Expectations were high for Jacob Trouba entering into his first year with the New York Rangers and, while many were left underwhelmed, it wasn’t a bad debut season for the defenseman.
The summer of 2019 will forever be etched in the history books as the moment that the New York Rangers took that giant leap towards relevance again.
If taking Kaapo Kakko with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft wasn’t enough, the Blueshirts also made aggressive moves both via free agency and the trade market.
Russian superstar Artemi Panarin spurned the advances of the Florida Panthers and the New York Islanders to become a Ranger, while General Manager Jeff Gorton finally got his man after trading for Jacob Trouba.
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And, not only did they get their man but they fell in full bloom love (here’s looking at you, Dave Gettleman) by signing Trouba to a huge seven-year, $56,000,000 contract with an average annual value of $8,000,000.
Some raised their eyebrows at that deal at the time, although the general consensus was that was the price you pay for a top pairing defenseman that can do a little bit of everything.
As such, the hefty price tag tricked many people into expecting a Brian Leetch like season from Trouba, with a recent article from The New York Post claiming that the 26-year-old didn’t live up to the hype.
Granted, Trouba didn’t carve out the type of bonkers year some had demanded because of the contract he was given, but the same also applies to Kaapo Kakko who was expected to be the second coming immediately just because he was the second overall pick.
But, if you look at things in a vacuum then Trouba didn’t have a bad year by any stretch of the imagination, it just wasn’t the type of All-Star season that many had quickly rushed to predict based on the contract.
And there are many reasons for that.
Firstly, Trouba spent six years with the Winnipeg Jets and you can’t underestimate the human element when it comes to upping roots and starting afresh somewhere else, both from a personal and professional point of view.
New York is a hotbed when it comes to most things, after all, while the media scrutiny in The Big Apple is far tougher than it is in Winnipeg.
You also have to consider the fact that Trouba was just one cog in a well-oiled machine with the Jets, forming a small part of an impressive blueline.
Having Dustin Byfuglien, Josh Morrissey and Tyler Myers as members of a pretty incredible supporting cast certainly helped Trouba to carve out a career-year in 2018-19 with 50 points (eight goals, 42 points) in 82 games.
Trouba went from that to being the leading man straightaway for the New York Rangers, becoming the face of what was a young and raw blueline.
There was the failed experiment with good friend Brady Skjei as his partner on the top pairing but, overall, Trouba put together a solid first year on Broadway.
Looking at just the stats for now, Trouba averaged 22:34 minutes of ice time per game which was more than any other Blueshirt, while he also led the team in hits with a whopping 173.
He also blocked 128 shots and his toughness was a real highlight throughout the year prior to the NHL going on lockdown.
Boasting a sturdy 6’3″ and 209lb frame, Trouba certainly put his body about and he was a presence for the Rangers when they needed him to be.
The biggest bone of contention, however, appeared to be the blueliner’s offensive output, which appeared to fall off a cliff compared to the previous year, with Trouba recording just seven goals and 20 assists for 27 points in 70 games, including eight points on the power play.
But, let’s remember one key fact, the Rangers didn’t need Trouba to be an offensive juggernaut or a high-end quarterback on the PP while Adam Fox was enjoying a dream rookie year and Tony DeAngelo was finally putting it all together.
And that’s why the notion of Trouba being a bust after just one year is hyperbole and, quite frankly, unwarranted.
While he certainly has a lethal shot and an eye for a pass in his arsenal, Trouba doesn’t need to unleash his offensive instincts as much with DeAngelo and Fox on the roster.
Instead, the 26-year-old needs to be whatever the Rangers need him to be and, right now, that’s a solid shutdown defenseman.
When you look at Trouba’s year from that vantage point, he absolutely delivered and did what was asked of him.
Yes, the blueliner was on the ice for 58 goals against and his plus/minus rating of -12 doesn’t make for pretty reading, while he did suffer from the odd rush to the head which led to a high-danger scoring chance.
However, in saying that, Trouba was a human battering ram for the Rangers and he turned up for every single shift ready to give his all, which is still an invaluable commodity even in today’s modern game packed with uber-skilled phenoms.
His transition game is something the Blueshirts have missed since the heady days of Ryan McDonagh, while he proved that he could jump up into the play and join the rush effectively.
It was the moments of absolute fearlessness that really jumped out, though, the bone-crunching hits and the body-on-the-line heroics in crucial moments.
Just look at that monster hit on the Islanders’ Michael Dal Colle (clean and legal, by the way) in the first game after the Trade Deadline, a bone-shuddering statement of intent that set the tone for rest of the contest.
That type of full-blooded, all-in approach is contagious and it is crucial when you are trying to establish a culture and an identity, just as the Rangers are doing now.
Plus, this is just one year of what is intended to be a very long relationship with a player the Rangers lusted after and desired for so long.
Trouba is a mere mortal just like us and, as such, may have needed some time in which to adapt to a new home, a new system, a new coach and a new set of teammates.
After all, you don’t lose your offensive instincts overnight.
So, expect a more polished version of Jacob Trouba in 2020-21 (assuming hockey doesn’t return this year) and maybe a more of a potent weapon should Tony DeAngelo fail to re-sign.
But, let’s make one thing clear, Trouba was just what the New York Rangers needed in 2019-20 and, no matter what the hype or the expectations were, he was far from a first-year bust.