Rangers Recall: Zac Jones and depth on defense

NHL: New York Islanders at New York Rangers
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers sit tied for the first overall in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks at 98 points and 71 games played apiece. If the Presidents’ Trophy were handed out today, Vancouver would own it due to holding the first tie-breaker of regulation wins (39 to 38).

Of course, there’s 11 games remaining on the docket for both clubs and five teams behind them tied at 97 points. So, there’s still a very long way to go in that race. However, the Blueshirts are standing out, and it’s not for their recent big wins against the Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers (97 points each).

The Rangers have played a brutal schedule in March with several back-to-backs and facing a host of teams in the playoffs or fighting for their playoff lives. They’ve also done it without captain Jacob Trouba (lower-body), who has been out since March 5, and fellow defenseman Ryan Lindgren (lower-body) injured on March 17.

Depth on the blue line has paid off for the Rangers, and players like Zac Jones have stepped up to keep the ship heading north at full speed.

“He’s worked his tail off for every game, every practice, every day,” coach Peter Laviolette explained. “He’s waited, he’s been patient, worked hard to get the opportunity and he’s jumped back in and he’s played excellent again.”

Related: Trouba and Lindgren working their way back from injury

Rangers Recall: Zac Jones and the defense

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

In the Rangers recent win against the Panthers on Saturday, Jones had one of his best games of the year against a very physical opponent. Not only was he one of the few Blueshirts (not named Artemi Panarin) able to transport the puck up ice against an aggressive forecheck, the 23-year-old made effective plays in the offensive zone.

With his team dejected and down a goal after giving one up late in the third period, Jones straddled the line at the point to draw the defender. Once enough space opened up, he returned it back to Panarin, who fired it at a crowded net for the tying tally just 43 seconds later.

It was another sign of the 2019 Third Round selection maturing and displaying the high hockeyIQ that got him drafted in the first place.

“I know I can play in this league,” said Jones. “I can thrive in this league. I can be an impact player.”

Prior to being a healthy scratch soon after the All-Star Break, Jones picked up a goal and an assist in an impressive performance over the Ottawa Senators (1/27). He followed that up with a rock-solid 18+ minutes of ice time in a 2-1 victory versus the Colorado Avalanche (2/5) with Trouba nursing some bumps and bruises. To date, Jones has registered eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 26 games.

Even Laviolette recently admitted that Jones didn’t deserve to come out of the lineup, but who was he going to sit? One could make the argument after this recent stretch, Jones deserves to at least get into a rotation with Erik Gustafsson. The veteran has recently made several mistakes in his own zone leading to goals against, but an elbow to the head against Florida forced him to miss the rest of the game. At this time, there is no word on his status.

Regardless, Jones has earned a larger role registering three assists and +3 rating in the nine games played since rejoining the lineup. More importantly, he’s helped the Rangers earn a 7-2-0 record in that span.

Other takeaways for the Rangers defense has been the pairing of K’Andre Miller and Braden Schneider. The two have displayed incredible chemistry together showing promise for a potentially bright future as a longtime pairing.

Finally, trade deadline addition Chad Ruhwedel has proven to be a fit. The 33 year-old veteran is mostly partnering with Jones in the three games he’s played, and provided a steady presence for the youngster to flash his offensive abilities.

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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