On April 30th, 2019 the New York Rangers sent a 2019 second round pick and a conditional 2020 second round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes for defensive prospect Adam Fox. At the time of the trade there were some who thought the cost was high for a player who seemingly only wanted to play for the Rangers, but his addition to the team has been a godsend.
After being drafted 66th overall by the Calgary Flames in 2016, and being sent to Carolina in the Dougie Hamilton trade, Fox turned heads in college for the Harvard Crimson. As it came closer to the time in which his draft rights were set to expire, the Jericho, NY native made his intentions clear that he was not going to sign with Carolina. So after the trade Fox joined a defense corps that had a lot question marks attached to it during the 2019-20 season, and the expectations were for Fox to start on the 3rd pair and develop behind the newly-acquired Jacob Trouba and Tony DeAngelo.
Then, Adam Fox hit the ice and took over the world. As the 2019-20 season played out, Fox quickly proved that the Rangers had something in the smooth-skating right handed defenseman and he started getting more ice time from head coach David Quinn and associate coach Lindy Ruff. In his first season, unfortunately shortened by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fox put up 8 goals and 42 points in 70 games and was, arguably, robbed of being a top three Calder Trophy finalist as the NHL’s top rookie.
Fox’s rookie season was a revelation for the Rangers, and he quickly became the right-handed defenseman to build around in New York. Coming into the season, the expectation was that Fox was going to get a bigger role for the Blueshirts, and it was going to be interesting to see how the 22-year-old responded to the responsibility of being the Rangers’ full-time top-pair right defenseman.
Thus far Fox has met any and all heightened responsibilities the Rangers set out for him. By the second game of the season Fox was running the top power play unit for the Rangers, and he hasn’t played fewer than 21 minutes a night against other teams’ top forwards. On top of all of that, Fox’s results speak for themselves. Through 12 games, not including Friday vs. Boston, Fox has a 52.36 xGF% at 5 on 5 per Evolving-Hockey while also being third on the team in scoring with one goal and seven points. Fox has also seen an increased role on the penalty kill this season, a spot he didn’t see at all last season. It is not just the numbers that are impressive, Fox has been a sight to behold on the blue line in both the offensive and defensive zones.
Fox just hasn’t been the Rangers’ best defenseman this season, but he by far and away looks to be the cornerstone of the Blueshirts’ blueline for years to come. In fact, the last time the Rangers had a defenseman as good and as young as Adam Fox was, well... this guy.
Much like Adam Fox, Ryan McDonagh came to the Rangers through an offseason trade and via the NCAA. After a quick stop in the AHL, McDonagh made his NHL debut with the Rangers at 21 years old. McDonagh went on to anchor the Rangers’ blueline from midway through the 2010-11 season all the way to the 2018 trade deadline, consistently playing at a high level despite his defense partners over the years. The comparisons between Fox and McDonagh don’t end at how they arrived into the Rangers system or their age at the time of their debuts. To look at the two defenders, we will turn to their isolated impacts via HockeyViz.com.
First, let’s take a look at Adam Fox. Remember, the greater the concentration of red on the top of the chart the better, and the greater concentration of blue on the bottom the better it is. As of Wednesday’s game against the Bruins, Fox has massive positive impacts on the Rangers shots for in the offensive zone, while almost completely neutralizing the shots against when he is on the ice at 5 on 5. On top of that, Fox’s power play contributions have been a big addition for the Rangers.
Now, let’s take a look at Ryan McDonagh’s age 22 season, the 2011-12 campaign. Keep in mind that McDonagh played the full 82 game campaign that season for the Rangers, while Fox is just 12 games into his age 22 season.
McDonagh was a positive driver of offense for the Rangers when he was on the ice and did a solid job of limiting opponent shots against at even strength but you can see that McDonagh was actually a drag on the Rangers’ shot generation with the man advantage. Of course he didn’t have the talent around him that Adam Fox has now, but it is noticeable.
Now, I’m not saying that Adam Fox is a direct one-for-one comparable with Ryan McDonagh but the early returns point to Fox being something that the Rangers have not had on the blue line in a long, long time, and he looks to be the cornerstone of what could potentially be a very good defense for the next few years.
God, Adam Fox is just so, so good.