The Rangers are in an enviable situation with Henrik Lundqvist manning their net at an age where he can continue playing at a high level for a long time behind what should be a contender for several seasons. The immediate future in net is bright, but those who think the club should sit back and rest on their laurels should be warned.
The Rangers need to begin seriously thinking about drafting a goalie for the future. Of course, their fingers may be a little burnt and their draft trigger finger a little hesitant given the disappointing outcomes from drafting Al Montoya, Antoine LaFleur, and Scott Stajcer, but the Rangers need to keep an eye on the future. This is made more apparent as current back up Marty Biron (no matter how talented) isn’t exactly a rookie himself either.
The Rangers were fortunate to draft Lundqvist in the 7th round way back in 2000. He never made his debut until the 2005/6 season, and while he quickly took over from assumed starter Kevin Weekes, he was pencilled in as a backup, learning the ropes patiently before assuming his starters role. The thing is, goalies take a long time to develop in most cases.
Look at Corey Schneider in Vancouver and how long it took him to become a full time NHL goalie. The examples of goalies that rush to the NHL with impressive results are minimal. Even the Rangers Marty Biron took almost five full seasons before starting more than 6 NHL games in a single season. It took Martin Brodeur four seasons to go from draftee to NHL starter. It took arguably the best NHL goalie of all time, Dominik Hasek, nine (!) years before he established himself as an NHL goalie. The point here is that it really does takes time.
What happens to the Rangers if Lundqvist has a serious injury? Do you have the same confidence in a Biron/Cameron Talbot duo? With the greatest respect to those two players, of course you don’t, especially not long term. A club has to prepare for the future as well as focusing on the present. It’s a balancing act that is a necessary evil.
So what if Lundqvist does indeed man the Rangers net for another decade? Do those mid round picks and time spent on developing goalies go to waste? Not necessarily so. A club like the San Jose Sharks routinely draft goaltenders and turn them either into roster players or assets. The NHL is, to an extent, also a game of asset management. Not every pick can become an NHL’er with the club that drafted them.
The Sharks drafted Mikka Kiprusoff back in 2005, and while the Sharks couldn’t find a place for the future Vezina winner in their own line-up long term, they turned him into Marc-Edouard Vlasic – a fine two way NHL defenseman. The Sharks meanwhile went with Evgeni Nabakov. They didn’t win a Cup with Nabakov, but he was certainly a solid starter for them for many years.
In recent seasons the Sharks have continued to draft goalies such as Thomas Greiss (now at the NHL level, showing plenty of potential), Alex Stalock (solid prospect, playing on poor AHL teams) and Harri Sateri (another decent Finnish goalie prospect). Naturally the Sharks don’t expect all these goalies to make it, but they form a pipeline, and the ones that aren’t used get moved for assets. Even Kiprusoff was a 5th round that fetched a 2nd round pick.
The point is this: The Rangers are blessed with the best goaltender in the world, but to take him for granted would or could be back-breaking. The Rangers need to plan for tomorrow while working towards today, and that counts for every position.