Nils Lundkvist and Zac Jones are battling for the last New York Rangers opening night spot on defense

nils lundkvist
Oct 2, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; New York Rangers defenseman Nils Lundkvist (64) checks Boston Bruins right wing Craig Smith (12) into the boards during the first period at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers announced they trimmed their roster down to 27 players on Sunday. In the mix of cuts were two defensemen in Matthew Robertson and Braden Schneider. Both were expected, although Schneider did make a strong case for consideration.

This leaves two spots on defense open among four blue-liners that includes Nils Lundkvist, Zac Jones, Libor Hajek, and Jarred Tinordi.

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Battle for the 6th and 7th defensemen

New York has 5 defensemen locked into the opening night lineup. They are as follows:

  • Lindgren – Fox
  • Miller – Trouba
  • Nemeth

“If you really look at it, the team was close to picked, like every other NHL team almost three months ago,” Gerard Gallant said. “We talked about playing for jobs, but there’s obviously 23 spots on your roster and probably 21 of those spots are already taken before we started.”

The battle for the 6th starting defenseman I believe comes down to righty, Lundkvist or lefty, Jones. Each has shown that they are worthy of consideration with their play. For those thinking Lundkvist has an edge because Patrik Nemeth is left-handed, that would be incorrect.

“We’re not worried about left or right, because Nemeth can play both sides,” Gallant told the media.

As for the 7th defensemen, that would be a battle between Hajek and Tinordi. The Rangers could actually go with a 23 man roster and keep them both up. That may need to be done, because either one will be claimed off waivers if sent down.

Nils Lundkvist has the edge

Nils Lundkvist Rangers
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Jones, 20, joined the Rangers late last season and played in 10 games recording 4 assists. He certainly did not look out of place and was extremely poised. That has carried over into Development Camp and Preseason action this year.

“I’m coming in trying to make the team, I know it’s going to be difficult and I don’t have a spot,” Jones admitted. “If I get sent down to the AHL, it’s not going to be a big deal for me, I’m just going to work hard and get back to the NHL.”

Unfortunately for him, highly touted prospect Nils Lundkvist is finally here after being a force in Sweden’s top league. That prompted the Rangers to bring in veteran LD, Patrik Nemeth in to help mentor him and be his defensive partner.

Lundkvist, 21, has come over and played as advertised. Especially working as the quarterback on the Rangers second power play unit.

“It’s been an adjustment,” Nils said after his first exhibition game. “You need to play more at the central of the ice. Back home (in Sweden) when you’re in the dots you have a lot of space. When you’re out there, you’re close to the boards – so it will be an adjustment. It’s getting better and better.”

And it has.

So far, in three preseason games he’s collected three assists all in his last two contests. Two of those helpers came on the power play. Despite some moments in the d-zone where he looks overwhelmed, Lundkvist has not been on the ice for a goal against in the preseason.

While Jones is likely to get one more opportunity with Nemeth as his partner, I look for Lundkvist to win the job with two exhibition games remaining.

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Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore

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