Is signing Adam Fox the right move?

Hobey Baker finalist Adam Fox plans not to sign with Carolina and become a free agent this summer. Will the Rangers go for it? AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy USA Today

There’s been a lot of talk lately about Adam Fox. A 21-year old defenseman who won’t be signing with Carolina after being a throw in as part of a good trade between the Hurricanes and Flames. Basically, it was two for two with Micheal Ferland and Dougie Hamilton going to Carolina while Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin went to Calgary.

Originally a Flames third round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft taken 66th overall, the right defenseman represented Team USA at the 2017 and 2018 IIHF Under 20 World Junior Championship. A good skater with offensive potential, he posted nine points (1-8-9) in 14 total games for America.

Not the biggest in stature, Fox is 5-11, 185. However, his speed and skill are big reasons why there will be interest this summer. He’s played at Harvard University for three years. In his Junior year, Fox had 48 points (9-39-48) with 14 penalty minutes and a plus-23 rating in 33 games for the Crimson.

One of 10 players nominated for the Hobey Baker handed out to college hockey’s best player, the Jericho, New York native is one of six defensemen to be included. Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar are two of the top D that were recognized. Both were lottery picks the past two drafts with Hughes going number seven overall to Vancouver and Makar fourth overall to Colorado.

I want to make one thing perfectly clear. Fox isn’t those guys. He won’t be a top pair defenseman who can make a major impact. However, he could be a top four who should be effective on the power play. He’s a playmaker first as evidenced by the 39 assists he tallied this season.

As someone who remembers him from those two tournaments, he was a good offensive player for USA. Whenever it comes to these guys who don’t sign, I’m skeptical. Fox is about to go through his second organization to become unrestricted this summer.

It’s one of those loopholes I never liked dating back to the days of Mike Van Ryn, who spurned the Devils to sign with the Blues. He never became the player most envisioned, faring better in Florida. Ironically, he now serves as an assistant coach for St. Louis, who turned its year around.

When Fox was included in the Calgary deal with Carolina, most observers knew he would not sign with Carolina. That’s his choice. It’s one many players have used including former Hobey winner Jimmy Vesey. Vesey also starred for Harvard and decided against signing with Nashville. He chose the Rangers over the Sabres. It hasn’t worked out the way anyone thought. A third liner who tops out at 17 goals despite his size of 6-3, 199 is disappointing. Especially when coach David Quinn gave him more of an opportunity. I’m still uncertain how he won the Hobey over Kyle Connor.

Given their track record, the Rangers aren’t the best team to sign with. Use former Hobey winners Mike Mottau and Matt Gilroy for further reference. This isn’t to say Fox won’t have a good NHL career. I’m only pointing out the facts, and they’re not good. The Rangers stink when it comes to getting the most out of former top college players. Unless you want to go all the way back to Brian Leetch and Tony Granato, count me as someone with cautionary concern.

For a closer look on former Hobey winners, please use the link to see the full history of the prestigious award. It also lists the other finalists. It’s interesting to note that there have been more busts who won while quite a number of runners up became household names. For every Paul Kariya or Johnny Gaudreau, there’s a Tony Hrkac or Kip Miller. Who the heck is Bill Watson? Like the NHL Draft, it’s hit or miss.

If you want Fox, don’t forget Tony DeAngelo does everything that Fox can. It took the former Lightning 2014 first round pick a few years and coincidentally his third organization to fulfill potential. He doesn’t turn 24 until next season on Oct. 24. With a secondary assist on Monday night at New Jersey, he reached 30 points for the first time in his career. He’s also under six feet tall like Fox, but brings an edge most Rangers haven’t had in recent years. He beat Devils rookie Nathan Bastian in a scrap. DeAngelo is a key player moving forward.

Here’s the truth. If the Blueshirts sign Adam Fox, it would give them another young defenseman to look at in training camp. Given the state of the blueline, I’m fine with that. Especially when one watches Kevin Shattenkirk lose battles in his end while paired with Brady Skjei. The veteran is an offensive defenseman who must perform more consistently in ’19-20 assuming he’s kept. There’s no reason to believe he won’t be.

If one figures Skjei, Shattenkirk, DeAngelo and Marc Staal are the Rangers’ top four to start next season, that leaves three spots open for competition. I don’t expect Fredrik Claesson to return. Brendan Smith should be after giving a good showing as a part time forward who can still play on the third pair when called upon. His contract makes him immovable. He’s a good character guy. Just not a full timer.

Maybe Libor Hajek wins the job on the third pair. He looked capable in his brief cameo before a separated shoulder ended his season. The 21-year old Czech scored his first NHL goal in five games after being recalled from Hartford. The 6-2, 204 pound left defenseman has the right combo of size, skating and skill to become a good player. He came over with Brett Howden and Vladislav Namestnikov in the blockbuster trade with Tampa involving Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller. A deal that also netted top D prospect K’Andre Miller.

If the Lightning win the Cup this year, the Rangers also receive another first round pick. With the two they already have, that would be the same three they had last year. Maybe even four if Mats Zuccarello can pull off some magic with the playoff bound Stars.

Neal Pionk is a Group II free agent this summer. Even though he’s struggled in the second half since an injury, the organization likes him. In his first full season, the 23-year old right defenseman has achieved career bests in goals (6), assists (19) and points (25). He still turns over the puck too much and isn’t strong enough in front of his net. Areas he must clean up to stick. I’m not sure he’s more than a seventh defenseman. Time will tell.

Ryan Lindgren is the other forgotten young defenseman. Acquired from Boston as part of the Rick Nash deal, the 21-year old has the look of a defensive D who can clear out the front of the net. More physical than Hajek, he’s a former Bruins second round pick selected number 49 overall in 2016. He got into three games with the Blueshirts. He also played for Team USA at the U-20 WJC in ’17 and ’18.

Other young D to keep a close eye on are Nils Lundkvist, Yegor Rykov, Nico Gross, Joey Keane and Brandon Crawley.

Once the season concludes on Saturday, the Rangers can tend to the next order of business. That includes next Tuesday’s NHL Draft Lottery. Even if they’re in the middle of the pack, you never know how the ball will bounce. As far as this June in Vancouver, it’s a deep draft that isn’t only about 1A Jack Hughes and 1B Kaapo Kakko. There are other quality prospects to choose from including Vasili Podkolzin, Dylan Cozens, Trevor Zegras, Bowen Byram, Peyton Krebs, Alex Turcotte, Kirby Dach.

Between now, April 9, June 20-21 and July, we’ll learn a lot about the direction of the Rangers. Don’t jump the gun just yet. Be patient.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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