With all the hullabaloo over Derek Stepan’s signing (I am among the guilty parties that has got caught up in the ‘hysteria’) it’s easy to forget that right now The Rangers have a lot of great talent on the horizon. One such player is Evgeny Malkin Grachev. Grachev, who has stated he wants to be like his illustrious namesake could very well be a line mate of Stepan’s next season. Whether that will be in New York or Hartford however, remains to be seen. A little look at Grachev and his development….
A lot of Rangers fans are saying they’d like to see, perhaps even expect to see the talented Grachev make the Rangers next season. The hulking Russian doesn’t appear ready for the NHL. Consider that carefully; The Rangers don’t need to rush (and ruin) another good prospect. Why are the Hawks in the Stanley Cup final? One reason is that they don’t unnecessarily rush their prospects. Likely Norris winner Duncan Keith played 2 full years in the AHL and he didn’t have language barriers to face. Byfuglien played 2 minor league seasons so did troy Brouwer, the list goes on. I could bring up examples of The Rangers rushing their prospects like Jamie Lundmark…. Oh, I just did
The 6’4 220lb man-child from Khabarovsk, Russia dominated the only year he played in the OHL, garnering multiple honours while racking up 40 goals and 80 points, rookie records. However, it was when he went to Hartford for the 09-10 season that Grachev fell back to earth and proved he still has a lot to learn. Make no mistake the big Russian has huge talent and remains an important piece of the Rangers going forward but if the Rangers motto of ‘dominate before you move up a level’ is true then don’t expect to see Grachev in Ranger blue next season. The statistics bear this out. Of course, this is allowing for the potential of an unbelievable training camp…
This season Grachev scored 12 goals and 28 points, had a disappointing -13 rating, only took 131 shots and went without a goal for the last 27 games of the season. That is far from dominating. What was concerning was that in games where his line mates had multiple point nights, Grachev would often be scoreless or held without shots. He failed to make a consistent impact. All this shouldn’t scare Rangers fans too much though. Don’t underestimate the step up in both quality of opponent and the grind of a full AHL season Grachev had to overcome at a young age.
Failure is often a part of growth; take Michael Jordan’s famous quote: ‘I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed’
It might be a basketball quote and it may seem extreme to quote ‘His Airness’ when talking about a hockey prospect but the point remains the same. Grachev’s struggles this year doesn’t mean he’ll regress so long as he learns from it and uses it to improve. This past season will have aided Grachev’s acclimatisation to the North American game as well as help improve the Russian’s English skills. Stats aren’t everything and these two factors are crucial for his long term development.
If Rangers fans need an example to calm their nerves look no further than Russian compatriot Artem Anisimov. The lanky pivot’s first year in Hartford was by no means dominating as he scored 16 goals and 43 points playing with AHL all star PA Parenteau. It was in his second year he broke out, dominating the league with 81 points and 37 goals in 80 games. AA proved he had mastered the AHL and was ready for promotion. Grachev must now do the same. Anisimov turned his seasoning into a solid 28 point NHL rookie year which was no mean feat given the limited ice time, limited line mates and the Rangers’ on ice struggles.
So what next for Grachev? The Rangers website may be right that he’s ahead of schedule; he’s certainly ready physically, showed determination (and maturity) to come over to North America as a teen and hopefully his English has improved but just because he’s ahead of schedule doesn’t mean he’s ready. The Rangers would be well advised not to rush Grachev. Give him good line mates in Hartford (Stepan perhaps?) and let his confidence and all round game grow. Let him score heavily and let him come to New York safe in the knowledge that he has nothing left to prove at every level he’s played.