After an unexpected emergence as the most complete player on New York’s blue line as a rookie, Adam Fox entered his second professional season with sky high expectations. After Tony DeAngelo’s early season removal from the team, Fox staked his claim to being David Quinn’s most trusted defender. Whether it was at even strength throughout games, on either the power play or penalty kill, as well as trailing or leading late, Fox was a player that had earned the right to be trusted in those situations based off his spectacular rookie performance.
Sophomore slumps are things fans of high flying rookies around the league always dread, and Fox was going to need to avoid one of those for the Rangers to remain competitive throughout the season. After finishing 4th in Calder Trophy voting last season, Fox entered the 2020-21 campaign looking to step up his game and play his way into the conversation for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman.
Boxcar Stats: 55 GP, 5 G, 42 A, 102 SOG, 24:42 TOI/GP, 14 PIM, -2 Penalty Differential
5-on-5 Analytical Metrics: 1.13 Points/60, 4.37 Relative CF%, 4.51 Relative SF%, 9.52 Relative GF%, 9.62 Relative xGF%, 6.53 Relative SCF%, 102.3 On-Ice PDO, 9.6 GAR
If there was one question about Fox in the early portion of the season, it was concerning the increased ice time he was going to receive once DeAngelo got
himself his ticket punched out off of Broadway. Quality of competition is always a contentious subject when discussing players with strong on-ice results in lesser roles in moving up to more impactful minutes. Fox proved himself more than capable of handling those minutes, as the nearly 25 minutes per night he averaged was more than three minutes more than Jacob Trouba, the Ranger who averaged the second most minutes per game.
While logging those heavy minutes and skating primarily against opposing team’s top lines, Fox led all Blueshirts’ defenseman in all of the on-ice metrics listed above. No Blueshirt defenseman was better than Fox at driving shot attempts, scoring chances, and goals in the team’s favor, and only one or two forwards was better at a particular metric, with none being as universally good as Fox was. Foe was named the winner of the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award for his strong performance in what was a trying season in New York.
On top of his dominance at even strength, Fox as also one of the top power play quarterbacks in the league this past season. Once again, Tony DeAngelo’s loss was Fox’s gain. No Ranger scored more points with the man advantage than Fox’s 23 power play points, nor did any Blueshirt tally points at a higher rate than Fox’s 6.88 points/60 on the power play. Fox was 7th among defenseman in that metric among defenseman league wide, and 34th in 5-on-5 scoring, so his point totals are a smidge inflated due to strong performance on the man advantage.
It’s already been established that Fox was the best Ranger this season, so nailing down where his season lines up among the rest of the NHL’s elite defenseman is the more pressing manner. Fox stacks up with the competition here as well, as he ranks towards the top of all relative goal, shot, and chance metrics among the 200 defenseman to skate 350+ minutes this past season.
11th in shots attempts, 16th in shots on goal, 25th in goals, 5th in expected goals, 10th in scoring chances, and 15th in Goals Above Replacement. Fox ranked higher than Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman in each of those metrics, as well as higher than fellow Norris finalist Cale Makar in all but GAR. While voting for the Norris Trophy was generally seen as something of a lifetime achievement award in seasons past, it’s fair to say the voters got it right this year in recognizing Fox as the league’s top defender.
Fox endured some late season struggles when Ryan Lindgren went down with an injury and was replaced by Libor Hajek. His numbers took a nosedive after losing Lindgren, but there’s a solid argument to make that Hajek was the worst defenseman in the NHL this season. Lindgren plays a similar game to former Ranger defenseman Kevin Klein, who was a wholly average defenseman that was generally seen as a litmus test for how good a defenseman was when paired with him.
It really can’t be understated how lucky the Rangers are to be where they’re currently at it. The franchise won back to back draft lotteries. jumping a total of ten spots in two seasons to select Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere. Artemiy Panarin coming to New York was all but a foregone conclusion heading into free agency in 2019. Prior to being traded to the Blueshirts, every team in the league knew Fox was going to play out his senior campaign at Harvard in 2019-20, enter free agency, and sign with the Rangers, so the team gave up a pair of draft picks to land him a year early.
Adam Fox is one of the best defenseman in the NHL, and the Rangers landed him because he wanted to play here. His ascension allowed the team to lose DeAngelo’s offensive prowess without missing a beat. Fox could miss all of next season, and his previous two years worth of play will be enough to land him a massive contract extension and secure him atop the right side of New York’s blue line for the long term.
Even with the plethora of young defenders the Rangers have coming through the ranks, none of them are a guarantee to be good. Adam Fox has already cemented himself as a star in this league. As if becoming the first player in league history to win the Norris Trophy on a non-playoff team isn’t enough proof, the stats bear out his status as one of the best defenseman in the NHL, and the Blueshirts are lucky to have him.