GREENBURGH, N.Y. —The minutes. The matchups. Being on the ice in all situations. The responsibility built into the role of a top-pair defenseman.
It was a challenge Jacob Trouba needed. Longed for, really.
So far, he has passed every test in the estimation of a person who knows him as well as anybody.
“Everyone wants to be that guy that (plays) all situations,” said Brady Skjei following Rangers' practice Wednesday. Skjei and Trouba are longtime friends, having first met while on the U.S. National Development Team. “I think he (wanted that) in Winnipeg when he was there, but I’ve seen more of (that) role for him here now and we’re lucky to have him.”
For a team that is experiencing growing pains as it transitions from rebuilding into what is hoped to be a Stanley Cup contender, Trouba has been worth the price GM Jeff Gorton paid in order to acquire the 25-year old away from the Jets.
Gorton packaged the No. 20 overall pick in last June’s draft and Neal Pionk in the trade for Trouba on June 18, then subsequently signed the defenseman to a seven-year, $56 million contract on July 19.
Paired with Skjei as the top two defensemen, Trouba has played in all 33 games this season and has compiled a 5-12-17 slashline while averaging a team high 22:53 of ice time per game. He ranks seventh in the league in goals, 15th in points and 32nd in average ice time per game among all defensemen.
He had a goal and two assists in the 6-4 win over the Jets on opening night which also doubled as his Madison Square Garden debut along with Artemi Panarin, Kaapo Kakko and Adam Fox. Five games later, he played 28:22 against the Caps, the most minutes he has played against any team so far.
All of which has earned him praise from David Quinn.
“I like his game a lot,” said Quinn. “I do. I think he’s skating better. I think his physicality has given us an awful lot back there on the blue line. When you play as many minutes as he does against top players, there are going to be mistakes. I think people tend to focus on those things. But he does an awful lot for us.”
What has been pleasant revelations for Quinn are qualities that are both intangible and tangible.
“I mentioned this earlier in the year, the thing that’s kind of surprised me — I knew he was a really good player; there’s an awful lot to his game — but the thing I like about him is that he’s smart. The thing I like is that he can really pass the puck. His outlet passes are really good.
“That element to his game surprised me a little bit.”