As we get deeper into the dog days of August, we see really bad trade rumors and people like me killing time with a theoretical expansion draft. However, with only Derek Stepan left to be signed, many have started penciling in their starting lineup for puck drop in October, something I’m guilty of as well. It ranges from realistic to mildly amusing, as I’ve received some emails that have about five rookies as starting for the Rangers, three of which haven’t even played the North American professional game.
We learned last season what can happen if you hand a spot to a kid, especially if the kid is not ready for the NHL. Chris Kreider’s AHL play from October-January last season did not warrant a call up, but he got one anyway. What we got was inconsistency, lack of ice time, games as a healthy scratch, and eventually a demotion back to the AHL. It was a stain on the season. But the Rangers had their hands tied, as they needed a forward to start the season and they had already handed that spot to Kreider without seeing if his playoff performance –the one where he shot 20%– was a blip on the radar or the real thing. Turned out it was a blip.
Now that’s not to say that Kreider won’t be a successful NHL player in the future. Personally, I think that AV’s less skating intensive system –and thereby allowing Kreider to focus more on offense and not on his play without the puck– will be good for the kid.
The concern was that Kreider was handed the roster spot, presumably due to his playoff performance the previous season. In defense of Slats and Torts, they had five days to make a decision and went with the known quantity who has potential over any question-marks that they’ve had in the AHL. Had there been a full camp and preseason, maybe they wouldn’t have made the same decision. Then again, maybe Kreider would have been more prepared.
The same theory applies to JT Miller. He played well in his first few games as a Ranger, but after that it was clear that he needed more time in the AHL to round out his game. Regardless, he stayed because the Rangers needed a body that could play 12 minutes a game and not be a total liability on the ice. Miller has great potential, but now is not his time.
This also applies to those that have not played professional North American hockey yet –Danny Kristo, Oscar Lindberg, and Jesper Fast. The Rangers aren’t even sure what they have in these kids, and chances are that only one, maybe two, will actually become full-time NHLers. So why hand them roster spots without seeing if they can play?
The reason why the Rangers went out and added Benoit Pouliot and Dominic Moore without removing Mats Zuccarello, Taylor Pyatt, Darroll Powe, Brian Boyle, Arron Asham, or Derek Dorsett, is that they learned from the mistake of handing the spot to Kreider last season by rounding out their depth. Now, the kids will need to compete and earn their spots. All of these bottom six guys mentioned are signed for at most two more years, which is right around the time it takes for kids to develop in the AHL. The Ryan McDonagh’s and Derek Stepan’s –the kids that make the jump without much need of a transition period– are the exception, not the rule.
Personally, I think only Kreider makes the team out of camp. He has more experience than all of the other kids combined, and his second stint in the AHL was pure domination (7-4-11 in 14 games, including a run of 6 goals in 8 games). The others simply need more time at the professional level. Lindberg is a wild card, but as long as the depth guys remember how to play hockey, I think he gets time to develop in Hartford first. It’s not exactly a bad thing to let kids develop in Hartford instead of rushing them to the NHL. Look what happened with Alex Burmistrov.