Once the 2018-19 season had ended, and Jacob Trouba stepped into a summer of the unknown and the very real possibility that he could be traded for the first time in his career, he and his fiancée, Kelly Tyson, decided to sit down together, with pen and paper, and walk through what Trouba called "a little exercise."
"Kind of a funny story: We did kind of a little exercise I guess before this whole thing started happening, and we wrote down the places we would want to be, separately from each other, and then shared them with each other," Trouba said in an interview with NYRangers.com on Friday. "The Rangers were the first place on both of our lists. And the rest of the list was pretty jumbled. So I'd say it worked out pretty good for both of us that we ended up in New York. That was the place. We couldn't be happier with how everything played out."
The one-team wish was granted when the big blueliner became a Ranger back on June 17, the day General Manager Jeff Gorton grabbed him in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets. Then on Friday afternoon, Trouba went through one more exercise with pen and paper -- this one completing his dream move and locking him up in a Blueshirt for a long time to come.
Since the trade, Trouba always had confidence that the negotiations would get worked out and that this day, this signing, would come. But when it arrived, some of those feelings from June 17 hit him all over again.
"I'm just kind of taking it all in," Trouba said. "This is something that I wanted for a long time, to sign a long-term deal, and to have it be with New York where everything works out for life and family and the future, it's the best situation possible."
The signing represents just the latest box that Gorton has checked in his summer campaign of revamping the Rangers. The GM finished April by trading for blue-chip blueliner Adam Fox -- like Trouba, a righty defenseman - just ahead of signing him and three other top prospects - Vitali Kravtsov, Igor Shesterkin and Yegor Rykov - to their first pro deals in May; he snagged Kaapo Kakko with the No. 2 pick in June's Draft, and signed the 18-year-old a week ago; and on the first day of July he inked a deal with the best player on the free-agent market in winger Artemi Panarin.
His latest signing shores up a 6-foot-3, 202-pound blueliner who is coming off a career-best 50-point season (8-42--50), which made him one of only 13 NHL defensemen to hit 50 points in 2018-19. Trouba averaged 22:53 of ice time for Winnipeg this past year, 4:32 of that coming on all special teams, while he was the only Jet to play in all 82 games.
He put up those numbers during the season in which he turned just 25 years old, making him, as Gorton said the day he acquired Trouba, a player who is "really coming into his prime."
The 2018-19 season, though, already was Trouba's sixth in the NHL -- for those six seasons he has played under either entry-level or short-term contracts. So it was put to him on Friday that perhaps this was the first time in his hockey life that he could really feel settled in his situation and in a place. Trouba replied that no one should confuse feeling settled with feeling complacent.
"There's a new challenge ahead of me now, something new to prove," he said. "I don't feel at all like I made it, or it's over, or whatever people feel when they sign a long-term deal. I still have something to prove, and I want to prove it. I want to be the best player I can be, and what I know I can be.
"It's time to prove my worth, and prove what I'm capable of doing."
At the same time, he certainly can be happy that he and Tyson now feel that they can put down roots in New York. Tyson is a medical student who will be applying for her residency, slated to begin next year -- and now can target her applications to hospitals in New York, something that Trouba has said was a crucial factor when the two were scribbling down where they wanted to end up together next.
"That's pretty unsettling for us and for her to not know the future, and where we would have our future, and what's actually going to happen," Trouba said. "And now to have a place where we know we're going to be for the next seven years is pretty big for both of us."
Trouba can count on having Panarin as his teammate during that time, a development that made Trouba "ecstatic" when he saw the news on July 1. "Fantastic player," Trouba said. "He can change a game at any second. I was ecstatic to see him sign with the Rangers."
Trouba would know, too, having played right defense for a team in the Central Division, where Panarin began his career with two years as a Calder Trophy-winning left winger for Chicago. "I was a little unsure of what he was going to do," Trouba said of trying to defend Panarin. "He would always have that next step, or that next thing, that would keep you off balance, or keep you a little hesitant. That's a dangerous thing for a forward to have, being a defenseman. He's a guy that you always had to be aware, and know where they are, and what they're capable of on the ice."
As for being teammates next season? "I'll give him the puck gladly," Trouba said, "and let him go do his thing."
That next season begins on Oct. 3 at the Garden with, as fate would have it, a matchup against Trouba's former Winnipeg teammates. ("Who's paying the schedule maker?" Trouba tweeted when the calendar came out last month, four days after his trade.) In between now and then, Trouba will continue his offseason training while searching for an apartment in New York and getting to know the city, with a little guidance from his close friend Brady Skjei.
Trouba said he isn't certain what to expect from New York City, but is excited to embrace it. He comes from the small town of Rochester, Mich., and now is making the move from the NHL's smallest city to its biggest.
But while he gets acquainted with his new hometown, he has a pretty good idea what kind of team he is joining. "I think this team has a really good thing going for the future," Trouba said on Friday, "and I am glad to be a part of it."