When Alain Vigneault had some choice comments for J.T. Miller following his demotion back to the AHL, after being given a golden opportunity to take a critical role for the Rangers, many fans called for AV’s head. The arguments thrown out had nothing to do with his successes as the coach this year, but that he has “never liked kids and refuses to play the kids.” It’s a silly argument actually.
Let’s use AV’s recent history –his stint with the Canucks– as the barometer for playing the kids. He started there as the head coach in 2006-2007. Since the 2004-2005 season never happened, I think it’s fair to start with the 2003 draft as our cutoff for our little experiment, seeing how many kids were drafted by and played for the Canucks under AV. Technically, I can use the 2001 draft since Kevin Bieksa (5th round of 2001 draft) didn’t play his first full season until 2006-2007. But, let’s use 2003 as the cutoff.
Let’s just rattle off the rookies that played significant roles with the Canucks under AV’s reign:
- 2003 draft: Ryan Kesler
- 2004 draft: Cory Schneider (remember he took over the starting role before AV left)
- 2004 draft: Alex Edler
- 2004 draft; Jannik Hansen
- 2005 draft: Mason Raymond
Those are four significant pieces for the Canucks. It’s not a long list, just four (five if you include Bieksa) guys. Looking at the Canucks draft history, it’s not like AV had much to work with. The Canucks don’t really have the strongest draft history while he was present. Those are the guys that actually played significant time in the NHL. The other two guys that played a while in the NHL were gone early. R.J. Umberger (2001 draft) was traded in 2004, and Michael Grabner (2006 draft) was waived in 2010.
AV was let go after the 2012-2013 season. So I guess the last draft we can really use to “test how AV plays the kids” would be the 2009 draft? Key kids drafted before then that didn’t play long with the Canucks:
- 2008 draft: Cody Hodgson, traded for Zack Kassian
- 2009 draft: Jordan Schroeder, 55 NHL games under his belt.
Hodgson really only played one full season (16-17-33 in 67 game) for the Canucks. He was traded in 2012 for Kassian after spending two more years in the OHL and one with the AHL (normal development path). I don’t really know what the deal was there, but Kassian didn’t play much (39 games) under AV before finding a regular role with John Tortorella. As for Schroeder, well he’s played just 55 games.
People will want to use Niklas Jensen as an example for AV hating kids, but he was drafted in 2011. AV was gone two years after he was drafted. Other than that, look at the Canucks draft history. It’s not that good. AV did pretty well considering who he had to work with. From the 2003-2009 draft, the Canucks selected just seven players that have played 100 NHL games. Four were with AV (Hodgson, Grabner, Mike Brown were the other three).
Now, just one year with the Rangers, he’s already found solid playing time for Chris Kreider, who couldn’t land a regular role with Torts. He’s given Miller five different call ups (after initially making the team out of camp). Jesper Fast made the team out of camp before rightfully being sent back down, and was just recalled today. Dylan McIlrath and Conor Allen each got looks as well.
But Dave, what about all the other kids in the AHL that should be in the NHL?
Let’s take a step back for a second. Hartford has its own coaching staff. You don’t think they are talking with Jim Schoenfeld (Hartford GM), who in turn is talking to AV about these kids? AV doesn’t watch every AHL game, he can’t. He gets advice from the guys in Hartford. So when you don’t see kids like Danny Kristo or Oscar Lindberg even getting called up, it means they are not ready. Period. It doesn’t matter what you think about them, it matters what the coaching staff in Hartford thinks about them.
All of the kids called up this year got a chance in the top-nine. Only Kreider stuck. There’s a reason for this, and it isn’t AV.
AV, just like any other NHL coach, will play kids when they are ready. Miller isn’t ready. In Vancouver, he didn’t have much to work with, but got a lot out of those five guys. He’s been here one year, and he’s given a top line role to one kid (Kreider) and got a look at four other kids, with two making the team out of camp. Remember, Kreider didn’t make the team out of camp, but he stuck after his first call up.
It is truly a silly argument when people say coaches don’t play kids. They won’t play kids that aren’t ready. They will play kids that can hold their own.