Arthur Staple tweets that it “doesn’t appear” as if the Rangers will be inviting a veteran defenseman to training camp on a PTO.
Libor Hajek, Zac Jones, Jarred Tinordi and Matthew Robertson are the players currently under contract that will likely compete for the spot next to Braden Schneider on the third pair.
Adam Rotter: While I think it is unlikely, I don’t think Tinordi starting the season in that spot should be ruled out. He was sent to Hartford for a reason last season, he wasn’t very good, but he’s a veteran and someone that Gerard Gallant may want next to Braden Schneider. Still, Hartford seems like Tinordi’s destination.
I also don’t think you can rule out Robertson, but he also seems destined to start in Hartford. It would be nice to see Robertson get a few games, even as an injury call up, in the NHL at some point this season.
That leaves you with Libor Hajek and Zac Jones. The Rangers kept Hajek around all season, barely played him, wouldn’t risk losing him on waivers for nothing and then wouldn’t trade him in the offseason. Despite all that, my guess is that he has the upper hand coming into training camp because the Rangers can send Jones to Hartford without waivers. They don’t need him to be a superstar, they just need him to be responsible defensively, smart with the puck and not a liability on the ice. Maybe he does regain some of the potential and upside he had when he was a big piece of the Ryan McDonagh/JT Miller trade, but the Rangers just need him to be a steady player next to Schneider. You’d think that it has to be Hajek’s last chance to become a regular player with the Rangers and that another year of not playing much would see him sign in Europe until he can be a free agent and return to the NHL team of his choice.
With Jones, he seems like an almost perfect match for Schneider’s more defensive-minded game. The question with Jones is whether he will get enough opportunity to showcase his offensive ability and whether he can defend well enough. A pairing with Schneider could allow him some more range offensively, but he’s still going to need to hold his own in his own end. In his brief time with the Rangers we’ve seen his offensive skill and defensive struggles, but he now has one full year of pro hockey under his belt. Again, the Rangers don’t need him to be Adam Fox, because they have Adam Fox already, but offensive ability on each defense pair, especially if he ends up on the ice a lot with Filip Chytil and possibly Alexis Lafreniere, could lead to a nice boost of secondary scoring. You can overlook some defensive issues if you can produce offense, but Jones can’t just be a one-way player.
It should be a good competition from, at least, two players looking to fully establish themselves as NHLers. At some point the Rangers will add another defenseman, maybe to take that spot on the third pair, maybe just to bolster depth for the playoffs, but it could be Hajek and Jones battling for that spot and consistent playing time for most of the year.