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Jacob Trouba needs to be better in second season with Rangers

Jacob Trouba at Rangers training camp on July

Jacob Trouba at Rangers training camp on July 14, 2020. Credit: NY Rangers/Nick Homler

The guy on the other side of the Tony DeAngelo experiment, new defense partner Jacob Trouba, is going to be a player to watch for the Rangers this season as well.

Everyone is curious to see how well DeAngelo, a righthanded shooter, handles himself playing on his off wing, to the left of Trouba. But it is at least as significant to the team’s long-term fortunes that Trouba be better for the Rangers in his second season than he was in his first.

The 6-3, 209-pounder unexpectedly struggled for much of 2019-20 after coming over from the Winnipeg Jets in a trade and signing a seven-year, $56 million contract to be the Blueshirts’ No. 1 defenseman. He scored a goal on opening night at Madison Square Garden against his old team, but his numbers at the end of the season — seven goals, 20 assists and a minus-12 plus/minus rating in 70 games — were a little underwhelming, maybe even disappointing.

He chalked up his struggles to simply taking a long time to get comfortable with his new surroundings, the city, the team, the defensive system. By the time the Rangers returned from the COVID-19 pause, Trouba — who got married during the pause — said he had gotten more comfortable with all of it. And he looked it on the ice.

According to coach David Quinn, Trouba was his strongest during the Rangers’ three-game loss in the preliminary series against Carolina in the Toronto restart bubble.

"He played his best hockey in the bubble,’’ Quinn said after Wednesday’s practice. "And, as he’s talked about, the familiarity is really going to allow him to hit the ground running this year. You know, there was a lot of newness for him last year in the organization. I’m sure he put some pressure on himself due to the contract.’’

Trouba, 26, hopes being more comfortable will translate to a better season for him.

"I think it comes in different pieces,’’ he said. "There’s a piece of comfort with style of game — not even [the style] that Tony plays, but as a team. That took me a while to learn last year, to be honest with you. It’s very different than what I’ve done in the past, and now I’m more comfortable with it.’’

Finding the right partner seemed to be an issue last season, too. It never seemed to work well enough between Trouba and his friend Brady Skjei, who himself wasn’t great. At the end, Trouba seemed to play his best hockey with Brendan Smith after Skjei was traded to Carolina.

Playing with DeAngelo will be something new again, especially with DeAngelo being a righthanded shot, like Trouba himself. That defenseman-to-defenseman cross-ice pass often will be received by DeAngelo on his backhand, for instance. But DeAngelo has assured Trouba it won’t be a problem.

"Me and Troubs kind of have just been talking about anything else you would talk [about] with a partner,’’ DeAngelo said. "I told him I’m comfortable on the left side. [He can] pass to me on my backhand, pass to me on my forehand, make all the plays that he’d make to a left-hand shot.’’

There’s another thing the Rangers are going to want to see from Trouba now that he’s more comfortable: Leadership. With the departure of Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal and Jesper Fast, Trouba will be asked to be a bigger presence in the locker room than he was last season. He said he’s ready to do that.

"Those are some big names and big, big personalities that left our locker room,’’ Trouba said. "So obviously, guys are gonna step up. I see myself being one of those guys that will step up.’’

New York Sports