Adam Fox has become key building block in Rangers rebuild

NBC’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. Penguins-Rangers stream coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

When you think of the New York Rangers’ current rebuild the first two names that come to mind are probably Alex Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko. As top-two picks in each of the past two drafts they are going to get top billing, even if the numbers and immediate impact are not quite there just yet. Their potential remains high, and if they reach it they could be the type of impact forwards every contending team needs.

What makes the Rangers’ long-term outlook so enticing is that it is not just Lafreniere and Kakko that give them hope. They have assembled quite a collection of young talent that at every position on the ice. At the top of that list is second-year defenseman Adam Fox who has quickly become one of the most important players on the roster and a major part of this rebuilding process. Contending teams not only need multiple All-Stars at forward, they also need a defenseman that play that No. 1 role and help dictate the pace of the game. Every contending team has one, and it can be a remarkably hard position to find.

The Rangers may have found it in Fox.

It was easy for him to get lost in the shuffle a year ago in the Calder Race due to the incredible numbers that Colorado’s Cale Makar and Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes put on the board, but Fox was right there with them in terms of overall impact.

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He has not really taken a step back in year two of his career.

If anything, the Rangers have leaned on him even more as he has rapidly become their top defender. He enters Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) as the top defensive option for Rangers coach David Quinn. If there is a big assignment, Fox is getting it. He is averaging more than 24 minutes per game, which is currently three minutes more than any other defender on the roster (Jacob Trouba, currently sidelined due to injury, is second on the team). Along with the ice-time lead, no Rangers defender had seen a higher percentage of their shifts start in the defensive zone while he is also their top blue line option on both the power play and penalty kill.

It is not just that he is getting those assignments that is important. He is handling them extremely well for a second-year pro with only 94 games (playoffs included) of NHL experience.

No Rangers defender has done a better job this season when it comes to suppressing scoring chances and expected goals against, while the Rangers are allowing just 1.92 goals against per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play with him on the ice. That is not only one of the best marks on the Rangers, it is one of the best marks in the entire league among all defenders. Add that to the fact he has scored at close to a 50-point pace as a defenseman in each of his first two seasons and you have an emerging star on defense.

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If you go back to the start of the 2019-20 season, you really get a sense for how impactful Fox has been.

His 0.61 points per game average in that time places him 16th among all defenseman that have appeared in at least 80 games). He is also among the top-50 defenders (out of 200 that have logged at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time) in terms of limiting opposing scoring chances, expected goals, and actual goals peer 60 minutes.

Again, we are talking about a 22-year-old with only a year-and-a-half of NHL experience and he is already playing like a bonafide top-pairing defender.

This season has not quite gone as the Rangers had hoped in the standings, especially after taking such a big step in the second half of the 2019-20 season. But the talent on this team is very real and the long-term outlook remains strong as they have potential stars at forward, defense, and in in goal. Not all of them have played at that level just yet, but Adam Fox is already there. Even better, his best days are ahead of him.

NBC Sports celebrates Hockey Day in America, presented by Discover®this Sunday with an NHL quadrupleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S. The day is a highlight of NBC Sports’ NHL coverage in March, which includes 30 games over 30 nights.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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