With all the additional ice time, Chris Kreider is getting better with every game. But he isn’t scoring. JT Miller is beginning to impact games in a multitude of ways. But he isn’t scoring. Generally, the Rangers aren’t scoring. However, despite this team being in a depressing state offensively, the coaching staff needs to stick with the younger players.
While sending Jesper Fast back to the WolfPack was the right thing to do, Miller and Kreider are getting good minutes and they are now showing clear progression. The Rangers won’t derail their season by playing these two promising youngsters – now they are showing some NHL readiness – but they may damage their own long term potential beyond this season if they revert to leaning on the veterans with limited upside.
Despite some indifferent starts, the Rangers can still be excited at the long term potential of their top nine forwards. With Carl Hagelin’s return and with Kreider, Miller, Derick Brassard, Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan’s presence, the Rangers have an excellent young core to build around Rick Nash. It may not be the most overly skilled top nine but there is still a nice balance of skill, speed and work ethic. You live with the growing pains.
The Rangers don’t seem able to buy a goal at the moment, but there has been some key trends beginning to emerge. The defense has clearly turned a corner (ten goals conceded in the past five games) and Henrik Lundqvist looked better against the Canadiens. That’s two key aspects that this team needs to rely on both in the short and long term.
Once this team is difficult to beat, enough goals will come, especially when Callahan and Nash eventually return. Right now it needs to be about damage limitation. Teams like the Boston Bruins have proven that you can win a Cup with a balanced team and not necessarily the most explosive team.
Right now the two most important aspects for the Rangers are to build on the increasingly stingy foundation and keep feeding ice time to the younger players. Back in 2008 the Chicago Blackhawks struggled to a record just above .500 (40-34 and change) but it was a pivotal period for that franchise.
The Hawks showed patience and worked through inconsistencies and allowed young, elite talents such as Kane, Toews, Keith and Seabrook to develop. The results since then have spectacularly justified their stance back in ‘08. Importantly, that Hawks team made sure it had a solid veteran influence with guys like Robert Lang, Jason Williams, Nikolai Khabibulin and Patrick Sharp.
The Rangers may not have quite that same high end skill to fall back on. But so long as Kreider, Miller and the younger players show they are not regressing against NHL calibre opposition, they need to be kept in the line-up. You can still be competitive with youth, especially when the balance is there with the likes of a rejuvenated (to an extent) Brad Richards and natural leaders such as Callahan, Dan Girardi and Henrik Lundqvist leading the way.
The Rangers are frustrating to watch right now but there’s plenty on this roster to still be optimistic about. Right now, it’s about how the roster is utilised moving forward that’s important – starting with Kreider and Miller.