The New York Rangers very likely could have had Adam Fox for free in about 16 months. Instead, they sent the 37th overall pick in 2019 and a likely second-round pick in 2020 to Carolina on Tuesday in order to acquire his rights immediately. Is the security and instant gratification worth the price? That’s debatable.
Regardless, the Rangers paying that price indicates a high level of confidence in Fox. Both the numbers and tape indicate that the front office is correct in their judgment of him as a high-caliber talent.
Fox has been an offensive defenseman throughout his entire amateur career, and that will continue to be his identity in pro hockey. He doesn’t possess many physical gifts. His skating is just okay. His shot is average. Instead, he makes offense happen with his brain.
Fox’s forte is knowing when to move the puck in a flash versus when to hold onto it and wait for lanes to open up. He’s not going to dice through the neutral zone and blaze past defenders with the puck, but instead will find the right forward outlets to spring plays forward.
Within the offensive zone, Fox is a player you want with the puck on his stick. He does an exceptional job of opening up his hips along the blue line and dragging the high forwards with him, thereby affecting the opposition’s structure and creating passing and shooting options.
He’s aggressive, jumping up the ice when he sees transition opportunities and activating low on offensive-zone possessions. He scores his goals not with blasts from the blue line, but rather sneaky movement towards the circles and high slot.
These skills have certainly translated into production for Fox both at the college and international levels. As a Freshman, Fox registered 40 points in 35 games. That’s the highest points-per-game average among under-19 defensemen in the last 20 seasons.
Last season, Fox hit 1.45 points-per-game, which is the highest mark by an NCAA defenseman since 1995. It’s important to note that the ECAC — the conference in which Harvard plays — isn’t particularly strong, so his numbers are skewed compared to players in other conferences. Nonetheless, that is remarkable production on his part and certainly justifies a high offensive ceiling.
There are downsides to Fox’s game, but none that are unmitigated. At 5’10 and roughly 180 pounds, he is undersized. He’s not someone you want in board battles against big players nor is he going to be the one to clear power forwards out of the slot. His skating is merely average, which limits him both offensively and defensively. Fox will do fine in keeping up with the play, but he lacks the speed to put defenders on their heels or win puck races against speedy wingers. However, he does work hard, and I’ve seen him recover on opposition transition rushes because of that relentlessness. He also relies on his brain defensively to make reads at the blue line to seal gaps or cut off passes.
I hesitate to call Fox a blue-chip prospect because I don’t think he is, and based on the circumstances I can see the hype train picking up too much speed. However, it should be noted that Fox does bring something to the table that the Rangers sorely need. Defensive prospects like K’Andre Miller and Nils Lundkvist have major upside but are still years away from theoretically putting it all together. Others, like Libor Hajek and Joey Keane, are pretty polished, but they do not realistically project as high-caliber defensemen. Tony DeAngelo is a total Wild Card whose status changes on a day-to-day basis.
No other young defenseman in the organization provides the Rangers a better combination of NHL-readiness, long-term reliability, and difference-making talent. He will likely earn a spot on the NHL roster out of training camp in September on the right side of the blue line, or at worst spend only a few months in the AHL. Though fans should keep their expectations measured, Fox is definitely a player worth getting excited about.