There’s an old cliche that lingers around front offices and rinks throughout North America that ‘if you’re good enough, you’ll make it no matter what’. It’s a cliche that lives on because so to do the skeptics and excuses that often attach to certain players who don’t live up to expectations.
All too often fans and media members are quick to point fingers at a coach or a GM when a young player’s output doesn’t immediately reflect their scouting report. However, player development can take time and not everyone goes through the same process to reach their potential.
It’s no secret the Detroit Red Wings are often thought of as the model organization due to their ability to go off the charts and turn late round picks into stars. Jim Nill, the current GM of the Dallas Stars and former head of scouting for the Wings, is often quoted for his belief in letting kids develop away from the Show until they are ready for NHL action. However, when you peel the onion back a little bit, you’ll see that not every core player he developed went through an identical process.
Justin Abdelkader didn’t step foot on to NHL ice until five years after he was drafted. He was sent to the AHL four times in two years. Niklas Kronwall became a regular six years after being drafted and was sent to the AHL three times. Valtteri Filppula, drafted in 2002, didn’t become a regular until 2006-07. Between 2005-06, he was sent to the AHL six times!
On the other side of the spectrum you have Johan Franzen, who was drafted in 2004, but made the team in 2005. He didn’t play a single game in the minors and neither did Datsyuk or Zetterberg, who both made it to the NHL three years after being drafted. Different players. Different learning curves. Same man running the show.
Yet we tend to overlook these things and deride the Rangers management for their so-called ‘mishandling’ of Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, and other young players because we compare them to guys like Hagelin who had to take a few less road trips up I-84. Let us not forget, part of developing a player isn’t just about handing them minutes, but also challenging them to overcome obstacles.
Look, not every player will be able to handle those challenges. Some guys run back to the KHL or demand trades because they can’t use a few hurdles as motivation to get better. Is that the type of player we want to foster? Is that what we want to eventually lead us?
Or how about we use those types of players as trade bait and make sure we hold on to guys like Ryan Callahan, who was sent to the AHL five times by Renney and company before he stuck. And even when he did stick, he was a bottom six player who barely got time on the power play his first few seasons. Now look at him. Would you put the ‘C’ on anyone else?
Kreider fans may or may not think what he went through last year made him who he is today, but I beg to differ. I believe that AV sending Kreider to the Whale or whatever they’re called was important to his development. It reinforced a notion — contested by the front office no less — that he wasn’t ready and that he still had elements of his game he needed to work on. J.T. Miller is in a similar boat with the frequent assignments/recalls, but like Kreider and Callahan before him, I think he will overcome it.
Ultimately, in hockey as in life, people learn at his or her own pace, and you can’t always use the same process for developing one talented person on another. Hopefully more fans come to realize this because they too have a part to play in this process as well.