What will the New York Rangers do with Zac Jones?
Player development and roster management are essential components that can make or break a team’s season in the NHL. Each squad tries to find a good mix between developing fresh talent and keeping a competitive edge. For the New York Rangers, this delicate balance is perfectly exemplified in the case of promising young defensemen, Zac Jones.
In his brief time at the NHL level, Jones has attracted the attention of many with his combination of speed, hockey intelligence, and offensive potential. The UMass Amherst star was recognized by the Rangers as having potential, and his subsequent entry into the NHL demonstrated his skill at the highest level. But Jones frequently found himself playing the seventh defenseman due to the Rangers’ strong defensive core.
Enter in veteran defenseman Erik Gustafsson, who signed with the team as a free agent this summer and has a history with head coach Peter Laviolette. It doesn’t help Jones that the 31 year-old has been excellent in preseason action registering 1 goal and 2 assists in 3 games.
So what will the Rangers do with Zac Jones?
What does Zac Jones future look like with Rangers
In a recent interview with Forever Blueshirts, Vince Mercogliano, a Rangers reporter for USA Today and lohud.com, shared his thoughts on the status of Jones going into the 2023-2024 season.
“I think Zac Jones is definitely making this roster,” Mercogliano said. “Their plan, to my full understanding, is that it will be to keep Jones on this roster likely as a seventh defensemen.”
For those who are not familiar, a seventh defenseman is essentially a backup; an extra player who is kept on hand in case of injuries or who periodically enters the lineup to give others some time to recover. It’s a difficult role since the player must always be prepared to act, even if they don’t get much ice time.
For Jones, he may feel that this role has two sides to it. On one hand, his abilities are demonstrated by what he does as the seventh defenseman on a team like the Rangers. On the flip side, having little ice time means he won’t have as many chances to grow and realize his full potential.
From the Rangers perspective, Mercogliano notes that this situation could be similar to the way the team handled their 2018 first-round draft pick, Vitali Kravtsov.
“You’re not going to take a valuable prospect and expose him to waivers and let any other team that wants to claim him for free.”
A trade is a possibility
Jones’ status as the seventh defenseman may be used in a different way—possibly as a trade chip, given the depth of the Rangers’ defensive lineup and the steady play of their top six defensemen.
“I absolutely believe that a trade is a possibility when it comes to Zac Jones,” Mercogliano stated. “I don’t think that there is any clear path for him into the lineup unless an injury happens or [Erik] Gustafsson completely falls flat.”
A clear sign that the Rangers may be looking to trade him will be if they opt to start the season with 8 defenseman on the roster.
If New York did want to trade Jones, he could be moved for mutual benefit. While he gets an opportunity to play in a more prominent role with another team, the Rangers should be able to acquire assets that address other areas of need. Jones is a great trade chip because of his youth, potential, and demonstrated skill. The 22-year-old might be a top target for teams trying to upgrade or reinforce their defensive core.
Last season, Jones played with the Blueshirts recording 1 goal and 1 assist for 2 points in 16 games. When it became clear that he would not be getting consistent playing time to develop his skills, the Rangers sent him to their AHL affiliate. In 54 regular-season games with the Hartford Wolf Pack, Jones picked up 8 goals and 23 assists for 31 points.
Jones’ situation with the Rangers serves as a good example of the difficulties that organizations and players alike face when trying to manage rosters and maximize player development. The Blueshirts’ depth is demonstrated by his status as the seventh defenseman, which also emphasizes his potential importance to other teams. Jones’ talent and potential ensure that he will have a bright future in the NHL, regardless of whether the Rangers elect to keep him or use him as a trade piece.