SAN JOSE, Calif. – And now, it is Braden Schneider’s turn to take a shot at nailing down that right-side spot in the Rangers’ third defensive pair.
The Rangers’ second first-round pick in the 2020 NHL draft got called up Tuesday from Hartford, and after practicing with the team Wednesday, appears poised to make his NHL debut Thursday, when the Rangers take on the San Jose Sharks in the fourth game of their five-game road trip.
Schneider, 20, was in the middle of a practice Tuesday in Hartford when he got called off the ice and told he was getting called up to the Rangers. He didn’t know what to think, but he "got cleaned up,’’ quickly packed a bag, and headed to San Jose.
"It was a blur,’’ he said Wednesday. "I was excited. I was nervous. I felt the whirlwind of everything and then it was surreal, to say the least. I was very, very excited.’’
Schneider, a righthanded shot who had nine assists in 24 games for Hartford this season, was selected at No. 19 overall by the Rangers in 2020, after the organization took Alexis Lafreniere at No. 1. The Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, native earned a silver medal with Canada at the 2021 World Junior Championships; was named the Top Defenseman in the WHL, and then won a gold medal with Canada at the World Championships, playing under future Rangers coach Gerard Gallant.
"I got to know him quite well,’’ Schneider said of Gallant. "I was always talking with Gerard, and we built a pretty solid relationship.’’
Still, Schneider started with Hartford, as the Rangers opened the season with 2018 first-rounder Nils Lundkvist as the third-pair, right-side defenseman.
But Lundkvist was only OK, at best, in his 25 games. He had one goal and three assists, and was scratched in three of the last four games. Zac Jones got a three-game audition before the Rangers decided it was time to give Schneider a look. They moved Jones to the taxi squad, sent Lundkvist to Hartford, and had Schneider working with veteran Patrik Nemeth Wednesday in what looked to be Thursday’s third defense pair.
Rangers acting coach Kris Knoblauch, who is filling in behind the bench while Gallant is in COVID-19 protocol, has coached Schneider in Hartford all season, and likes him.
"I think he's a very good defensive player,’’ Knoblauch said. "He's an incredible skater, and for his age, he's very strong. I think one of the things that players coming into the National Hockey League have trouble with is … knocking a guy off the puck and separating him, and then making the next play. And Braden's young, but that's something I think that he will make the transition a lot easier than other guys.’’
At 6-2, 202, Schneider is bigger than either Lundkvist or Jones, and much more physical.
"I would say I'm a physical, two-way defenseman,’’ Schneider said of himself. "I'm not too flashy offensively, but I like to think I'm a hard worker in my own end, and I like to get the play moving up as fast as I can.’’
D Adam Fox did not practice, for "maintenance’’ reasons, the Rangers said … G Igor Shesterkin and RW Julien Gauthier, both eligible to exit COVID protocol, were not at practice. Both remain in protocol.