By Warren Kozireski —
One axiom in hockey say you can never have enough defensemen and the New York Rangers seem to believe as continue to stockpile blueliners. They have drafted a defenseman in the first or second round of the NHL Entry Draft in three of the past four years including two in the first round in 2018.
One of those gems is 2020 first rounder Braden Schneider, now in his first full professional campaign with the Hartford Wolf Pack in the American Hockey League.
Taken 19th overall, many wrote that he might be the steal of the first round.
Schneider will not wow fans with dazzling offensive talent—in fact he was still looking for his first professional goal 26 games in—but instead will wow you with his 6’2”, 209 lb. frame and his shutdown and physical play on the back end.
“It’s definitely been an adjustment—everyone’s faster and stronger and you’re not playing against boys, you’re playing against men, so I think I’ve adjusted well and I fell like every day I’m getting better,” Schneider said in early January. “It’s been a lot of fun; it’s been a learning process but it’s been a good time so far.
“Everyone is doing the same thing you’re doing that is strong and big so it’s a lot tougher, it’s a lot harder work but it’s a process you have to learn and go through.”
Schneider played four-plus seasons with Brandon in the Western Hockey League with 115 points in 206 games in a physical, shutdown role and was voted the league’s Top Defenseman in 2020-21.
He also has gained quite a bit of experience with his peers on the international stage winning a silver and a gold medal with Team Canada and has some familiarity with current New York Rangers coach Gerard Gallant, who was the head coach for the World Championships in Latvia in 2021.
“I felt last year was a really cool experience and different from what most people have seen before (playing in the bubble) and it would have been nice to come home with a gold medal, but I’m grateful for the time I had there.
“He’s (Gallant) a super coach and it was nice to get to know before we were both Rangers and he’s a guy I strive to play under one day.”
Zac Jones, Matthew Robertson and Hunter Skinner are other defenseman selected by the Rangers in the draft playing this season with Hartford creating daily competition. But the two games he got in last year in the AHL helped him know what to expect this season.
“When I first came it was a big eye opener in terms of seeing everyone…and I’m glad I got the experience of going to Prospect Camp with a lot of guys who have gone two or three times. It was my first time so it definitely did help in terms of getting adjusted and at least knowing a few faces.”
And having 16-year NHL defenseman Steve Smith coaching you every day can do nothing but help in that development.
“His career and resume speak for itself. He’s a super-easy guy to talk too and he’s always giving us tips and telling us what he wants from us. He’s been awesome and huge help.”
And that will do nothing but enhance his development and preparation for what should be a long NHL career. There is the pressure of being a first-round draft pick, but also the motivation to prove that he is better than the three defensemen selected ahead of him in that 2020 draft.
“They’ve treated me well here (Hartford); they’ve treated me like any other prospect and you have to work for everything you get here. Once you’re here at this level there is not much different whether you’re a first rounder or a fourth rounder.
“Whoever puts in the work is going to get rewarded at the end. You always want to get drafted as high as you can even though it’s not the end-all-be-all and it’s all what you do afterward, but yeah, you’re definitely gunning for guys and that’s just the way of the game.”
(Hartford Wolfpack Hockey Photo)