Jacob Trouba has new partner, new outlook in second Rangers season

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High expectations were placed on Jacob Trouba’s shoulders before he ever took the ice in a Rangers uniform, courtesy of the trade it took to get him and the seven-year, $56 million extension needed to lock him up.

The defenseman had brushes of meeting those expectations, but didn’t consistently play up to them across his first season on Broadway.

Now entering his second season in the Rangers’ system, though, Trouba is feeling more at home and expects to perform like the impact player he was acquired to be.

“Reflecting on last year, I think I got away from how I play hockey a little bit, trying to fill a role and get comfortable,” Trouba said ahead of the Rangers’ intrasquad scrimmage Thursday night. “Reflecting on it, I think I was brought here for a reason and that’s to play hockey how I play hockey. … So yeah, you have to be conscious of your partner and [his] tendencies and knowing that, but in the same breath, I still gotta play hockey the way I play hockey.”

That partner, at least to start this season, will be Tony DeAngelo, who is moving to his off-side on the left with Trouba sticking on the right to form the Rangers’ top defensive pair. DeAngelo will be Trouba’s fourth different regular partner after Brady Skjei, Libor Hajek and Brendan Smith all took turns playing on his left side last season.

While running through different partners last year, Trouba was on the ice for 41 goals for and a team-high 58 goals against at five-on-five, per Natural Stat Trick. He played his best hockey later in the season, when he was paired with Smith, including a big-time game against the Islanders at the Coliseum in February and a strong performance in the Rangers’ playoff series against the Hurricanes.

“As he’s talked about, the familiarity is really going to allow him to hit the ground running this year,” coach David Quinn said. “There was a lot of newness for him last year. I’m sure he put some pressure on himself due to the contract. People handle those things differently and at different times and a different pace. It just took him a little time to adapt everything. There were different systems he had to learn, in particular in the ‘D’ zone. As the year went on, he got better and better and better. We’re all excited about him building off of what he did in the bubble.”

The 26-year-old Trouba recorded seven goals and 20 assists in 70 regular-season games last season while averaging 22:34 of ice time with a 45.4 Corsi. He said it “took me a while to learn” the Rangers’ system and style as it was different than what he was used to with the Jets, with whom he played his first six seasons in the NHL.

But now that he has an added level of comfort, it’s not just Trouba’s play that could see an uptick. After an offseason in which the Rangers lost important leadership voices in Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal and Jesper Fast, Trouba has plans on helping to fill that void.

“I see myself being one of those guys that [does] step up,” Trouba said. “Last year, I don’t think it’s a secret now, I said it takes me a while to get comfortable. I don’t think I was held back from leading last year but maybe I held myself back a little bit. Definitely more comfortable this year and that’s a role I want to move forward in.”

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