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Finding the Rangers’ Sixth Defenceman

The New York Rangers made a number of additions during the offseason. During the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs, many considered the team too young and inexperienced. Since then, Rangers’ general manager, Chris Drury, signed several veterans to fill holes in the lineup. Four of the 10 signings the Rangers made this past July were defencemen.

Last season, the Rangers rolled into the playoffs with Ryan Lindgren, Adam Fox, K’Andre Miller, Jacob Trouba, Niko Mikkola, and Braden Schneider as their starting defensive core. Nearly all players remain under contract besides Mikkola who signed a three-year, $7.5 million deal with the Florida Panthers. The seventh defencemen the Rangers ran with last season was Libor Hájek. He is currently signed to a professional tryout offer with the Pittsburgh Penguins. With the left side of the third defensive pairing open, new head coach Peter Laviolette will have to decide which new signing or farm player will fill it.

The Rangers Defencemen Options

Newly Signed Candidates

Erik Gustafsson signed a one-year, $825,000 contract with the Rangers on July 1. He’s more recognized for his superb offensive play than his defensive ability. Gustafsson is coming off a 42-point season with the Washington Capitals and the Toronto Maple Leafs. While under Laviolette in Washington last year, the left-handed defencemen embodied an offensive defencemen role quarterbacking the second powerplay unit and, at some points in the season, sharing the top defencemen pairing with John Carlson. Gustafsson even scored his first career hat trick last December in a game against the Maple Leafs as a Capital. Gustafsson’s puck-moving ability makes it an interesting fit for the third pairing, but Schneider would have his hands full in carrying the defensive workload in the Rangers’ zone.

Connor Mackey signed a similar deal as Gustafsson in July earning $775,000 for one year on a two-way contract. He is a 6’2, 190-pound two-way defencemen who is not afraid to drop the gloves at any point in time. Mackey shared time last season with the Calgary Flames and the Arizona Coyotes having seven points and 48 penalty minutes. Despite playing in 80 AHL games in his first two years in the pros, Mackey spent his entire last season in the NHL. He was a regular healthy scratch for the Flames and Coyotes and if he makes the Rangers’ roster on opening night, expect him to be the seventh defensemen sitting in the press box.

Newly Signed Longshots

Nikolas Brouillard also signed a one-year, $775,000 contract. The 28-year-old is yet to make his NHL debut after bouncing around in college, the AHL, and the ECHL. Brouillard showed offensive promise in his last three seasons with the Anaheim Ducks’ affiliate, the San Diego Gulls, putting up 39 points in two consecutive years. Brouillard is a long shot to make the roster on opening night but he may soon be considered if he continues his growth in the AHL for the Rangers’ affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack.

The team also signed 24-year-old Mac Hollowell to a one-year, $775,000 deal. Hollowell is a 5’9, 187-pound right-handed defencemen who had two assists in six games for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. He’s expected to be playing in Hartford at the start of the year.

Developing Prospects

Zac Jones had a fine year playing for the Wolf Pack after playing 16 games in New York last season. Jones, a 2019 third-round pick by the Rangers, had 31 points in 54 games for the Wolf Pack. Jones was recalled and sent down a few times in his young NHL career. Laviolette may prefer a bigger defencemen to fill the hole than the 5’10, 179-pound Jones.

Matthew Robertson is a young Rangers prospect who has yet to make his NHL debut since being drafted in the second round in 2019. His nifty hands, puck-moving proficiency, and skating ability make his case to join Schneider as he shares similar skills. Also, his 6’4, 201-pound build on top of being left-handed gives him a chance to at least have a tryout for a few games this season. He is on the annual rookie camp roster that will practice and play two games for a week in September.


Ben Harpur filled in the left side of the third pairing last season before the Rangers acquired Mikkola from the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline. Former head coach, Gerard Gallant, preferred his size on the left side opposite Schneider. Laviolette may consider the same approach, however, given the new signings and prospects developing, there are better options.


Head coach Laviolette has a choice to make with the Rangers defencemen. Laviolette is not going to be risky on opening night. Gustafsson will roll with Schneider and Mackey will be a healthy scratch. However, don’t count out Robertson as he is a dark horse candidate to take that spot at one point in the season.

Main Photo: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports




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