 17 points, in line with his usual numbers.

For the second time in three seasons, Lindgren remained largely healthy, playing 76 games, which was a big plus. However, his xGF percentage was worst of the seven defensemen (45.02 percent) as was his scoring chances for percentage (47.7 percent).

Those trends continued and got worse in the playoffs. Especially against the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Final, Lindgren was often trapped in his own end. The Rangers were outshot 149-87 5v5 with Lindgren on the ice and the high-danger chances were 67-31, each worst among Rangers defensemen. He did play with a cracked rib in the conference final, so that might be part of the reason why he struggled so much, as could playing alongside a hobbled Fox. To his credit, Lindgren had two clutch assists among his three playoff points, one on Chris Kreider’s series-winning goal against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 6 of the second round and the other on Alex Wennberg’s Game 3 overtime winner in the conference final.

K’Andre Miller

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Florida Panthers at New York Rangers
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Regular season: B

Playoffs: C

K’Andre Miller was second among all Rangers in average ice time in the regular season (21:33) and was a constant on the second pairing, typically with Trouba, and later in the season with Braden Schneider. His point production fell from an NHL career-high 43 points last season to 30 this season and the Rangers were outscored 5v5 68-56 with him on the ice.

Still there’s lots to like about his game, though it’d be nice to see more physicality than he showed this season. It feels like there’s more there to his game, but he was a solid second-pairing defenseman this season.

The playoffs did not go well for the 24-year-old, perhaps, in part, because he played often with the struggling Trouba. But among all NHL defensemen who played in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs, none had a worse on-ice expected goals of minus-8.58. Sounds like someone who owes Igor Shesterkin a steak dinner or two. He did have a clutch shorthanded goal in Game 2 against the Capitals, though, so that was more than most Rangers defensemen can say about their offensive play in the postseason.

Braden Schneider

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers
Danny Wild-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Regular season: B

Playoffs: C+

Braden Schneider flies under the radar a bit on the Rangers defense corps, but the 22-year-old is making the case to be a long-term staple on the blue line with his consistent play and nice upside. He scored five goals and had an NHL career-high 19 points, each of which feel like it’s just scratching the surface. He was second on the Rangers with 133 blocked shots and second among defensemen with 167 hits.

Late in the season, he swapped spots with Trouba and was an excellent fit on the second pairing with Miller. That happened again in the playoffs, and would appear to be the plan next season. Schneider didn’t shrink with increased responsibility and you have to keep reminding yourself he’s only 22.

Schneider stood his ground in the playoffs, but did struggle against the relentless Panthers pressure, so there’s still much room for improvement. He had two assists in 16 playoff games and spent far more time defending than creating offensively.

Jacob Trouba

NHL: New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Regular season: B-

Playoffs: C-

There was a lot of all-or-nothing in Jacob Trouba’s game. Massive hits, game-altering physicality, as well as bad penalties and poor decision making. The Rangers captain is a well-respected leader on and off the ice, a warrior like Lindgren. He had 22 points in 69 regular-season games but wasn’t quite the same after breaking his ankle in March. He finished with a team-high 183 blocked shots and led the defensemen with 191 hits.

The 30-year-old has two years remaining on his outsized contract, which has an * million average annual value. Therein lies the rub with Trouba. He’d be a solid player at, say, $5 million per. But at $8 million, there’s a lot to pick apart with his game.

Trouba was second among Rangers defensemen with seven postseason points, including a shorthanded goal in Game 5 against the Hurricanes that showcased some terrific play in his own end, capped by a nasty tracer off the rush. He also led New York with 11 minor penalties and 22 penalty minutes, and his poor decision led directly to Sam Bennett’s 1-0 goal in the decisive Game 6 of the conference final.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

Mentioned in this article:

More About: