It’s fair to say that the Connecticut Whale have had an indifferent start to the season, stumbling to a 1-3-1 record to open the year. What the Whale’s start also suggests is that when you dig a little deeper there may be a need for patience in regard to prospect development.
With two points in his first five games Chris Kreider has hardly set the world alight. Christian Thomas has a single goal in five games, while JT Miller had three assists in his opening four games of the regular season before displaying all his potential with a breathtaking individual effort against Albany midweek.
Miller and Kreider in particular raised levels of expectation with their strong play in the preseason, however it’s fair to say only Miller is delivering at present. With regard to the prospects Rangers’ fans have possibly been guilty of getting ahead of themselves when thinking how ready Kreider and co were. Being NHL ready can take time.
Kreider is without question an elite prospect that is NHL ready – as his playoff performance last spring suggested – but talk of 30 or 40 goal rookie seasons at the NHL level were premature. If anything, Kreider’s muted start to the AHL season should temper expectation and not cause panic and anxiety. As the Whale struggled defensively it has been the up to the offense to play catch up and try and match teams stride for stride. Unfortunately the result has been the 1-3-1 start they currently have.
While the Whale is a young team on the whole, they will need to rely on the likes of Kris Newbury and Matt Gilroy to provide experience and veteran support if they are to have a successful campaign. Chris Kreider was/is expected to be an offensive leader but perhaps it is expecting too much. From a talent perspective there are not many young players in the entire AHL that can match his combination of physical gifts, his pro readiness and his skill set but perhaps it’s in his best interest that he’s taking his lumps right now.
Other highly touted prospects currently skating in the AHL such as Sven Baertschi (7pts in 6), Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent Hopkins (both 5 in 5 respectively) or Nino Niederreiter (5 in 3) are all off to better starts than Kreider. It doesn’t matter. A hockey journalist recently commented that during a lockout the best league in the world is not the KHL (where depth varies wildly) but is the AHL so that gives some indication that Kreider is playing against quality opposition. While his start is not ideal, it’s just that: a start.
Kreider is learning the pro game playing amongst veterans and against quality prospects game in game out and in a deep league while getting extensive game time. It’s not a concern that he’s had a relatively rough start but perhaps lucky for the Rangers that his learning curve is taking place in Connecticut rather than the bright lights and intense media scrutiny of New York.
While the likes of Kyle Jean, JT Miller and Kris Newbury are all off to promising offensive starts when it comes to prospect development the numbers aren’t the only thing that matters. Patience, ice time and tempering expectations (aka: keeping pressure to a reasonable level) are what really matters. Kreider will be a star whether he destroys the AHL or not; the only thing that matters right now is patience and game time.