When looking at the New York Rangers over the first half of the season, what stands out are concerns from the lack of depth scoring to the atrocious defense. However, there are some bright spots to the first half the 2019-2020 season on Broadway, one of which is a certain Russian superstar that his sights set on the Hart trophy. The other is, surprisingly given the issues with the defense, the rookie defenseman Adam Fox.
When the Rangers traded a second round and third round pick to Carolina for Fox’s rights, many expected the 21 year old Fox to step into the Rangers lineup as a third pairing offensive defenseman that would take time to transition to the NHL. Instead, Fox has unequivocally taken the reigns as the Rangers’ best defenseman and it hasn’t been a close competition.
Fox’s blend of skill and smarts are a combination that hasn’t been seen on the blue line in quite some time. As the young defenseman grabbed onto his spot as a top defenseman, he’s also forged a pretty solid rookie of the year case. Unfortunately, there are a couple of defensemen that have taken the spotlight from Fox’s brilliant start. We’re going to attempt to show that Fox is more than deserving of some Calder respect and may, in fact, be the front-runner for the award by season’s end.
Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes are both phenomenal defensemen in their own right, Makar has the physical package that coaches drool over while also being a quick thinker and mover on the ice. Hughes, on the other hand, is a compact defenseman who flies up and down the ice while moving the puck at quicker than light speed. Both are going to be top defenders for a long time and both are legitimate Calder candidates. But let’s take a look at how both stack up to the Jericho-born Fox.
On the surface, Fox’s 26 points in 45 games trail both Hughes (32 in 46) and Makar (33 in 38), but it is a tight race between the three blue-liners. As we know, though, points aren’t everything anymore; we have tools available to us that allow us to dig deeper into how a player is performing on the ice, and with these tools we’ll build our case for Adam Fox.
In terms of possession all three are fairly close as Makar sits at 51% CF, Fox at 50%, and Hughes gains some separation with a 53% CF at even strength. When we look at expected goals, Hughes maintains his edge over the other two defenders (55 xGF%), but it still a close battle as Fox and Makar are putting up solid a 51% xGF each.
While these numbers are close and impressive, there is something to address and that is age; Quinn Hughes is 20, Cale Makar is 21, and Fox will be 22 next month. While it may not seem like a big difference, one or two years of experience can mean a world of difference in hockey. However, we also have to take into account the context of teammates and we all know that Adam Fox has spent most of his time this season alongside Ryan Lindgren while Cale Makar has been skating next to old friend Ryan Graves, and Quinn Hughes has been partnered with Christopher Tanev.
While Fox might be older than both Hughes and Makar, he also has to play with worse teammates and he’s still putting up solid numbers. In fact, when looking at Goals Above Replacement (GAR), Fox is worth 10.1 goals above average, Makar leads the three at 11.4 GAR, with Hughes following at 9.4.
For a final look at the argument let’s look at some RAPM charts from the wonderful Evolving-Hockey.
While all the attention has been focused on Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar in the Rookie of the Year race, and rightfully so, I humbly present the case for Adam Fox’s inclusion in the conversation for your consideration.