All eyes were on defenseman Jacob Trouba in 2020-21 after scoring seven goals and picking up 20 assists in an altogether underwhelming first season in New York. Fans and the front office wanted to see him live up to his seven-year, $56 million contract that comes with an $8 million cap hit.
We all know what Trouba was supposed to be when the Rangers traded for him and signed him to his big contract. He was supposed to be the centerpiece and leader of a new blue line in New York — a top-pair, right-handed franchise stud. After all, he was coming off of a 50-point season in Winnipeg when the Rangers acquired him. Of course, that is not what he looked like last year.
The bottom line: the Rangers expected more out of Trouba this year. A lot more. Last year, he was overshadowed by both Tony DeAngelo and Adam Fox. If that happened again this year, his contract would be upgraded from highly concerning to an absolute disaster. I don’t think anyone expected him to wrestle back a spot on the top power play unit but Trouba needed to be better at evens and prove his worth on the penalty kill.
To get a better idea of what the Rangers thought they were getting into with Trouba heading into the 2019-20 season, I recommend reading Tom Urtz Jr’s initial thoughts on the big contract he signed after the Rangers acquired him from the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for Neal Pionk and the 20th overall pick (Ville Heinola) of the 2019 Draft.
Before we dive in, we need to address the time that Trouba missed with a broken thumb. He played 38 of the Rangers’ 56 games this year. That means he was out 18 games or nearly a third of the regular season. That’s a big chunk.
“It’s just next man up,” former Rangers head coach David Quinn told NHL.com’s Dan Rosen in February. “Unfortunately, we’re going to miss everything he brings from a physicality standpoint, from a compete standpoint, from what he brings to us from a leadership standpoint. He’ll be missed, but the good news is it’s not as serious as we originally thought and he’s going to be back sooner than later.”
Clearly, he brings a lot of intangibles to the table. Trouba is physical, he’s tough, he’s a leader, and a big presence on the team. The Rangers are definitely a better hockey club with him than without him.
The Rangers have 3 Defensemen ranked in the top 40 (>100 TOI, 232 players) for net expected goal per 60 impact in RAPM. Only COL has more at four and TOR also has three. NYR is also the only team with two in the top ten.— Rob Luker (@RLuker12) March 27, 2021
Ryan Lindgren: 4th
Adam Fox: 7th
Jacob Trouba: 35th pic.twitter.com/2Md62JJRAr
Trouba definitely improved on last year’s performance. He finished the season third in Rel xGF% (0.70) and third in Rel SCF% (0.13) among the defenders who were staples in the lineup. He was by no means stellar, but those are solid numbers even if he was overshadowed by the performance of Adam Fox and, to a lesser extent, Ryan Lindgren.
Skating on the second pair, Trouba’s most frequent partner this year was rookie K’Andre Miller. They were on the ice together for 534:19 of 5-on-5 hockey. Having that stability was likely a boon to both D-men. It certainly seemed to help Trouba get more comfortable in his role. He was second among Rangers’ defenders in average PP TOI/GP (1:33) but saw substantially less ice time on the advantage than Fox (3:38 TOI/GP).
All things considered, Trouba was more impactful on the PK, where he ranked third among Rangers’ defenders in average ice time (2:16). Brendan Smith was the only Rangers’ defenseman who saw substantial time on the PK with a lower xGA/60 (4.79) than Trouba (6.06). Fox and Lindgren were burdened with more ice time and responsibility, but Trouba was definitely a positive influence on the kill.
I think it's super easy to criticize Trouba's play, but he's had a major influence on the penalty kill this season as shown by this @HockeyViz heat map and they're going to miss him this next month. pic.twitter.com/0HGOsKHDHU— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) February 17, 2021
As for the boxcar stats — Trouba scored two goals and had 10 assists. You’d love to see more production out of a defenseman with Trouba’s price tag but it’s important to note that 11 of his 12 points were scored at evens and that he was second among Rangers’ blueliners in primary assists (5). For those who are curious, Adam Fox had 19 in all situations.
Trouba also finished second on the team in hits (111) and blocked shots (84) even with all the time that he missed. He was a physical, punishing presence in the defensive zone and stood up for his teammates. Intangibles? Check.
Grade | Mike: B, Banter Staff: B
If I was grading Trouba against his contract or his $8 million contract his mark for this semester would be in the basement. But I’m not. I’m grading him based on his role with the team this year.
All things considered, Trouba was a steady, positive presence on a blue line that lost Tony DeAngelo early in the season. It’s a shame he got hurt because the time that he missed took away from what could have a bounceback year worth celebrating.
Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick. Contract information courtesy of CapFriendly.com.