It was certainly an interesting year for New York Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba.
In 2021-22, Trouba fell one point shy of the 40-point milestone — despite scoring just four points on the power-play — and punished the opposition with his physical play in both the regular season and playoffs. Going by the eye test and the box car stats, he was a little closer to the player the Rangers made a significant trade to acquire. But, three years into his big deal, Rangers fans seem conflicted over his perceived value against his actual value. Oh, and opposing fans absolutely hate him.
So, at least we have that.
There’s no talking about Trouba without talking about his contract and $8.0 million AAV which currently takes up 9.7% of the team’s cap and his physical — and, at times, dangerous — play. So, let’s keep both of those things in mind as we move forward. Trouba is a polarizing player to many because he’s both tough and skilled and because he has a habit of delivering the kinds of hits that shorten careers and impact lives away from the hockey rink. That is something that needs to come out of his game. While some of these hits may be considered legal – and at times, effective at separating opponents from the puck – there’s a fine line between having an edge and playing a dangerous style that he teeters.
In 2021-22, no Rangers defenseman took more penalties, drew more penalties, committed more turnovers, blocked more shorts, or delivered more hits than Trouba. Plus he made puck retrievals to help get play out of his own zone; while he was able to exit with control at a higher rate than defenders in New York not named Adam Fox, there were some fumbles along the way too that made his puck moving risky at times. He was all over the place and noticeable in every game. Trouba also ranked second among Rangers’ defensemen in scoring and ice time. To say that he didn’t have an impact on the team’s success in 2021-22 just wouldn’t be fair. However, it’s important we separate the intangibles from those things we can measure and provide context for.
Trouba has become a good case study in how a player can be punishing to play against but also below replacement level in the sum of his contributions away from the puck. At the end of the day, he has valuable offensive upside — which is intriguing because he doesn’t always make great decisions with the puck. Don’t get me wrong, he can make plays in all three zones that are comfortably categorized as exceptional but he rolls the dice with some of his passes and with his aggressive attempts to separate players from the puck. And, to be clear, the bad hits are there but so too are the clean hits that result in a change of possession.
CHOO CHOO THE TRAIN'S ON THE MOVE pic.twitter.com/X3t3LVlVTn— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) May 12, 2022
Trouba finished in the green in his Rel xGF% (0.86) but was well behind the Rangers’ top three defenders in that category, including K’Andre Miller (2.65), his most-frequent blueline partner. In many ways, Miller’s development helped Trouba take more risks and make a bigger impact. It’s not a stretch to say that Miller played a significant role in Trouba looking like a better defenseman this year. As a pairing, their assignments were easier than the dragons that Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren were routinely asked to slay, but much tougher than what the third pairing was tasked with.
Ultimately, Trouba was effective in his role but he was not able to play up to his price tag and the expectations that come with it. It does not and should not surprise anyone that the best the Rangers (and Trouba) can hope for is for him to be the second-best right-handed defenseman on the team. And that is what he was this year. Again.
Should the Rangers explore a way to move Trouba? Absolutely, but there’s a slim chance of that – especially right after being named captain. Should they also be a little encouraged by the numbers he put up and his overall play in 2021-22? I think so.