Rangers’ Braden Schneider prepares for first playoff trip

Braden Schneider tries to stay grounded and in the moment.

If he gets ahead, the rookie defender said, that’s when the thinking sets in. With five games left on the regular season schedule, starting with the Islanders on Thursday night at UBS Arena, it looks increasingly like Schneider will be one of the Rangers’ top six defensemen heading into the playoffs.

“It’s definitely something that I’m really excited about,” Schneider said of his first NHL playoff run. “My main goal is just to keep building my game. I’ve never been in this situation in the playoffs before, but I’ve seen it. It feels like it’s accelerated and the physicality is accelerated. So, just to make sure I keep my habits and keep building my game to make sure I’m ready for those times if they come.

“It was a great experience to learn from and I’m thrilled about it. I can’t wait to get in there.

Braden Schneider (45) skates with the puck.
Corey Sipkins

Since making his NHL debut on Jan. 13 in San Jose, Schneider has appeared in all but two games as part of the Rangers’ third defensive lineup. The first game in which he was eliminated came just after the trade deadline, when head coach Gerard Gallant faced all of the new Rangers additions, including veteran defenseman Justin Braun. The other was against Braun’s former team, the Flyers, on April 3 after Schneider had a minus-3 in the 3-0 loss to the Islanders on April 1.

Entering Thursday, Schneider had played the last eight consecutive games since his last healthy scratch, skating alongside Braun or Patrik Nemeth. The last contest Nemeth and Braun lined up next to each other was the aforementioned Flyers game over two weeks ago.

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Braun, who was brought in to deepen the Rangers defense, had played just six games since arriving in New York on Thursday. It seems Gallant has a preference for the Nemeth-Schneider duo, who have been on the ice for 11 Rangers goals and 10 against over 303:42 together, according to Natural Stat Trick.

“He’s earned everything he’s got,” Gallant said of Schneider. “Since the day he was called. The plan arrived at training camp, we did not see it right away in our hockey team. It was a young boy we wanted to get [AHL] games and experience and he went out there and he played hard and he did all the right things. He came here and [has] did nothing but play well.

Braden Schneider skates after the puck.
Braden Schneider

Much has been made of Braun’s 100 playoff games of experience and rightfully so, especially considering how young this Rangers team is. But Schneider only bolstered his case with responsible play and a memorable shot that turned into a fight against the Devils this month.

Schneider agreed he’s been proud to be able to keep his spot in the lineup for the most part since Braun came on the scene.

“It’s something that’s completely out of my control,” he said. “I just have to make sure I’m there to do my job and do what I can to help the team win. It’s great to keep getting chances and keep playing, but I can’t take it for granted because we have a ton of great players on our defense.

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