Debunking the “Vigneault doesn’t play the kids” myth

April 7, 2014, by
Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

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.

Categories : Coaching


  1. Seahorse says:

    stop trying to make logistical sense when fandom is about irrational emotion

  2. Walt says:

    Point well taken! Before AV’s arrival, I never heard that he didn’t like playing kids.

    Certain coaches tend to shy away from younger players, case in point, Iron Mike Keenan. Hell, he had Neil Smith trade away the future of this organization, Weight, Amante, for the likes of Larmer, and Mattieu. That worked out for that one year, but after that we went into a funk, missing the play-offs for some 6-7 years?? I believe that when the kids are ready, AV will play them, or may be forced to do so by upper management.

  3. The Suit says:

    A fairly common complaint heard around NHL fan bases. Never understood it.

    • Rangers Rock says:

      Remember Kovalev. When I see talent, I have a pretty good idea how they will turn out. Kreider’s first year in the playoffs was a good example. And we who were excited were right. And we see the coaches mis-handling even when it was Tort and AV. Kreider was benched for missing a goal even though he was hurt. AV leaves Brad Richards no matter what. Kreider has the lease amount of minutes as a first liner.
      Miller has talent and was doing well in the minors and when called up appeared to show heart and hit people and play well however not well enough for the coach. Thats why the fans are perplexed.

      • The Suit says:

        Those are anecdotal examples and not indicative of how either coach goes about their business of handling young players.

        Players have to earn it. Kreider was a liability until his last recall. Miller is a liability. Hags, Stepan, Cally, McD, Girardi, Staal, Sauer, Arty, etc. were not liabilities and thus got important roles.

        • Rangers Rock says:

          After AV got fired here is a post from a blog on why. No one read the intel of AV before he got here and now he is doing the same thing and then you call people delusional.
          havenutz321 days ago
          I don’t understand you people who say it’s a mistake. Sure, he’s had great regular season success and he continually got us to the playoffs. But are you really satisfied with just that? I want a cup and am convinced that AV isn’t the one to lead us there due to his inability to adapt in the playoffs. On top of that, he seems to play favourites, doesn’t give some players a fair shake (Ballard), gives others too much slack (Edler) and doesn’t use assets to their full potential (Garrison on 1st PP). I do agree that MG needs to go, too, though…

      • Puck Luck @Centerman21 says:

        Kreider was benched because his hand was hurt. Not because he missed the net. He may have missed due to his hand. AV never benched anyone for making a mistake and there’s been plenty. Fast made quit a few early on and kept playing through it. Anyone who says AV hates kids is qlueless. Go ask him. Otherwise it’s made up fantasy that you all think you have proof of. Kreider played most of the year on top line. Kreider doesn’t play in OT ever and he doesn’t get as much special team play as his linemates. Coach an NHL team and tell me how easy it is to throw a rookie out in a key situation. AV is trying to win games. Not loose over a rookie mistake with 1-2 mins left in 3rd period.

    • Puck Luck @Centerman21 says:

      The same things NY fans said about Torts not trusting Kreider and either leaving him to play 5-8 mins a game. While warming the end of the bench. The fans in BC had the same criticisms about AV over Shroeder. They felt they knew better and Shroeder would be a star if given the playing time. (Courtesy of painstaking research by the Suit when AV was announced as Rangers coach)
      It’s all a bunch of crap. Any coach is gonna play his best roster. Even if it includes a hand full of rookies or 2nd year players.
      IMO the major problem with Miller is his arrogance. Torts liked it on the ice but I don’t think either Torts or AV saw the dedication from Miller off the ice. Many players especially towards the end of the season when practice time is few and far between. Push to lift weights after a game. Boyle does. I know that much and I’m sure there’s others. I don’t think Miller has the maturity for that kind of dedication yet. Jagr is 42 and he works out 2-3 times a day to keep those old legs in shape. Again, I don’t think Miller feels he needs to work that hard yet. To me that’s why he out grew the AHL but hasn’t been successful in the NHL yet. What Miller should do is follow Ritchie & MSL to Connecticut. Kreider attended and cracked the lineup. Miller has the skill but if AV doesn’t see a work ethic from him. Why play him when there’s 25-30 year olds in better shape.
      I don’t buy any of that for a min. If Miller played like Nyqvist in Detroit. Don’t you think he’d play every day. Someone else would sit in the press box. AV didn’t throw Miller under the bus. He was asked a question and he answered it vaguely. Miller won’t be ready until next year at the earliest.

  4. SalMerc says:

    You want to see kids play, go watch the Islanders. I think AV is in a win-now situation and can ill-afford to be second-guessed on a JT turnover that looses a game. But the converse may be true as well. He may over-stay with guys who have a great history, but are no where near their heyday form.

    • Walt says:


      Do you really believe that we are a team that is in a win now situation?????

      I think not my friend!!

      • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

        Uh, yeah.

        • Walt says:

          Keep dreaming, we will be lucky to get out of the first round!! Hope your right.

          • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

            They traded 1, possibly 2 first rounders for Martin St. Louis and signed Lundqvist and Dan Girardi to long term deals. Whether they win or not, they’re in win now mode.

            • Walt says:

              The question, be honest to me, and yourself, do you really think they will win now, or any time in the near future??? Again, I say not, lack of toughness, size, and skill at finishing, are all missing!!

          • SalMerc says:

            We are old at the scoring positions and we have a 30+ y/o goalie, so yea, win now.

  5. Spozo says:

    I’ve heard the coaching staff say numerous times they prefer the kids to develop in Hartford until they can seamlessly move in to the Rangers lineup. Is Hartford coached with the same systems as the Rangers so this transition goes a lot smoother? Or are they coached to the strengths of the players there to try and win games?

