The 2018-19 season was, by just about any measure, the best year yet in the career of Jacob Trouba. So as he embarks on a momentous summer in which he'll change teams for the first time in that career, just how is Trouba measuring himself?
"I was happy with how I played," Trouba said of his 2018-19 campaign, adding: "I think there's more there."
Trouba will begin his quest for those higher climes of hockey as a New York Ranger, and he'll begin it right away: The big American blueliner became the newest member of the Blueshirts on Monday night when he was acquired in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets. The Rangers sent Neal Pionk the other way, along with a first-round draft pick that they were simply returning to Winnipeg after acquiring it in a separate deal back in February.
Trouba is a 6-foot-3, 202-pound righty-shot defenseman who can play in all situations and who established all kinds of career highs in 2018-19. He was one of 13 NHL blueliners to hit the 50-point mark, and ranked sixth among all skaters with 171 blocked shots. Often matching up against opponents' top lines, he ranked second on the Jets in time on ice (22:53) and shorthanded time on ice (2:28), sixth in power-play TOI (2:04), and was the only Jet to get into all 82 games.
"It was a little bit different in that there were some injuries that opened up a little more opportunity," the newest Blueshirt said on Tuesday. "I think I have more that I can achieve, more that I want to achieve, another level of my game that I think I can get to. Overall, yeah, it was a good season; I think with a little bit more opportunity I showed what I'm capable of. But I still don't think I've shown everything yet."
Of all the numbers Trouba put up in 2018-19, this other number stands out in a big way to Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton: Trouba is just 25 years old.
"The age of 25, really coming into his prime, and all the different things that Jacob can provide for us," Gorton said. "This helps us a lot."
And what stands out to Trouba about Gorton and the Rangers?
"They're building a winner," Trouba said on Tuesday.
Trouba spent his first six NHL seasons in Winnipeg, playing 408 games for the Jets, who drafted him No. 9 overall in the 2012 Draft. Monday was the first time in his hockey life that he has been traded, and even though the prospect of a move seemed always to be lurking below the surface, Trouba said it still managed to sneak up on him: He was home cooking dinner when Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff rang his phone.
"I mean, I knew there were all the rumors, everybody talks about it, but I didn't really expect it to happen last night," Trouba said. "But I just kind of enjoyed the night. I couldn't be happier to join the team and be a part of New York and the Rangers organization.
"It's a pretty special organization, with the history and the city and everything that goes on there. I couldn't be more excited."
After Cheveldayoff's call, Gorton was up next. "I spoke to Jacob to welcome him. He's obviously pretty excited," the Rangers' GM said. "He's going to be a good fit, I think both of us feel that way."
New York City is looking like a good fit, too, for more than just Trouba himself, on and off the ice. Trouba is engaged to be married to a woman who is studying medicine and is soon to be starting her residency; the couple can envision a move to New York as a steppingstone in both of their careers.
"My fiancée aspires to be a doctor, and that's something that's really important to me," Trouba said. "We want to have a life together and live together, and her career is just as important as my career. So this is a pretty good situation for both of us.
Plus, he said, "There's other goals in life: I want to be a husband and a father and all that stuff. Like I said, her career's important, and she's worked extremely hard to get where she is. I want to see the best for her as much as she wants to see the best for me. We wanted to find a way that we could both be successful in our careers while living together, and achieving other goals that we have in life outside of our careers. There's other places that she could do it, but obviously New York is a great place for her. It's a great place for a lot of things."
It's a great place to be a hockey player, too, which Trouba can now learn firsthand after hearing about it from the likes of Brady Skjei, whom he has known since the two were teammates at the U.S. National Development Team Program, and Brendan Lemieux, his ex-teammate in Winnipeg whose trade to Broadway preceded Trouba's by less than four months.
Despite both men having close and longstanding ties with USA Hockey, Trouba said he knows David Quinn by reputation only, but that the two spoke over the phone Monday night after the trade was finalized, with Trouba eager to start a "brand-new relationship" with the Rangers' Head Coach.
"People have told me stuff about him, his style and that kind of stuff," Trouba said of Quinn. "I'm looking forward to starting something good."
Not long after Trouba spoke on Tuesday, the Rangers announced their 2019 Preseason schedule, which will get started at Madison Square Garden with a visit from the Devils on Sept. 18. By the time that game rolls around, this career and life change surely will not feel as new to Trouba as it did on Tuesday. Even less than 24 hours after the completion of the trade, there already were signs of the two sides feeling settled.
"It just felt like this was a player that's going to be with us for a while, through it all," Gorton said.
Added Trouba: "I could see myself being in New York for a long time."