The time has come for Zac Jones and the New York Rangers
February 15, 2022; New York, New York, United States; Boston Bruins center Curtis Lazar (20) and New York Rangers defenseman Zac Jones (6) battle for the puck behind the net during the second period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler – USA TODAY Sports
Zac Jones is patiently biding his time to be a regular on the New York Rangers defense.
Jones, 21, is in the final year of his entry-level contract which comes with a low cap of $925,000. He has demonstrated he has the ability to play in the NHL by using his high hockey IQ to compensate for his size at 5-11, 185 pounds.
“We know what Jonesy is”, Gerard Gallant said. “He moves the puck – he skates. He’s not a big guy but he defends pretty hard.
With the team struggling with limited cap space and having to trade or buy out Patrik Nemeth, who has two years left at $2.5 million, this is a perfect low-cost option. And if not now, Rangers should be looking to trade him this offseason, which would be a huge mistake.
Zac Jones deserved an opportunity
Jones was drafted by the Rangers in the third round (68th overall) of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. He made his debut at the end of the 2020-21 season and had 4 assists in 10 games.
“I was a bit starstruck last year,” Jones said on his call this season. “Now it’s a business and I’m here to play hockey and help the team in any way I can.”
In his first full season as a professional with the Hartford Wolf Pack, he was their top defenseman with 35 points in 52 games. Last season he played 12 games for the big club and bagged two assists, earning praise from his two head coaches.
“Jones can create an offense with his passing and mobility on the blue line by beating a guy one-on-one,” Wolf Pack coach Kris Knoblauch said.
“I like the way he skates and he’s heady up there,” Gallant said. “He moves the puck very well. We like what he brings and I like the way he behaves on the ice.
A couple Jones and Schneider
Rangers called up Braden Schneider in January for a brief preview of their 2020 first-round pick. Instead, they got a whole lot more. Known for being a physical defender who can pass well in small groups, he scored a goal in his debut game. Playing like a seasoned veteran made it very difficult for him to drop from the roster from then on.
He’s been great all year. Ryan Strome said. “For such a young child, he is so professional. You never have to worry about him. He is mature beyond his years on and off the ice.
After playing in every game this past playoff series and collecting three assists, Schneider is locked in as the third pair of right-backs for next year. He should also have more chances to kill from penalties but who will be his partner?
Chris Drury could try to re-sign Justin Braun, but he’s unlikely to expect a one-year, $1 million deal. The 35-year-old defender earned $1.8M AAV last year.
That’s why a Jones-Schneider pairing is the route Rangers need to take to start next season. They need to see what they have in the child before they even consider trading it.
Rangers have veteran defenseman Jarred Tinordi signed for one more season at $900,000. He could easily be named as the 7th defender, giving the team time to assess Jones once and for all.
“I believe 100% that I’m a better player than I was at the end of training camp,” Jones said. “I will continue to improve.”