Why Rangers should give Zac Jones chance over Erik Gustafsson

NHL: Preseason-Boston Bruins at New York Rangers
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

With recent injuries to Ryan Lindgren, Jacob Trouba and Erik Gustafsson, Zac Jones has made the most of his increased opportunity on the New York Rangers blue line. But that time appears to be coming to an end with all three veteran defensemen set to play against the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.

So, Jones likely will be a healthy scratch after playing extremely well the past 13 games, the longest streak of playing time in his NHL career.

The 23-year-old defenseman has established NHL career highs with two goals and nine points in 30 games this season, including a beautiful goal against the Arizona Coyotes off the rush this past Saturday that helped the Rangers surge to an 8-5 victory.

Though Lindgren and Trouba were both back in the lineup after injury absences in that game against the Coyotes, Jones remained in with Gustafsson still sidelined with an upper-body injury. After missing another game Monday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Gustafsson was back on the third pair at practice Tuesday, and Jones skated with the extras.

Coach Peter Laviolette has made it pretty clear that he’s going to ride with Gustafsson pairing with Braden Schneider but Jones should be afforded the chance in the final seven games to alter that thinking.

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Why Zac Jones deserves to remain in Rangers lineup

NHL: New York Rangers at Arizona Coyotes
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Zac Jones creates more shots, chances

Jones is proving that he can be a weapon on the Rangers’ blue line. He has averaged 1.27 shots on goal per game this season, despite averaging only 14:34 of ice time. Gustafsson has averaged 1.19 shots on goal per game this season, averaging over three minutes more of time on ice. For a Rangers team that often hesitates to get the puck at the net, Jones’ efficiency in the offensive zone over Gustafsson cannot be overlooked.

Jones only starts seven percent of his shifts in the offensive zone as compared to Gustafsson’s 12 percent. So, that means Jones has a better ability to skate the puck in and create chances, in significantly less time on ice than Gustafsson. Jones and Gustafsson also share a 0.21 expected goals per 60 minutes, which could suggest that if Jones were to see his ice time increase, his impact could be more significant than Gustafsson’s.

Erik Gustafsson’s impact is slowly diminishing

It is unfair to Gustafsson to downplay his impact and role this season, especially after he’s recorded 30 points in 70 games on a League minimum contract. However, 20 of Gustafsson’s 30 points came within the first 30 games of the season. Meaning that in his past 40 games, Gustafsson has amassed only 10 points.

While Jones’ mere nine points in 30 games may pale in comparison to Gustafsson’s stats, Jones has been given much less of an opportunity, often coming into the lineup cold, removing any true chance of him establishing consistency until the past month. Keeping Jones in the lineup gives the Rangers a younger and more dynamic option on the back end come playoff time, on a team that would undeniably benefit from more 5v5 goals this season and speed.

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