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One size does not fit all when it comes to player development

Courtesy of Blueshirts United

Courtesy of Blueshirts United

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.

24 Responses to “One size does not fit all when it comes to player development”

  1. WilliamW says:

    Agree. The front office and coaching staffs are professionals and almost always know something that fans do not

  2. Chris says:

    Suit, well put Sir, extremely well put. Nice examples too. So many that you could have used.

  3. Bloomer says:

    Not all hockey players are created equal and therefore develop differently, true that. Yes most hockey player pay their dues in the minors to learn their craft. Just have to be careful that they don’t spent too much time down in the iron league and whither or the vine.
    I don’t agree that putting a 20 year old hockey player in the press box for multi-games is professional. That does nothing for their development. If the Rangers need a 13th forward, for the price of a airfare, they could of brought up Asham or Powe for that role. Not all hockey organizations are as professional as others.

    • Dave says:

      Sometimes seeing the game from above makes it easier to slow it down and see how the game develops.

    • Chris A says:

      Some great points Bloomer but the idea that letting Miller sit in the Press Box and travel with the team for a week is unprofessional and hampers Miller’s development is a bit much.

      First, bringing up Powe or Asham for a week with no intention to play them is sloppy asset management. When they are sent back down they will need to clear waivers again, why risk a chance of losing an asset for nothing?

      Second, Miller was still practicing with the team, still working on his conditioning with the Rangers’ NHL training staff and still receiving coaching from the Rangers. There was almost certainly development of JT Miller taking place during that one week he was sitting.

      Third, I would bet that the coaching staff explained to Miller why he wasn’t playing and why he wasn’t being sent down to play. Sometimes life is a numbers game, and like Suit said if sitting a week to help the team is going to make JT pout like a child then maybe the Rangers don’t need him. Although the fact Miller had a pretty strong first game in Hartford suggests that the negative impact from sitting a week was negligible.

      • The Suit says:

        Great points

      • Evan M says:

        I agree on all points. Everyone always likes the next new thing regarding prospects and many like to see them given a chance. I think giving a prospect a chance is bad idea, but they can certainly earn it. Miller has earned a chance with his AHL play from what I gather, but when he’s in the NHL, he needs to be treated as anyone else. A little bit of rope maybe, but these games mean something. If he can’t hold his spot, then some practice time with the team and seat in the press box could definitely be good for him.

        There’s only so much latitude a coach can give with an unproven rookie. Veterans who have proved themselves in the past should have a little more length.

        • The Suit says:

          In deed, and I think AV is a big proponent of giving a little more rope to veterans than the previous regime. It’s not a bad strategy, just different than what we are used to seeing. Guys like Pyatt and Pouliot have been around the block so AV is gonna give them an opportunity to prove themselves, but time is definitely running out, especially for Pouliot.

          • Walt says:

            Well stated, that was the point I tried to make. The man is useless, and should be seated for a period of time to see if they can’t get his attention, and hunger back!!!!!

  4. Justin says:

    *drops mic*

  5. Walt says:

    Suit, nice write up, and for the most part your right on!

    My only point that I’d like to make this morning is, Miller was up for a stint, let him play. You have two veterans that are useless, Pyatt, and Pouliot, playing much bigger minutes, and they are doing nothing at all. They are a short term solution to meet our needs, granted, but this kid Miller is a major part of our long term plans.

    I also understand that Miller is only 20 years young, but he seems to be playing with a bit of an edge, checks well, and is much better defensivly than Pouliot. I like what he brings, and would rather have a hungry player out there busting his tail, than a veteran going through the motions!

    Either you play him, or leave him down at the AHL level, where he can play the necessary amount of time to develope. This kid will be a full time player for us next season, mark my words.

  6. SalMerc says:

    These are maturing young men. As a dad of three such young men I can tell you that they all mature differently. Some ready for battle at 16 and others don’t figure it out until 24. I was listening to a baseball great (during a rain delay) say that we need to remember that almost every player on the field was a star pitcher at a younger age, and dealing with being “one of the guys” and not Mr. Everything is as tough as producing on the field. I would think the same holds true for hockey rookies.

  7. Jeff says:

    Suit, who has the final call on Miller being sent to the Wolfpack? Is it mostly AV or a collective decision, because whoever it was botched it.

    • The Suit says:

      Jeff, I can’t speak for every organization, as everyone goes about their business differently, but from the orgs Ive worked for/are familiar with, generally it is a collective effort.

      NHL coaches will have the most say on assignments, but tend to have little input on recalls other than team need (e.g., top six, bottom six, bottom pair defense, etc.). Who actually comes up will usually be managed by the GM’s inner circle and the AHL coaching staff.

    • Dave says:

      Coaching staff makes those decisions.

  8. Paco33 says:

    But who are ignorant, armchair GMs going to blame for decisions they have no first-hand information about if everyone takes such a reasonable, intelligent view of player development/management?

  9. paulronty says:

    I think Kreider said it all when he attributed his difficulty last year to a bone chip in his ankle. When a guy is playing poorly I often wonder first if he has an undisclosed injury. He was ready at the beginning skill wise no question, all he was lacking was confidence. The other factor was elucidated by Brad Richards– pressing & trying too hard. when you are confident you play relaxed.

  10. AD says:

    Excellent article, but no mention of our old “tie goes to youth” policy which served the players and organization very well.

    I loved that philosophy; held the 3rd/4th line vets accountable, at the very least. Now, guys like Pouliot and Pyatt seem to be protected, to a large degree.

    • The Suit says:

      I agree with that philosophy, but AV doesn’t really have any other options right now. Miller needs minutes in the AHL, as do the other kids down there. I’d prefer Powe over Pouliot, but those guys are subject to waivers.

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