It’s been a wild few weeks for Zac Jones.
A month ago, the Rangers’ defensive project was set to return to Massachusetts for his junior season, seeking further development in order to have a seamless transition to the NHL. But on April 8th, Jones was celebrating after notching the first goal in the Frozen Four semifinal. On April 10th, he was lifting the National Championship trophy after a dominant 5-0 over St. Cloud State. And on April 13th, he was inking his entry-level contract with the Blueshirts.
Since then, it’s been the waiting game for both Jones and Rangers fans. Fans are eager to see Jones make his debut, especially after such a strong season at UMass (9 goals and 24 points in 28 games with the Minutemen). Nevertheless, David Quinn has been patient with him. He and the rest of the coaching staff were in no rush to get Jones in, instead of letting him get a substantial amount of practice time before slotting him into the lineup.
Until last night, Jones was a question mark. He shouldn’t be anymore.
After a humiliating 6-1 loss against the rival New York Islanders, Zac Jones should be getting his opportunity.
Probably the biggest worry of the loss was Jacob Trouba exiting the game in the first period after a questionable hit by the Islanders’ Matt Martin (luckily, Trouba has been deemed just day to day with an upper-body injury). Trouba seemed dizzy and unstable after the hit – quite a scare for both the fans and the team. After that, the Rangers didn’t look the same. A culmination of poor defensive play and uninspiring attempts in the offensive zone resulted in the Islanders, who had scored just 6 goals in the previous 5 games leading up to Tuesday night, lighting up Igor Shesterkin for as many goals in those 5 games.
Anthony Bitetto, playing in his second game after being scratched for 27, was the most noticeable on the ice – for all the wrong reasons. Two poor shifts in the third period resulted in 2 Islander goals, as Bitetto ended the night as a -3. After such a rough game, there’s no reason why he should start Thursday against the Flyers.
With Bitetto’s struggles and Trouba out for an undetermined amount of time, the Rangers should give Zac Jones the opportunity to suit up.
In addition to the above reasons, the Rangers’ loss Tuesday hurt their playoffs chances immensely – according to MoneyPuck.com, the Rangers’ odds of making the playoffs sit at just 6.8%. With the Bruins playing as well as they are, it would take a miracle for the Rangers to squeak into that fourth playoff spot.
This adds another element of value to Jones slotting into the lineup – now, nearly out of the playoff picture, is a time for developing. The Rangers have a fairly tough schedule coming up, with series against the Flyers, Islanders, Capitals, and Bruins, allowing for Jones to get valuable experience against real competitive teams. His role would be crucial – to fill the current hole in the Rangers blueline, with Trouba out.
He’s gotten substantial praise from his team thus far: David Quinn noted Jones as having a “quick brain, quick stick, a great skill set” and that he “really understand[s] the game.”
Earlier today, Jones was deemed an option for tomorrow’s game at Madison Square Garden against the Flyers, but it has not been confirmed.
Per #NYR Coach Quinn:
-D Jacob Trouba is day-to-day
-D Zac Jones is a candidate to play tomorrow
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) April 21, 2021
How ready to make his NHL debut does Jones himself think he is?
“100 percent,” Jones said after practice on Wednesday. “I’ll be out there trying to help the team any way I can and anyway they need me to. So if I get that chance, I’m going to make the most of it.”
Now, it should only be a matter of time.
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