They’re different defensemen, Fox a 5-foot-11, 182-pound righty, Miller a 6-5, 215-pound lefty. But their differences don’t matter in the moments Miller’s eyes fixate on Fox. What he sees is all that counts.
“It’s learning, kind of teacher to student,” Miller said. “I get to sit on the bench and watch him do what he does. I get to see the plays that he sees from my perspective on the bench. I think that’s been one of the biggest blessings from the standpoint of not playing with him, just being able to see it firsthand and to learn.”
Miller sees Fox’s patience, vision, the ability to make a play when it looks like nothing is there. He said he has learned about puck management from watching Fox, passing to create the next play instead of just trying to get rid of the puck because time and space is limited.
Essentially, Miller is watching a defenseman, 15 days short of his 25th birthday, doing things that make him one of the best to wear a Rangers jersey, so good he’s drawing comparisons to Hall of Famers Brian Leetch and Brad Park, who were named two of the NHL’s top 100 players in 2017.
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Fox won the Norris Trophy as the League’s best defenseman in 2020-21. This season, he is fourth among NHL defensemen with 48 points (10 goals, 38 assists) in 49 games, and fifth with 211 points (34 goals, 177 assists) in 252 games since he was a rookie in 2019-20.
He will represent the Rangers along with goalie Igor Shesterkin and forward Artemi Panarin at the 2023 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend in Sunrise, Florida. All three are first-time All-Stars. Fox and Panarin were added through the fan vote.
The 2023 NHL All-Star Skills presented by DraftKings will take place at FLA Live Arena on Friday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN, ESPN+, SN, TVAS) and the 2023 Honda NHL All-Star Game is Saturday (3 p.m. ET, ABC, ESPN+, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“I want to be an impact player and every year I try to make more of an impact,” Fox said. “If you get a little caught up in trying to think that means go on offense more, it’s not always about that. Goals and assists come from playing good hockey, and sometimes that’s from good defense first. I just want to be an impact player every game.”
Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said Fox reminds him of Park because of his patience with the puck, the same thing that Miller said impresses him the most about the Rangers’ defenseman.
Park had 378 points (95 goals, 283 assists) with the Rangers from 1968-75 before being traded to the Boston Bruins.
“He’ll let guys come at him and he’ll still beat them somehow,” Gallant said of Fox. “You know 90 percent of the time he makes the right play. Sometimes we’re on the bench going, ‘Oh, oh,’ and you’re trying to catch yourself and then he puts it through the guy’s legs and does an outstanding play in the offensive zone. He’s a high-risk player, but the risk numbers are real good for him because he can make those plays.”
Fox laughs and says, “It’s crazy,” when he starts to hear people talking about him and Leetch in the same sentence.
But Fox’s next assist will give him one more than Leetch had in his first four seasons with the Rangers. They’re tied with 177, Fox reaching that number in 252 games, Leetch in 237.
Leetch averaged 0.97 points per game in his first four seasons (229 points in 237 games). Fox is averaging 0.84 points per game.
Fox had 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in 23 playoff games last season, his NHL postseason debut. Leetch had nine points (four goals, five assists) in 10 playoff games between 1987-91, his first four seasons.
“I’ve always said you can get so caught up in playing and not realizing things like that, that your name is associated with him in some regards,” Fox said. “I don’t want to say I like it when guys get compared to other guys because I feel like I’m my own player and I’m trying to make my own path here, but the history with my family and the Rangers, growing up in New York, it’s obviously special to hear your name associated with someone like that.”
Video: [email protected]: Fox gives Rangers the win in overtime
Fox grew up on Long Island, in Jericho, New York. His parents, Bruce and Tammy, were Rangers season ticket holders before their son started playing for their favorite team.
They watched Park before he was traded, Leetch’s entire career as a Ranger, and now, along with Fox’s brother Andrew, they get to see their son try to match them both.
Bruce, Tammy and Andrew are at every home game they can attend, which is most, Fox said. They don’t have to buy season tickets anymore either.
“They come to me,” Fox said, laughing. “I guess all the youth hockey payments might have paid off.”
Fox said the pinch-me-I-can’t-believe-I-am-a-Ranger feeling he had four years ago has worn off over time, but the reminders of what it means to his family and his community are easy to find.
“When I go back in the summer and my dad has got me signing stuff for all of his friends, you do realize what the team means to people, what me being on the team means to people,” said Fox, who is having a home built in Greenwich, Connecticut. “It’s special for me. When you take a step back and think about the bigger picture, it’s definitely meaningful to me.”
So is getting picked for the All-Star Game.
“Huge honor,” Fox said.
But not one he will get too caught up in it, which is par for the course with Fox.
He doesn’t talk openly about his stature in the NHL, the fact that he is an elite defenseman and again should be in the Norris Trophy discussion. He doesn’t think about the fact that players, even teammates like Miller, are watching him closely, learning from him.
“He knows all of that,” Fox’s defense partner, Ryan Lindgren, said. “He knows that he gets talked about. He knows he’s one of the top D-men and top players in the League. But he’s the same guy I have known since high school. He’s a goofy guy, very talkative, likes to joke around and keep things light, but when it’s game time he’s dialed in. He hasn’t changed, but he definitely knows who he is, what kind of player he is, how much impact he has on our team.”