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Zac Jones may fill hole on Rangers' defense created by Jacob Trouba's injury

Zac Jones of the Massachusetts Minutemen celebrates with

Zac Jones of the Massachusetts Minutemen celebrates with the trophy following the team's 5-0 victory against the St. Cloud St. Huskies to win the Division I Men's Ice Hockey Championship at PPG Paints Arena on Saturday in Pittsburgh. Credit: Getty Images/Gregory Shamus

Zac Jones is 20 years old and less than two weeks removed from winning an NCAA championship at the University of Massachusetts, which for most NHL teams would make him the kid on the roster.

Not so much with the Rangers, who have so many college-aged players that Jones fits right in.

"Obviously, most of the guys here are around the age of guys who played on my team last year and this year," he said. "So it’s been pretty easy for me coming in and talking to the guys."

On Thursday, there is a good chance he will go from talking to them to playing with them.

 

Veteran defenseman Jacob Trouba is day-to-day after taking a hit from the Islanders’ Matt Martin on Tuesday that left him wobbly, and coach David Quinn said Trouba will be out Thursday against the Flyers.

That is awful news for the Rangers’ long shot bid to sneak into the NHL playoffs, but it opened the door for Jones to get some game experience before the regular season is over.

With the tightly packed 56-game schedule limiting practice time, Jones — a third-round draft pick in 2019 — has had little time to prepare. Before the 6-1 loss to the Islanders, Quinn said he hoped to get a long look at him on Wednesday.

Then came Trouba’s injury, and the sense of urgency increased. "Zac is definitely a candidate to play tomorrow," Quinn said after practice.

He sounded more than like a mere candidate as Quinn answered at length a question about what advice he would give the young player.

"You want him to enjoy the moment, and obviously he’s going to be a little bit nervous, like most guys are when they start their NHL career," Quinn said. "But I think once the game gets going a lot of guys’ nerves disappear. He needs to play to his strengths, just like every player does when they get to this level.

"They can’t change the way they play, can’t be afraid of making mistakes, and if they do make a mistake, they have to shake it off and move forward. That’s what pros do. First thing is, just enjoy it. Enjoy the moment."

The 5-10, 176-pounder looks like he has some filling out to do physically, but since arriving last week he has not betrayed any lack of confidence.

Asked whether he believes he is ready, he said, "One hundred percent. I think I’ll be out there and try to help the team any way I can and do whatever they need me to, so if I get that chance, I’m going to make the most of it."

The whirlwind of going from the Frozen Four to the NHL was "pretty crazy" last week, but Jones now has a feel for the pro level — and has a roommate and an apartment.

Defenseman Adam Fox said, "You can see the skill he has. I watched a little bit of the college games he was playing in, and you could just see the talent he has. Definitely excited to see him in a game."

Defenseman Brendan Smith compared Jones to Jericho native Fox, a rising star, saying he has "a little Fox-y skill, where he sees the game well. He moves the puck very well. He’s got good hands.

"It’s hard to tell because you haven’t seen him in a game at this level, but you can see that he understands the game and I think when you get to the next level one of the biggest things for success is between the ears."

Notes & quotes: Quinn said Igor Shesterkin will start in goal against Philadelphia . . . The Rangers agreed to terms with forward Karl Henriksson, 20, on an entry-level contract. He played in the Swedish league this season . . . Thursday begins a five-game homestand for the Rangers.

New York Sports