When the top young defenseman conversation gets brought up, Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes’ names always show up. And for good reason: they finished 1-2 in Calder Trophy voting a year ago and quickly emerged as NHL stars at a young age a year after leaving college.
Do you know who else started ripping up the NHL fresh out of the NCAA? Adam Fox. Not at the same level as his two rivals right out of the gate, but with Makar with missing time due to injuries and Hughes not playing at the same pace as last year, Fox has had every opportunity to throw his hat in the ring as a legitimate star in the league already.
How good, exactly? With two assists in a 3-2 shootout loss to Buffalo on Saturday, Fox extended his current point streak to 10 games. It has helped Fox cement himself as a full-on legitimate Norris Trophy contender this season, joining Makar and Tampa’s Victor Hedman as favorites for the elusive trophy.
This isn’t a surprise for Rangers fans, the same group who fell in love with him after a fantastic rookie season on a struggling roster a year ago. Fox was forced to carry so much of the load for the Blueshirts, a challenging task for someone with no prior pro experience.
Statistically, Fox was one of the only guys who could hang with Makar and Hughes last year. Fox’s 14.9 goals-above replacement and 2.7 wins-above replacement, per Evolving Hockey, put him nearly on par with Makar, and his 22 points at full strength were good for third among rookie defensemen. For most of the season, Fox was a second-pairing guy on a poor team, but his numbers show a much bigger impact than you’d expect in that situation.
So how about this year?
Since March 15th, Fox’s two goals and 18 points in just 10 games puts him third in league scoring, trailing Avalanche teammates Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon by just a single point in that span (with a game in hand, each). Mika Zibanejad (17), Artemi Panarin (17) and Ryan Strome (15) have been outstanding themselves, but they have Fox feeding them from the point to thank. His 25:09 of ice time over the past 10 games places him 10th in the entire league, but he’s the only skater with at least 23:30 of average ice time and a point-per-game since March 15.
That’s not a huge sample size, but with 33 points in 36 games, the results are clearly there. Nothing seems to faze Fox. Playing in a division with Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, Nicklas Backstrom and Claude Giroux, among others, hasn’t prevented Fox from shining through and continuously proving why he’s a star in the making and someone who should be a key contributor for USA’s Olympic team next year.
“This guy’s an elite player in this league,” Rangers coach David Quinn said last week. “I thought he was last year. I know people were talking an awful lot about (Cale) Makar) and (Quinn) Hughes and guys like that, but this guy’s special.”
And special he is. You read the numbers, but you don’t need them to realize just how good he is on the ice. When he gets the puck, attackers don’t take it off of him. He’s got the speed and skill to elude the opposition and his head is always moving, looking for the right player to pass to. He’s got good options to work with, but Fox isn’t afraid to rush the puck down the ice if he needs to and with 18 points on the power play, he knows a thing or two about taking advantage of the man advantage. Named the NHL’s First Star of the Week last Monday, Fox excels on the penalty kill too, so there really isn’t a situation the Rangers can’t throw him in, and the versatility is huge in making him a household name in the East Division.
Hedman still looks in control of the Norris and Makar has made quite the case for himself. Heck, even Kris Letang, Dougie Hamilton and Darnell Nurse probably have as good of a shot at this point. There’s only so much Fox can do for a team on the outside looking in, but he’s doing a heck of a lot. Coach Quinn believes in him so much, he’s given Fox an extra six minutes of ice time per game this season, and with a 50-point pace to finish the season, it’s been absolutely worth it.
But even if Fox, 23, doesn’t take home the coveted hardware, it doesn’t matter. The Rangers have found the cornerstone of the team’s defense for the future and paired with K’Andre Miller on the back end, Igor Shesterkin in the crease and Alexis Lafreniere and Co. up front, the team is in good hands.