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Zac Jones making most of extended opportunity in Rangers' lineup

It was a bit of a frustrating start to the season for Rangers defenseman Zac Jones.

Despite putting together an impressive showing in both training camp and preseason action, the youngster was the odd man out in the Blueshirts’ defensive pairings to begin the campaign.

Jones remained sidelined for 45 of the team’s first 62 games this season, but he hasn’t let that get to him, and he’s been able to step into the starting lineup seamlessly when head coach Peter Laviolette has called his number.

That’s been the case over the past few weeks as the 23-year-old has slotted in tremendously with two of the team’s top defensemen, Jacob Trouba and Ryan Lindgren, missing time due to lower-body injuries.

“He’s been a really solid player for us,” Laviolette said. “He’s just jumped right back in. He’s moving the puck really well, he’s competing on the puck really well, he sees the ice, and his skating has been noticeable.”

The former third-round pick, who has been solid on both ends of the ice and looks to be improving with each game, has recorded three assists and a +3 rating across nine consecutive starts in place of Trouba.

While Jones has impressed with Hartford and during past NHL appearances, he told Vince Mercogliano of USA Today Sports that he feels his confidence is at a new level as he puts together one of the best stretches of his career.

“I’m having fun out there and getting my game back,” Jones said. “The confidence is taking over. I know I can do it, I know I can play in this league and I can thrive in this league. I can be an impact player.”

With both Trouba and Lindgren still in the early stages of their returns, and Erik Gustafsson now dealing with an upper-body injury, there’s no end in sight for Jones’ opportunity in the starting lineup.

If he can continue playing like this over the final few games of the season, the blueliner may just earn himself a regular role for next year or the postseason.