Rangers need to keep Zac Jones in the lineup when Nemeth returns

zac jones
Jan 6, 2022; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; New York Rangers defenseman Zac Jones (6) ties up the stick of Vegas Golden Knights center Mattias Janmark (26) during the second period at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

It has only been three games, but Zac Jones has shown enough in my eyes to remain in the New York Rangers lineup.

Veteran defenseman Patrik Nemeth is expected to rejoin the team on this road trip, possibly as soon as Saturday against the Anaheim Ducks. What Gallant has to decide is which current blue-liner needs to come out, it shouldn’t be Jones.

Zac Jones playing well

Jones, 21, was drafted by the Rangers in the third round (68th overall) of the 2019 NHL Draft. He debuted at the tail end of last season and picked up 4 assists in 10 games. Thus far in three games of action, he has no points and a -2 rating.

“He’s played really well,” Gallant said before the 5-1 loss to the Golden Knights. “We know what he was from training camp on. We’ve got a lot of defensemen in our organization, he’s getting a chance and he’s played really well for two games so we’re happy.”

While his defense partner, Libor Hajek had a very difficult night against Vegas going -4, Jones stood out when he was on the ice. Despite finishing a -3 by circumstance, Jones was skating well and moving the puck up ice consistently. He almost scored his first NHL goal in the first period on the PP, but his shot rang off the post instead.

“I like the way he skates and he’s heady up there,” Gallant said. “He moves the puck real well. I mean the first shift the other night (against Tampa) he got toasted by Brayden Point, but who doesn’t? He rebounded from it and that’s good. We like what he brings and I like the way he carries himself on the ice.”

Rangers need to keep Jones in the lineup

zac jones
Apr 22, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Zac Jones #6 of the New York Rangers passes the puck during a power play in the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Elsa/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

Before last night, Hajek had been steady since being inserted in the lineup on December 29th against the Florida Panthers. He simply didn’t have it yesterday as he was routinely beaten one-on-one, made unforced errors, and looked lost in coverage.

The question now will be which defenseman will come out of the lineup when Patrik Nemeth returns from “personal reasons”? And if he isn’t ready to go on Saturday, will Nils Lundkvist return to the lineup for Hajek? Lundkvist and Jones paired together in the Blueshirts 4-0 shutout victory over the Lightning.

“Guys are getting healthy so I know that it’s a battle for six spots every night,” Jones recently acknowledged. “I’m just going out and playing my game and whatever the coaching staff and management decide to do, they decide to do.”

If we listen to what Gallant has said about the kid, he should get a longer look in the lineup. One other big factor is how he’s carrying himself on the ice. Confidence and swagger are hard to quantify with statistics but Jones is displaying it on every shift.

“The big focus for me down (in Hartford) was my defensive game and to try get as good as I could at that,” Jones said. “That first game I felt really good. After the first period, my legs were a little heavy but I started to get going and feeling more confident and played my game.”

“I believe 100% I’m a better player than I was at the end of training camp and I’m going to keep getting better.”

The Rangers need to give him a longer look, he may very well be the fifth best defenseman in the organization right now.

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