The Adam Fox/New York Rangers marriage that was finally consummated Tuesday afternoon was another one of those “worst kept secrets in hockey” situations. Fox, born in Jericho, NY, was a Rangers fan growing up, and was about to enter his fourth season with Harvard in the ECAC. Everyone knew what it meant when he refused to sign with the Carolina Hurricanes this summer — who acquired him in the Dougie Hamilton blockbuster the year before. The team reportedly asked him again, but his answer remained the same.
Canes GM Don Waddell and owner Tom Dundon had multiple conversations with Adam Fox trying to change his mind but obviously could not. Given that they only had 1 team to deal with trade-wise based on Fox’s desire to sign with the Rangers, I would say the ‘Canes got a decent return— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) April 30, 2019
He wanted to be a Ranger, and thanks to the loophole for NCAA drafted prospects he was a year away from becoming a UFA free to sign anywhere. The question, and really the only question, was when Fox was going to be a Ranger.
Was he going to have to wait it out and do it on his own or was Jeff Gorton going to make a move for him this summer to bring him over to Broadway this year? In the end, Gorton decided he couldn’t wait, and he gave his own second-round pick this year (37th overall), and a 2020 conditional third-round pick that will turn into a 2020 second-round pick in the event Fox plays more than 30 games for the Rangers this year.
If that seems like a lot to give up for a 21-year-old who was destined to come to Broadway regardless, you’d be right. Gorton overpaid for him. And you know what? That’s fine.
Before we get into what the Rangers got back (and Adam will have a deeper dive on that Thursday) let’s talk about the exchange. Since it would be astounding if Fox didn’t get 30 NHL games under his belt next year, let’s just go with the assumption that it’s two second-round picks.
For context, here’s who the Rangers have used their second and third-round picks on in recent years.
Here's a look at players NYR have picked in second and third round over last 10 years in context of the Adam Fox trade. pic.twitter.com/DAcNBMke3y— Tom ████ Jr. (@TomUrtzJr) April 30, 2019
The Rangers are flush with draft picks this year, and as of this writing are guaranteed to have two picks within the first 21 names called. If Dallas wins their series against the Blues, it will be three picks in the first 31 names called. Even removing the Dallas contingency, the Rangers will have two first-round picks (one of them the second overall selection), and two second-round picks (Tampa’s is 58th overall so right at the end of the round). Gorton had the ability to open up the coffers a bit to make sure Fox came over right away, and stuck to his guns on not moving Winnipeg’s first rounder.
Next year the Rangers have an extra third-round pick from Dallas — which could become a 2020 first-round pick in the event Dallas re-signs Mats Zuccarello. Again, assuming that doesn’t happen, Gorton will have the ability to make five selections in the first round this year and last year, and that could be six. Spending a few extra second-rounders to avoid the mystery box isn’t a bad thing at all.
I know we’re in a strange place where the Rangers are sort of gunning the engines to take off again, but are still trying to fuel the plane at the same time. Gorton has brought in a significant amount of elite-level talent the past two years, almost all of it through the draft, and this year will be more of the same with one of Kaapo Kakko or Jack Hughes. There is an overwhelming likelihood the Winnipeg pick will become a sub-20 selection as well, which is just more value thrown into the books. Yes, you’d rather (on paper) have the second overall, 18th overall (the highest the selection from the Jets can be), and the 37th overall. But if you can turn the 37th selection into a known quantity you do it, especially when the known quantity can have the impact Fox can.
Fox led the nation in primary assists (23) with Harvard this season, and led all defensemen in the nation in power play points (19). He, Cale Makar, and Jake Ahcan shared the lead in even strength assists (20) among defensemen. Fox has upside as a top-pairing defenseman, though a more reasonable expectation is for him to become a second-pairing defenseman who contributes on the power play. He’s a needed addition to an organization that was loaded with young depth at the pro level but lacked raw offensive talent.
The Rangers are loaded with C+ and B-level prospects and younger players. Brett Howden, Lias Andersson, Jimmy Vesey, and Libor Hajek come to mind as the second tier guys. That’s not a bad thing or a knock on any of those players, but the Rangers — as of a year ago — were barren of true A-level ceilings outside of Filip Chytil and lesser so Pavel Buchnevich and Anthony DeAngelo.
Today they have Vitali Kravtsov, Nils Lundkvist, K’Andre Miller, (will have) Kakko or Hughes, and now they have Fox. Then there’s guys like Yegor Rykov who could factor into the blueline. Overall it’s a shocking turnaround for a farm system that was at the bottom of the league before the rebuild started two years ago. Gorton and company deserve credit for their work in this department if nothing else. Again, anything can happen and any or all of those players can bottom out and be enormous busts, but as of right now, the Rangers should be thrilled with what they have in the cupboard.
What’s more is Fox is positioned to help the Rangers right away, where Lundkvist and Miller are at least a year away if not more. That’s a big one too, because as Tom painted this morning, there are decisions coming on defense because of this move, but they’re also better off today than they were yesterday.
The point of all this is Gorton wanted Fox for this year and he had to pay to get him. The Rangers have an embarrassment of riches in terms of draft picks, and again, flexing two second-round picks for a known player is smarter than sitting on both of them for the mystery box. Fox is better than the mystery box.
And now he’s on Broadway.