Looking ahead to the summer there appears to be potential for significant change in the Rangers organisation. With players such as Vinny Prospal, Alex Frolov, Ruslan Fedotenko and Todd White from the current roster all with expiring deals, and each unlikely to return, there is scope for major roster re-shaping. Then there’s also the potential of major change in Connecticut. Dale Weise, Evgeny Grachev, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan McDonagh, Pavel Valentenko and perhaps even Tomas Kundratek are all possible, legitimate Rangers candidates leaving major holes in the Connecticut roster. When you also consider the likes of Tim Kennedy and Brodie Dupont (unlikely to stick around if he sees little chance of an NHL call up) are likely to leave the organisation as well, all this potential change really emphasises the importance of good drafting. The ‘cupboards’ constantly need re-stocking and just one or two bad drafts can leave a big gap in an organisation. That is when an organisation has to make up for the lack of prospect development through free agency which is where the significant risk lies. We saw how bad it can go during the dark years the Rangers recently experienced.
Since the lockout the Rangers have done an excellent job at drafting well and Rangers fans are seeing the fruits of the draft right now, as the current roster is populated with talent such as Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan and Marc Staal leading the Rangers during a productive season. With the prospect of youngsters such as Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin, Roman Horak and Ethan Werek possible candidates to turn pro, the youth movement really will accelerate next summer. This, like free agency, does represent some danger. Both levels of the organisation will be very young and inexperienced which can lead to inconsistency, a potential lack of immediate success and stagnation but it is a danger that is worth taking on as much as it was a necessary one for the Rangers.
This all brings us back to the upcoming summer. Whether the Rangers compliment the current core with a Brad Richards type or not, significant change is indeed coming. With some cap space available and plenty of talent to choose from within it will be interesting to see how the Rangers go about the next phase of re-tooling the organisation. The most important additions may be the ones that come up from Junior and college, to the AHL, to keep the process moving or it may be free agents but it needs to be remembered that it’s not always about the headline grabbing signing. Looking at recent Cup champions such as the Hawks who added effective players like Tomas Kopecky or the Penguins who added Fedotenko or Billy Guerin successfully shows that it isn’t just the big name players that lead to success. Another example of organisational development is the way the Penguins let Gonchar walk this past summer but were only able to do so because of the development of younger players like Letang and Goligoski.
The Rangers do need a top line center but it doesn’t necessarily need to be a marquee addition. The Rangers need to play this season and then assess. With the development Stepan is going through there is no reason why he couldn’t take the job next year on a full time basis. The Rangers have their marquee guys in Gaborik, Lundqvist and the way he is developing, Marc Staal. There’s no guarantee the Rangers will win the Richards sweepstakes should he make it to July so it’s important to remember a team can win the cup with depth and commitment to a system. The Rangers’ best opportunity for sustained success may lie in this area and this is why drafting and managing the organisation effectively next summer could be pivotal. It should be exciting to watch it all unfold.