Over the past few months, you’ve surely noticed that the Connecticut Whale –the Rangers AHL affiliate– has been struggling all year. They have battled inconsistent scoring, Swiss cheese defense, and inconsistent goaltending. While many are pointing to this being a sign of poor drafting and development, it is actually the exact opposite. Good friend of the blog Jess Rubenstein of The Prospect Park noted this in the comments of yesterday’s Around The Farm, and it got me thinking about the development of past prospects.
This year’s Whale club was supposed to have more than just Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, and Dylan McIlrath on it. Very few people predicted the kind of year Carl Hagelin would have last season. Most expected him to spend a full year in the AHL last season, which would have made him eligible for the AHL this season (as he wouldn’t have passed his waiver threshold). The same can be said for Stu Bickel. Those are two key pieces.
Going even further back, the odds that both Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh developed as quickly as they did were astronomical. Stepan didn’t even need time at the AHL level, and McDonagh was up within three months. With what amounts to two full seasons under their belts, they too passed their waiver threshold, thus putting the Whale in a bind.
The issue isn’t that the Rangers don’t have prospects, it’s that more than half of them developed so fast that the Whale’s roster is bare. Also bear in mind that once the season starts, Kreider will likely be joining the Rangers, leaving the Whale with even less to work with.
Outside of McIlrath and Miller, none of the other top prospects are even eligible for the AHL. Brady Skjei and Boo Nieves –the organization’s top two picks from this year’s draft– are with the NCAA. It is unlikely they will sign a professional contract until after their junior season, much like McDonagh and Stepan. The same goes for Steven Fogarty, the Rangers 2011 third round pick.
Michael St. Croix can’t play in the AHL until next year due to the CHL transfer rules. The same goes for Shane McColgan, Sam Noreau, and Peter Ceresnak. Jesper Fast and Oscar Lindberg likely won’t be over from Sweden until next year.
The Whale’s problem isn’t poor drafting or poor development, it’s timing. The Rangers prospects, specifically their NCAA prospects, didn’t need much time in the AHL before making the jump. That accelerated process left a gap in the prospect pipeline, and that gap is what we are experiencing right now.
This appears to be a one year phenomenon, as the Rangers have at least four solid prospects headed to the AHL next year, possibly six. Let’s also remember that in the grand scheme of things, the record this year is relatively irrelevant. Wins are nice, but there are a lot of teams –like the Springfield Falcons– who are loaded with players who would otherwise be on an NHL roster.