Adam Fox may be worth the price of admission but Kris Knoblauch is one of the fortunate ones who actually gets paid to watch the Rangers’ stunning 23-year-old sophomore defenseman play hockey for a
Pavel Buchnevich has answered Rangers' trade-deadline dilemma
Why Quebec is no longer an NHL goalie factory
Rest of Rangers' season must be all about next season
Rangers have huge Pavel Buchnevich decision before NHL trade deadline
NHL's TV deal with ESPN comes down to one thing
Adam Fox may be worth the price of admission but Kris Knoblauch is one of the fortunate ones who actually gets paid to watch the Rangers’ stunning 23-year-old sophomore defenseman play hockey for a living.
And that has become one of the singular ancillary dividends of being behind the bench as acting coach while David Quinn is on the league’s COVID protocol list.
“I got to see him last year for three or four games at the rookie tournament and I remember there was one game where I think our team had 15 scoring chances and I think he was in on 12 of them, so I kind of had an idea of what kind of player he was,” Knoblauch said after Monday’s 5-3 Garden victory over the Sabres. “But seeing him in the NHL at ice level has been eye-opening for me.
“I’d known he was a good hockey player but now seeing him at ice level, seeing the plays he’s making and how composed he is, not only is he good with the puck, he’s really good defensively, being able to read. He’s not overly physical, but he’s able to defend with the skills that he has.
“So you know, with [Ryan Lindgren] and Foxy together, that’s a great pair.”
Fox recorded his first five-on-five goal of the season by going to the front and banging in a rebound to complete a rink-length rush he started by lugging the puck out of his own end and up through the neutral zone for a 3-1 lead late in the second period. He also added a pair of assists on the power play to cap the 100th game of his NHL career.
He’s played 100 but seems as if it’s 1,000, so advanced is his game. He’s cerebral enough to have gone to Harvard. And though everything he does is smooth as silk, when you’re on the other side, his game can be as subtle as a brick. Good thing, then, Mika Zibanejad is on his side.
“Where do I start?” No. 93 asked rhetorically when queried about Fox’s game and value to the team. “He’s unbelievable. The way he plays with the puck, I think everyone can see that he’s so calm, he makes the right decision all the time and he’s been really good defensively this year teaming up with Lindy. They’ve been rock solid this year.
“And Foxy, I can’t believe this was his 100th game tonight. The way he plays, he means so much to us, offensively, defensively and obviously on the power play as well.”
The Rangers have gone 3-1 with Knoblauch behind the bench to creep within two points of the Flyers, who have one game in hand, and within four points of the Bruins, who have three games in hand while holding the final divisional playoff spot. He will be behind the bench again on Thursday when the Blueshirts are in Philadelphia.
The official NHL book will not recognize Knoblauch’s record as acting coach — the wins and losses will go onto Quinn’s ledger — but this was one in which the fill-in guy did more than color by the permanent one’s numbers.
For it was Knoblauch’s decision to move Kaapo Kakko off the unit with fellow greenhorns Alexis Lafreniere and Filip Chytil and onto the line with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome, flipping No. 24 with Colin Blackwell for an offensive-zone draw off a television timeout at 7:07 of the second period with Buffalo up 1-0.
Six seconds later, Kakko banged in a rebound for his first goal in 20 games and was a force the rest of the way while remaining on the line with Panarin and Strome. The Finn even scored an empty-netter to salt it away.
“[There were] a few things,” Knoblauch said when asked about the decision. “One, the way Kaps had been playing the last three or four games. We felt he was ready for more responsibility. That was the most important thing; how well he has been playing.
“And also, we actually planned before the game to mix up the lines a little bit and giving him some extra ice time when the opportunity would arise. Also, with [Brett] Howden out [on COVID protocol] we needed Blackwell for penalty killing so we wanted to limit his ice time.
“But mostly, it was Kaapo. His play determined us making that switch. He deserved it.”
Kaapo deserved it, the Rangers earned it and Fox’s parents, Bruce and Tammy, watched the milestone night from one of the Garden suites, making the trip in from Long Island.
“I’m lucky they get to come to most of the home games,” said Fox, who will certainly vie for a spot on the 2022 USA Olympic squad, if not for this year’s Norris Trophy. “It’s special.”
The game is special. The low-key aura is special. The subtlety and poise are special. The young man is worth the price of admission.
This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Larry Brooks