Rangers: Who will pair with Braden Schneider on the 3rd defensive line?

New York Rangers defenseman Braden Schneider (4) plays the puck against the San Jose Sharks during the second period at Madison Square Garden.

The New York Rangers‘ defensive corps has been solid throughout the last few seasons, but there is still one piece that remains undecided. Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren will be at the forefront of the defense for the foreseeable future, K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba will be a solid second pairing, but Braden Schneider seems to be the lone man on the third and final defensive pairing.

Should the Rangers look within the organization?

Zac Jones is a young prospect who has shown a lot of NHL potential. If there’s any defenseman within the Rangers’ prospect group to have a chance at a full-time role in the big leagues, Jones would be the man. He isn’t a huge offensive contributor, only producing eight points in 38 NHL games, but he has shown flashes of star talent that make many fans believe he deserves a full-time roster spot.

The problem with Jones, however, is that he doesn’t seem to pair well with Schneider. The top two defensive pairs are rock solid and won’t be changed barring anything unforeseen. But it’s Schneider alone in the third line looking for a partner. Jones has had the opportunity to play a decent amount of games with Schneider, and that line hasn’t been anything more than disappointing.

When Jones and Schneider play together, they struggle drastically to produce points. To make matters worse, the opposing team frequently scores well against this pairing. Jones has a career -11 +/- rating throughout his 38 games. Jones has a lot of potential, but with Schneider being the only open confirmed partner, right now may not be the right time for the young defenseman.

Could a new veteran fill the role?

Erik Gustafsson was one of the many veteran signings the Rangers made throughout this offseason. He isn’t a star by any means, but with an already stacked defensive corps, he could create competition for that third-line left defense spot.

Gustafsson tallied a surprising 42 points in 70 games last season split between Washington and Toronto. It’s an impressive total for a 31-year-old defenseman, but it’s hard to tell how he will play on a stacked Rangers defense. He could be the player that elevates Schneider to an elite level, or his age could ultimately lead him toward failure.

Who should land the spot?

Rangers GM Chris Drury would be wise to give Jones the start on the third defensive pairing alongside Braden Schneider. He’s a skilled young prospect who has a lot of potential to succeed in the NHL. Starting Jones is not too risky either as the team has a solid backup plan in Gustafsson.

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