The New York Rangers were a very busy team in the offseason, and 51 games into the season it is clear that one of the most impactful moves made — besides the signing of Artemiy Panarin — was the acquisition of Adam Fox. The qualifier here is that it has only been 51 games, and that’s something important to point out because things can change. You will get what I mean regarding that a little later into the story.
With the rest of the season ahead of him, now is as good a time as any to look at his play at a base level to see where he stacks up against other notable rookie defenders who have donned a Blueshirt.
Fox currently sits tied for 10th place with Tom Laidlaw for total points by a rookie defender with 29, and needs 10 more to enter the top five. The current players ahead of him include:
- Brian Leetch - 71
- Reijo Ruotsalainen - 56
- Ron Greschner - 45
- Mike McEwen - 43
- Brady Skjei - 39
- Michael Del Zotto -37
- James Patrick - 36
- Mario Marois - 31
- Sergei Zubov - 31
Fox is currently on pace to finish with a line of 10-36-46 in 82 games, and if he’s able to do so that would make him the third-highest scoring rookie defender in team history.
As we all know, hockey is more than just about goals, assists, and points; especially for defenders. Two players ahead of Fox in rookie scoring are Skjei and Del Zotto, and both played at a time in which we can evaluate them based on underlying metrics. Since Skjei is No. 5 on the list, we’ll start with him.
Brady Skjei — 2016-17 Season
Skjei had a cup of coffee with the Rangers back in 2015-16, but became an NHL mainstay in 2016-17. A lot was expected on him given his stellar play in college, and he greatly exceeded expectations. His rookie season saw him spend the majority of his time on ice with Kevin Klein (479 minutes) and Adam Clendening (215 minutes). He also saw some time with Nick Holden, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Steven Kampfer, and Ryan McDonagh.
Skjei logged 1198 minutes at 5v5, 17:44 a game in all situations, and posted a line that include a 55.47 GF%, a 50.56 CF%, and an xGF% of 49.65. When looking at his performance relative to teammates, his line includes a G±/60 of 0.5, a Corsi±/60 of 4.92, and an xG±/60 of 0.07 which was solid.
His standout play continued in the playoffs, and he became part of a reliable pair with Brendan Smith, one that was underutilized vs. the Ottawa Senators. In 12 games played, Skjei scored four goals and added an assist, and was tied with Mats Zuccarello and Michael Grabner in total playoff goals scored.
In totality, 2016-17 was a really great year for Skjei, and the Blueshirts were confident that they had a piece who could be counted on to be a key piece on the left side for the foreseeable future. Skjei has posted mixed results since his initial campaign, but it should be noted that he’s on pace to finish with 35 points this season, and he’s been one of the more consistent rear guards on the left side on a poor possession team going through a rebuild.
Michael Del Zotto — 2009-10 Season
Del Zotto made his NHL debut as a 19-year-old a decade ago, and he burst onto the scene in a big way. He was selected No. 20 overall in the 2008 draft, and was one of the rare players to initially bypass the AHL before breaking into the league.
He spent the majority of the year with defensive stalwart Dan Girardi (555 minutes) and also logged time with Michal Rozsival (491 minutes) who was a proficient offensive defender in his own right.
He logged 1112 minutes at 5v5, and his underlyings include a 46.31 GF%, a 50.4 CF%, and a 47.87 xGF%. Relative to his teammates his line includes a G±/60 of -0.45, a Corsi±/60 of 1.34, and an xG±/60 of -0.12. At this point of his career he was truly an offensive specialist, and wasn’t very good in his own end. He finished his first campaign with a line of 9-28-37 in 80 games while skating 18:58 a night. He was skillful on the power play, and picked up four goals and 18 assists which certainly helped boost his overall totals.
Adam Fox — 2019-20 Season
Fox was given an opportunity with the Rangers at the start of the season, and he’s done nothing but run with it thus far. He’s had his fair share of partners, but has spent 54.55% of his time with Ryan Lindgren (414 minutes), and 14.92% with Brady Skjei (113 minutes). Every other partner he’s played with has been under 100 minutes at 5v5. In all situations he’s averaging 18:06 a game, and the team has leaned on him more as the season has progressed.
Fox’s logged 760 minutes at 5v5, and his fancy stats include a 56.02 GF%, a 51.81 CF%, and an xGF% of 52.14. Relative to his Ranger teammates, Fox has posted results that include a G±/60 of 0.68, a Corsi±/60 of 13, and an xG±/60 of 0.58. These numbers are incredible, and he’s been a real positive both offensively and defensively for the Rangers.
*These stats do not include Monday’s game vs. Dallas Stars.
In any other year Fox would have a strong case for the Calder Trophy, and even though he’s deserving of being a finalist, it appears that Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks and Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche will steal his thunder. While both are truly incredible performers in their own right, Fox belongs in the conversation. Kevin took a closer look at the situation in the story linked below.
Barring an otherworldly offensive explosion over the remaining balance of the season, Fox will finish outside the top two in points among Rangers rookie defenders, but given what he’s done on the defensive side of the puck, a projected top three finish is nothing to shrug off. As we saw with Skjei’s rookie year, it will be important how Fox follows up, and we will get a glimpse of that by seeing how he closes out his rookie year.