Jacob Trouba participated in the Rangers’ morning skate Thursday ahead of their matchup with the Devils at the Prudential Center, indicating the defenseman is that much closer to returning to the lineup after breaking his thumb in the team’s last matchup with New Jersey on Feb. 16.
Wearing a red non-contact jersey, Trouba skated with the team for the first time since his injury, which was given a four-to-six week timeline to heal. He just passed the three-week mark and appears to be ahead of schedule.
“He’s sure made a lot of progress,” head coach David Quinn said. “He’s tracking sooner [rather] than later from the original diagnosis. It’s just a situation where he’s day to day and how he handles each passing day will determine whether he’s going to be able to get in the lineup and when he’s going to be able to get in the lineup.”
Trouba, who Quinn said could be back in the lineup as soon as sometime on the Rangers’ upcoming six-game road trip, has primarily skated on the second defensive pairing with rookie K’Andre Miller. Prior to his injury, Trouba and Miller garnered 158 minutes of ice time together, giving up just four goals, per Natural Stat Trick.
It’s likely that Trouba will return to the right of Miller and bump Brendan Smith down to the third pairing upon his return. Trouba is set to miss his seventh straight game Thursday.
“That’s certainly something that obviously will be on the table when he is able to come back,” Quinn said.
With Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox still standing as the most reliable top duo, Jack Johnson and Libor Hajek have rounded out the Rangers’ six defensemen since Anthony Bitetto sustained a lower-body injury presumably in the 4-3 loss in Philadelphia on Feb. 24.
Bitetto was back on the ice Thursday as well after missing the last two games.
Hajek has just 44 games of NHL experience, while Johnson has been streaky for most of his 14-year career. According to Natural Stat Trick, in 46:19 of ice time together, Hajek and Johnson have given up 20 scoring chances – 10 of which were high-danger opportunities.
Additionally, neither Hajek nor Johnson have recorded a single point this season. Bitetto has recorded a goal and two assists in the nine games he’s played so far. Considering Hajek was demoted to the taxi squad Wednesday, it’s safe to assume he’ll be the defenseman to come out when either Trouba or Bitetto is ready to return.
“Libor always gives you his all as a competitor,” Quinn said. “He’s coachable, always trying to do the right thing. Libor, as we’ve touched on, his personality is he’s always wanting to please. And I think sometimes he gets a little nervous about doing the right thing and he’s managed that better so far. There’s just a lot to like about his game.
“He skates well, he’s physical, he’s got good stick skills and he can shoot it. To me, it’s all about putting it all together consistently night in and night out, shift in and shift out for him to be the player we know he’s capable of being.”