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Adam Fox Brings High-End Skill to Rangers Blueline

by Michael Obernauer

Add up all the attributes that a player like Adam Fox can bring to a hockey team, and Jeff Gorton summed it up this way: Fox is "the kind of player who's hard to get."

On Tuesday afternoon, Gorton got him; then on Thursday, the GM locked him down. Fox and the Rangers on Thursday afternoon put the finishing touches on an entry-level contract that officially joins the 21-year-old blueliner to the team he always dreamed of playing for.

His signing comes two days after Gorton sent a 2019 second-round pick and a conditional 2020 third-rounder to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Fox, the blue-chip defenseman who was a 2019 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award in his junior season at Harvard, and who is one of the most highly regarded blue-line prospects waiting in the NHL wings.

Together, these moves complete a winding road back home for Fox, who was drafted in 2016 in the third round to Calgary, saw his rights traded in 2018 as part of a five-player deal with Carolina, and now in 2019 joins the team he grew up rooting for in Jericho, on Long Island, as the son of a longtime season-ticket holder. And he joins the fold of the league's youngest team at season's end, one with a defense corps that deployed five different blueliners age 24 or younger this past season.

Gorton believes his newest defenseman has the makeup to add his name to that list, and soon.

"This is a player that not only did we watch for the (2016) draft and for the last couple years since the draft, but now he looks like a player who's ready to come out and be a pro and push to make our team," Gorton said in an interview with NYRangers.com. "The biggest thing is the skill. We're trying, as we move this thing forward and rebuild the team, we're looking at players that can make a difference, and this guy has high-end skill. He can really move a puck, his power-play ability is really good, he can run a power play, he has always played well in big games.

"Overall the talent level is really high - the kind of player that's difficult to get. I think it's really exciting to see how he can grow with what we have here already."

Gorton had amassed, for the second straight year, 10 picks heading toward June's draft in Vancouver; he now has nine, and Fox. "The opportunity to get a highly skilled guy with the amount of draft picks we had," the GM said, "it gave us the flexibility to go out and make a deal like this."

His newest righty-shot defenseman led the nation in 2018-19 with 1.45 points per game, the first blueliner in a quarter-century to do so. He finished with 48 points (nine goals, 39 assists) in 33 games for the Crimson, close to doubling his output from the season before - this during a year in which he said his focus was on rounding out his game into "a complete, 200-foot player," taking on more responsibility for his team, and "to try and just focus more defensively and not just strictly offensive play."

His coach in Cambridge, Ted Donato, has described Fox as "very underrated defensively." Still, Fox described himself to NYRangers.com as "an offensive player - you know I like to create plays and create chances. And I think my hockey sense is a strong suit, that's something I try to utilize. As a person, I try and be pretty low-key and just go about my business. I think that's what people can expect from me."

He did no harm to expectations with his standout season in which he was named ECAC Player of the Year and helped steer the Crimson into the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in the last five seasons. The campaign culminated in Fox being named one of three finalists - all defensemen - for college hockey's award for most outstanding player. The honor ultimately went to Cale Makar, who just after losing the national title game with UMass signed with the Colorado Avalanche and stepped straight into an impactful role in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"He's obviously a great player," Fox said of Makar, who had put up one point more than Fox while playing eight more games, "and definitely watching him and other kids I played with and against, seeing them at the NHL level and doing some good things, it definitely gives you some confidence, and it shows you that you can do it too."

Speaking earlier this month about his junior blueliner, Donato, the 15th-year head coach of Harvard's 122-year-old hockey program, said: "I think we're watching one of the best players that has worn our jersey. And that's a lot of years. He's been tremendous."

Fox will now trade in that Crimson jersey for shades of blue - first at the World Championships in Slovakia, where he will be joining the Chris Drury-led United States squad that already includes Chris Kreider and Brady Skjei, and which will be captained by Chicago's Patrick Kane. At 21 years old, Fox already has a load of international experience under his belt, representing the U.S. in four major tournaments and bringing home a medal from each one, including gold at the 2017 World Juniors.

"He really put himself on the map in that World Junior a few years ago as a player, a real high-end player that had hockey sense, that could find things all over the ice, and that made players better," Gorton said. "That's a hard thing to do - you're always looking for players that can make people better, and he has that quality. And that's what we keep coming back to as we evaluate him over the last few years."

Gorton and Fox each stated their belief that the exposure to top-level talent that Fox will get in Slovakia can only help his game and his confidence as he embarks upon his professional career.

"I've been fortunate to play for USA teams over the course my career with the NTDP (National Team Development Program, from 2014-16) and a couple World Junior tournaments, and another one here is going to be pretty special," Fox said. "Obviously you're around a lot of great players, and every time you get to represent your country it's a huge honor. It's something I'm definitely looking forward to."

"It's only going to help us as he comes into camp. He's going to feel really good about where he's at as a player," said Gorton. "When he plays with the Patrick Kanes of the world, and the Jack Eichels and the Kreiders and these guys, he's going to look around and say, 'You know, I thought I was close, I feel really confident about my game, but now I know that I can play with these guys.'"

Gorton and David Quinn will hope for an eyeful of that confidence and skill come training camp in the fall - although Quinn has already seen slivers of it in person. His Boston University teams crossed paths with Fox's Crimson three times from 2016-18, including in the 2017 Beanpot championship game in which Fox assisted on the winning goal and scored the full-ice empty-netter to seal Harvard's first Beanpot title in 24 years.

"We would expect that he would come to camp and really push to be ready to make our team," Gorton said. "Beyond that, we'll let him have a great summer, continue to get bigger and stronger and faster, and see where the chips fall. But we feel really confident about getting a player like this."

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