NEW YORK, NY – Jacob Trouba has taken the New York City subways – he said it’s like going someplace new every time he gets off the train. He’s had NYC pizza, but only from two places so far. His dog is adapting to being a big-city pup, though Trouba finds he has to wipe his paws every time they come home.
He’s a New Yorker. Sort of.
Trouba begins his Rangers career against the team that traded him — the Winnipeg Jets — Thursday night.
And to him, that he’s playing his former team is just a sidebar.
Trouba knows that this is more about the new chapter in his career, as a key cog on a team looking to take steps forward after tearing down and rebuilding from the ground up.
Just as the Rangers know how crucial a piece they added when GM Jeff Gorton obtained the 25-year-old right-handed defenseman in a trade a few days before the entry draft last June.
“(It’s) more the first game of the year, New York,” Trouba said of the significance of the season opener. “Yeah, it’s the Jets. I don’t know how much of an added element that is. It’s a little more fun, I guess, to throw in there. But it’s more the first game in a Rangers jersey that you want to remember.”
The Rangers? They want to remember a whole lot of games with Trouba in their number eight jersey, playing the right side and being the first-pair defenseman that they lacked since trading Ryan McDonagh in their first deadline sell-off two seasons ago.
They want Trouba to also be that power-play quarterback they’ve craved for all these years – a spot they’ve tried to fill with Wade Redden, Dan Boyle, Keith Yandle and Kevin Shattenkirk, to name a few. Trouba’s got the skill and the smarts and mostly the big cannon to be that guy – although he could eventually, if not soon, be challenged for that duty by righty rookie Adam Fox, 21, another big trade acquisition this past offseason.
Trouba eats big even-strength minutes, plays a physical style around his own net and will kill penalties — the Rangers are so sorely lacking a defenseman to play the right side on the PK that Brendan Smith, as he did late last season, will dress as a forward at times (or a lot) and kill penalties as a defenseman.
Newcomer Artemi Panarin is more of an established superstar and newcomer Kaapo Kakko, at 18, has unlimited upside. But the addition of Trouba was as necessary and arguably as important, as any move Gorton made over the summer. The age, Gorton said, was “a big part of it.
“He’s in the prime of his career, so the opportunity for a player like that to become available doesn’t happen all the time. We jumped on it.
“We coveted him for a while.”
There was a roundabout way for Gorton to get Trouba, a 6-3, 202-pounder and native of Rochester, Mich.
The Rangers had dealt Kevin Hayes, a pending unrestricted free agent, to the playoff-bound Jets for a first-round pick and pesky winger Brendan Lemieux at the February deadline. Before the draft, Gorton traded the Jets’ first-rounder back to Winnipeg with Neal Pionk for Trouba. So in essence it was Hayes and Pionk for Trouba and Lemieux. Also known as a heist. And Hayes bolted Winnipeg for a seven-year, $50 million contract with Philadelphia.
What wasn’t a heist for the Rangers, but was a known part of the equation, was the seven-year contract worth an $8 million annual cap hit it would take to sign Trouba, who was a restricted free agent. He is going to have to earn that kind of dough, but it’s a safe bet he will.
McDonagh, as good as he was – and he was plenty good, logging tons of ice time in all situations – was injury-prone. He wasn’t really a legit power-play point man either. And he never topped the numbers Trouba put up last season, when the Jets upped his responsibilities and he played all 82 games, with career highs of 42 assists and 50 points.
“I have more I want to achieve, more than I can achieve, another level of my game I think I can get to,” Trouba said.
He also made it clear when the Rangers got him that it wasn’t all about him. Trouba’s fiancee Kelly Tyson is pursuing a medical career, having studied in Australia and now living and working in Florida while hoping to get a residency in one of New York’s many hospitals.
“Her career is just as important as my career,” Trouba said the day after the trade.
“It’s not something that’s really talked about, I guess, (by) most athletes. But there are other goals in life that I have. I want to be a husband and a father and all of that stuff. Her career’s important and she’s worked extremely hard to get where she is and I want to see the best for her as much as she wants to see the best for me. We want to find a way that we can both be successful in our careers, living together and achieving other goals in life outside of our careers. There’s other places that she could do it. New York is obviously a great place for her, a great place for a lot of things. So it was definitely important for me, for both of us, I guess.”
He added this week: “Now it’s up to her to get a residency here. The pressure’s on her. It’s been good. She’s here this week. She’s down in Florida most of the year and hopefully next year she’ll be doing half and half, doing her rotation stuff for school and then after that hopefully she has a residency here doing what she wants to do and we’ll be in the same city and have a life together.”
Though New York was a perfect landing spot in that regard, Trouba didn’t have a voice in where he’d be dealt.
“They didn’t really let us talk to any teams, so I didn’t have much control,” Trouba said. “I mean, I talked to my agent and we had a couple of teams in mind that I would prefer to go to, but I never expressed to Winnipeg a team I wanted to go to. I honestly don’t know what happened behind the scenes that much. But, yeah, I was happy to end up here.”
He had held out for a contract in 2016, signing in November. He played big minutes in ’17-18 (not on the power play) with partner Josh Morrissey, and talked about unfinished business in Winnipeg before going to salary arbitration in 2018. His one-year award, worth $5.5 million, made him a likely trade piece. As he played out that contract, Trouba leaped forward as a player, now playing the power play, too.
The Rangers, meanwhile, had no first-pair defensemen.
Opportunity knocked for all involved.
Now he’s in New York, playing on a first pair with long-time friend Brady Skjei, and easing into his role as a crucial player.
It seems second-year head coach David Quinn wants to pile on as much as Trouba can handle.
“The thing that has surprised me, and I knew he was a smart player, is how smart he is,” Quinn said. “He’s got great vision, he passes the puck well. He’s going to help us get out of our end easier. He’s a physical presence as well. He’s a smart hockey player.”
Quinn has a way, too, of looking at the presence away from the rink, where the Rangers have so many young eyes and ears needing to learn and be led.
“He does have a presence off ice,” Quinn said. “I think when you join a new team there’s kind of a feeling-out process to it, and he’s certainly become more comfortable, it seems, in the last few weeks. You can just see it. I think as we continue to move forward he’s going to make more of an impact off the ice.”
Like Skjei and Mika Zibanejad and others, Trouba is a young player and, at the same time, a veteran among the green kids who fill the roster.
“It’s a good group,” Trouba said. “It’s young and it almost reminds me of Winnipeg when I first got there. We had a pretty young group of guys that kind of came up the first few years together.
“It’s been a hard training camp. There’s been some good battles for positions. Learning a new system, a new team, new style, it’s been kind of different. I’m used to one thing my whole career, one type of training camp. This one’s a little different, a little more up in speed.”
That his journey begins against Winnipeg is just amusing. But not weird.
“Not really,” Trouba said. “The one that will be weird is Andrew Copp, just because I’ve always played with him. I’ve never actually played against him. We played together since we were 12 years old or something, we’ve been on the same team. So that one will be fun, to finally play against one of my best friends.”
Will Trouba hit Copp?
“Yeah, he’ll hit me too,” he said. “The same goes for all of them.
“It’s not as weird as some people think it is because we had so many hard battles in practices, so it’s not weird for me to battle against these guys. So in that sense it’s almost normal – to go in the corner with them. It’s not weird that I’ve played with them forever and not really battled against them because I have.”
Trouba’s just never done it in a Rangers uniform. He’s never really done anything in a Rangers uniform.