Braden Schneider Benched: A Tough Night for the Rangers' Defenseman

Explore Braden Schneider's journey as he faces defensive challenges, leading to a benching. Discover the New York Rangers' strategic decisions and the defenseman's path to improvement in this insightful read.

New York Rangers v Toronto Maple Leafs
New York Rangers v Toronto Maple Leafs / Claus Andersen/GettyImages
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Explore Braden Schneider's journey as he faces defensive challenges, leading to a benching. Discover the New York Rangers' strategic decisions and the defenseman's path to improvement in this insightful read.

Braden Schneider turned the puck over, leading to Casey Mittelstadt's game-tying goal past Igor Shesterkin with 13:40 to play. He dejectedly skated to the bench, sat, and put his head down. Adam Fox gave him a fist bump and told him not to worry. Yet he knew what was coming. A benching for the rest of the night by defensive coordinator Phil Housley. 

It was that kind of game for the 22-year-old defenseman, who was on the ice for all three Buffalo goals. Luckily, the Blueshirts survived. Shestekrin made four game-saving stops, including three in overtime, before Mika Zibanejad fed Chris Krieder, securing a 4-3 Blueshirts victory at MSG. It was the 30-year-old center's third point of the night and his ninth multi-point game of the season, including his fifth in the last six games. Yet Zibanejad isn't just all offense; he's one of the most defensively responsible players in the NHL. It's a mindset Schneider can learn from as he tries to find his game.

Yes, he's had his moments, like the go-ahead goal on Tuesday in New York's 5-2 revenge win at the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the Rangers aren't expecting him to be an offensive dynamo because that's not his skill set. Yes, head coach Peter Laviolette tried to dispute that after Schnieder's heroics, but it's more wishful thinking on his part. "I don't know if it's a stay-at-home D — but I see him more of a two-way defenseman. I do think he's capable", Laviolette said

Learning Curve: Assessing Braden Schneider's Defensive Challenges:

When he became the man the Rangers inadvertently traded Brady Skjei to the Carolina Hurricanes for by selecting him with the 19th overall pick in the 2020 draft, New York felt they were getting a steady defenseman whom ISS Hockey labeled in 2017 "As stable as they come." It looked like the case early on, as the Brandon Wheat Kings captain had 27 points in 22 games in 2021, in addition to his stellar defensive play. He played a passionate and physical game.

He was good at throwing his 6-3 body around and blocking shots. The performance led him to be that season's Bill Hunter Award winner as the WHL's top defenseman. After spending time split between the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack and the NHL on Broadway in 2021-22, Schneider earned a full-time role on the third pair in 2022-23, where his defensive weaknesses were exposed. He had five goals and 18 points in 81 games, but the glaring statistic was his failed clear percentage, which was seventh worst in the NHL at 29%. Schneider has also been inconsistent this season.

Last year, Schneider was his tenacious self. He threw 147 hits, blocked 130 shots, had 23 takeaways, 52 giveaways, and a 3.4 defensive points share.

This year, he's on pace for just 129 hits, 119 blocks, 21 takeaways, 46 giveaways, and a 0.9 defensive points share. So yes, it's not a significant drop-off, but it's not great for someone who was expected to leap his classmate. That other 22-year-old is Alexis Lafreniere. The winger and first-overall selection are on pace for a career season of 23 goals and 46 points. Yet even away from the puck, the kid has been noticeable.

The latest example of all-around game prowess came on Saturday, as he had three shots on goal, hit a crossbar, and recorded a takeaway. The biggest issue with Lafreniere was his skating, but he seems to have fixed it. Schneider's skating is fine, but it's his decision-making and execution that has hurt him. So what happens now?

Well, the Rangers have shown no indication of taking him off the roster, nor should they. It would mean he would have to go on waivers, which are free for anyone to claim. Another organization would claim him because he's a kid with great potential and is on the best Rangers third pair in the NHL. Schneider will be a restricted free agent after this season, which makes the fact he's been struggling worse.

Long term, he may learn from his mistakes. Yet, in the short run, they could scratch him for a game and give Zac Jones another shot, but it's not like the 23-year-old has shown much in his 13 games thus far.  

Whether they tweak his game time or sketch a more extended development plan, Schneider's story unfolds, and the Rangers are holding the pen. How they nurture his potential will shape his career and play a part in the Blueshirts' defensive game.