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.


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.

[Your 2020-21 NHL On NBC TV Schedule]

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 or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Scroll Down For:

    Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

    The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

    Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

    “We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

    Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

    “I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

    Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

    OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

    The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

    Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

    The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

    Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

    Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

    Harry How/Getty Images

    CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

    The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

    The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

    The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

    Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

    Getty Images

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

    The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

    The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

    Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

    The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.