Jacob Trouba rock-solid on Rangers' back line and in locker room
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Sunday was not the first time Jacob Trouba returned to Winnipeg since the Jets traded him to the Rangers in the summer of 2019. But the place still holds a lot of memories for the 28-year-old defenseman.
"Obviously, the first time is a little bit more unique than the rest,’’ Trouba said at Sunday’s morning skate before the Rangers played their first game in Winnipeg since February 2020. "But yeah, it’s just kind of nice to be back. It’s fun to be back here, but I guess not the same emotion as last time.’’
Trouba played the first six years of his career for the Jets before they dealt him to the Rangers for Neal Pionk and the return of their own 2019 first-round pick, which they originally sent to the Rangers as part of the Kevin Hayes deal a few months earlier.
The 6-3, 208-pound defenseman had enjoyed a career year in his final season in Winnipeg, scoring a career-best 50 points in 2018-19, and some fans didn’t appreciate it when Trouba forced the Jets to trade him to a U.S.-based team. He heard some boos in his first game back.
The trade seemed to work out for both teams, though.
Pionk quickly became a fan favorite in Winnipeg, putting up 101 points in 175 games with the Jets entering Sunday.
Trouba has scored 67 points in 164 games for the Rangers but has become an all-around rock on their defense. He picked up assists on goals by Barclay Goodrow and Mika Zibanejad as the Blueshirts beat the Jets, 4-1, on Sunday. He has eight goals, the most for any Rangers defenseman, and his 125 blocked shots led the team entering the game. His 150 hits were second to forward Ryan Reaves and he was the team leader in fights with six.
"He’s huge,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said. "I mean, a veteran guy that plays the game the right way every night . . . team leader. You come to expect what he’s going to do. That’s what Jacob Trouba brings to your team. He plays physical, he plays hard. He kills penalties, [plays on the] power play, so he’s just a solid, solid player that shows up and consistently does the right things every night.’’
Trouba, who took a little time adjusting to the difference between living in Winnipeg and New York, is one of the Rangers’ six alternate captains and a key spokesman for the team. He’s been a partner and mentor for second-year defenseman K’Andre Miller and something of a role model for rookie Braden Schneider, whom Gallant has called "a mini-Trouba.’’
Trouba has been one of the central figures in a defense that entered Sunday having allowed the third-fewest goals in the league with 138. And while goaltender Igor Shesterkin has done the most of anyone to help the Rangers achieve that distinction, the defense corps, led by Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren and Trouba, has been solid.
"I think [the defense has been] pretty consistent with our team game . . . We have stretches where we play really well, and then we get away from that for stretches,’’ Trouba said. "Obviously, Igor’s been great. Schneids [Schneider], I think, has stepped in and played really well. It’s good to have Nemo [Patrik Nemeth] back. I think we’re plugging along. I think we’re improving. I think we still have room to grow.’’
Trouba was asked Sunday what was behind his third-period fight with St. Louis’ Brayden Schenn on Wednesday. It came 17 seconds after Chris Kreider’s power-play goal put the Rangers ahead 4-3 in a 5-3 win.
"Just heat of the game, I guess,’’ he said sheepishly. "Probably not the smartest time to do that, but hindsight is 20-20.’’