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SportsColumnistsColin Stephenson

Rangers say Jericho native Adam Fox needs to be in rookie of the year discussion

Adam Fox of the Rangers plays the puck

Adam Fox of the Rangers plays the puck during the third period against the San Jose Sharks at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. Credit: Jim McIsaac

All season long, it has been a foregone conclusion that Colorado defenseman Cale Makar would win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year. For the most part, the only other name that comes up in the discussion, really, is Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes.

But after another outstanding performance by rookie defenseman Adam Fox, who set up the tying goal against the Canadiens on Thursday night with a brilliant individual effort, then scored what proved to be the game-winner in a 5-2 victory, the Rangers began to campaign loudly that the Jericho native needs to be included in that conversation.

“He just continues to play at an elite level,’’ coach David Quinn said after that game. “People talk about all these Rookie of the Year candidates and I don’t hear [Fox’s] name enough. Because, I don’t care what the stats are, you’d be hard-pressed to find a rookie as good as this guy is in the National Hockey League. You talk to players throughout the league, they notice this guy. And not just because of what he does offensively. You just watch the little things he does defensively. Boy, he’s had one hell of a year.’’

On Thursday, Rangers defenseman Tony DeAngelo, who is one of the more active Rangers on Twitter, re-tweeted an NHL.com tweet that promoted the race between Makar and Hughes for the Calder, and commented simply, “Adam Fox???’’

Makar, 21, was the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft. He made his NHL debut in the playoffs last spring and burst onto the scene with a goal and five assists in 10 playoff games. A hot start to this season made him the early frontrunner and, entering Saturday, he was the second-leading scorer among rookies with 12 goals and 46 points in 55 games.

Hughes, 20, was the seventh overall pick in the 2018 draft and played five games (three assists) with Vancouver at the end of last season. The older brother of Jack Hughes — whom the Devils chose first overall in the 2019 draft — he led all rookies in scoring with eight goals and 51 points in 62 games entering Saturday.

Fox, 22, was a second-round draft pick by the Calgary Flames in 2016 who was twice traded — first to Carolina and then to the Rangers last April.

The 5-11, 181-pounder was sixth in rookie scoring — third among defensemen, behind Hughes and Makar — with seven goals and 35 points. Four of his goals were game-winners, which was tied for the most among rookies with Makar, Dallas’ Denis Gurianov and Buffalo’s Viktor Olofsson entering Saturday.

Fox led all rookies in plus/minus with plus-21 and takeaways with 55. According to the Rangers, the 55 takeaways are the second-most by a rookie defenseman since the NHL started tracking the statistic in 2005-06.

“I’m not up there in hits, I’m sure,’’ Fox said when asked about his propensity for taking the puck away from the opposition, “but I think being someone of my size . . . I use my brain a little more than maybe physically taking guys off of pucks.’’

Unlike Makar and Hughes, Fox hadn’t played in the NHL before this season (though he did play with NHLers on the USA team at the World Championships last spring). He’s one of four Rangers to have played in all 64 games this season, and he’s been way better defensively than anyone expected. He and fellow 22-year-old rookie Ryan Lindgren have been the Rangers’ best defense pairing. That’s been the biggest surprise about him.

“I think it’s always been, since I was a little kid, overlooked,’’ Fox said of his defensive ability. “People look at, I guess, ‘offensive defensemen’ and think those guys aren’t able to play defense — especially smaller guys. So I think it’s something that constantly gets overlooked for the guys like myself, guys like Tony [DeAngelo]. People think just because you’re considered offensive defensemen, you can’t play defense. It is what it is, and I think we’re pretty confident in our ability to defend.’’

Barring an injury to Makar or Hughes, or something completely unforeseen, Fox won’t win the Calder Trophy this season. He likely won’t finish in the top three and, given that Makar and Hughes are both defensemen, he probably won’t even make the All-Rookie team.

But as far as the Rangers are concerned, he deserves more national attention for the freshman season he’s having.

“I saw Tony’s tweet the other day about throwing him in the Calder conversation,’’ forward Ryan Strome said. “We see it every day. It’s not only what he does with the puck — his poise is unbelievable in how savvy he is with the puck — but he seems to be able to play defense without hitting anyone. He takes the puck away from guys and he just starts skating up the ice. He’s a real gem.’’

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