    • The Suit says:

      Haven’t heard anything with the new regime but Torts had Gernander running a similar system so everyone would be on the same page. Not sure if that’s still the case, but I have to imagine that it is.

  6. AD says:

    Using the 2003 and 2004 drafts were highly selective years suitable to the point of view you have. But, even still, your analyses is flawed: Kesler was a high #1 draft pick already a pro at the NHL level well before AV took the reins. He had little, if anything, to do with integrting Kesler into the NHL. And Schneider? When did AV give him a shot? He had Luongo and held out till the very end of his reign before letting him play. Maybe that was the right decision but Schneider is hardly an example of AV integrating a prospect into the NHL.

    What about all the years after 2004? What happened to those draft picks? To say Vancouver didn’t draft well is, again, very suitable to your point but failed reasoning. Show me a few #2 and #3 picks that were developed and integrated into the Vancouver lineup and drafted during AV’s tenure. They don’t exist. That is AV’s record.

    Scotty Bowman and Mike Keenan were two highly successful coaches that, like AV, did not develop prospects into NHL teams; their prospects were either clear top end players that any coach could insert into the lineup or they never got the chance. Nothing wrong with AV having this style as long as he wins.

    What is wrong, though, is to paint a picture of AV being prospect-friendly, when he wasn’t and has never been. Again, as long as he wins like Bowman and Keenan, I don’t think many will mind, but let’s portray an accurate picture here please.

    • Dave says:

      It takes 3 years for the average player to develop and reach the NHL, so that’s why I started with 2003-2004.

      Kesler played 82 games in 2005-2006 (1 year prior to AV coming on board) and was 10-13-23. At the pro level before him, yes. But he wasn’t a significant player until AV took over.

      Schneider won the starting job, and that’s why they tried to trade Luongo. Upper management failed on that. He started 30 of 48 games last season.

      I don’t see what counterpoint you’re making on their draft history. It’s atrocious. No one played at the NHL level. That’s not AV, that’s poor drafting.

      The point I’m making is that AV is like any other coach: They won’t play kids that aren’t ready. You missed that apparently, even though it’s bolded.

      • AD says:

        Schneider didn’t become the backup until four years after AV took over the job. Like I said, maybe that was the right decision since the starter was Luongo, so I am not sure that is a good illustration to make your point, but he was hardly played for several years. It only happened until Luongo started going mental after losing the cup finals; i.e., he was no longer a kid and prospect but one that was simply riding pine for several years. Schneider is 28yrs old right now, so you can hardly say he “played a kid” last year. If anything, using him as an example disproves your point and, I’m sorry, but Kesler was a proven NHL player before AV came on board; while he only registered 23 points that first season, it was obvious then he would become a star.

        I understand your point, I just don’t agree, even if it is in bold. There is nothing wrong with a coach having a style which includes a very high threshold for prospects to make their way onto the NHL team, as long as those teams are winning. Saying AV has this style is not a criticism; it’s a style.

        If you attribute all of the years post 2004 to poor drafting, then, at best, you can say the record is incomplete on this subject. But the fans and media in Vancouver openly state this was one aspect of AV’s coaching style that was consistently being questioned.

        • Dave says:

          Schneider was drafted in 2004, spent 3 years in college and 2 in the AHL before landing as the regular backup in 2009-2010. I honestly don’t know what point here is. Goalies probably aren’t the best example to use because they take so damn long to develop, but Schneider was only a pro for 2 years before making the NHL leap.

          I noted 7 prospects that played 100 games in the NHL in which AV would have had direct influence. Four played big roles with the Canucks. I legitimately have no idea who Mike Brown is, Umberger was traded very early, and they whiffed on Grabner.

          They have to draft well in order for kids to have a legit shot at being NHL players. AV had very little to work with in terms of kids in Vancouver.

  7. Ray says:

    You may be right, but this is more complicated than it appears. There are can’t miss players and there are players who become NHLers in the right environment. If few of a team’s draft choices ever make it, it may be poor drafting, but it also may be poor handling of young players.

    So far, the only under-utilized kid is Cam Talbot and I think very few of those who want to see more of Miller and Kristo would agree with my wish to see Talbot get a chance to win the Cup for us.

    • Dave says:

      Vancouver completely whiffed in 2006, 2007, and 2010. Jury is still out on Schroeder (2009), but if not for Hodgson, Vancouver would have a 5 year span where they didn’t draft a single player that played 100 games in the NHL. That’s terrible drafting.

      • AD says:

        That’s fine. Drafting was poor. I can recognize that. Kesler and Schneider are not good illustrations of your point though. Kesler actually played 28 games his rookie draft year; then was very successful his 2nd year after the draft having played all 82 NHL games and clearly on a path to being a top player. AV did not manage his transition into the NHL. And schneider was riding pine and biding time for many years; again, he was 27yrs old last year when AV gave him a material role on the team.

        Best case, one can only conclude AV’s record on this subject is incomplete. With the Rangers, his record primarily relates to Kreider and Miller. With Kreider, it was top line or AHL; no in between at all. And, here too, Kreider did do a great deal of development into the NHL before AV arrived. AV managed the tail end of that transition. Top line or AHL? What kind of commitment is that?

        Also, you cannot deny that AV gave Pouliot and Powe yards and yards of leeway when they were, frankly, playing worse than Miller at the time earlier in the season. And Miller had to play an off position most call-ups, and primarily 4th line minutes; whereas Pouliot and Powe were higher than him on the depth chart. No need to debate this but you cannot say he was given an equal chance compared to some vets that were stinking up the rink.

        Best case, incomplete. But no myth has been debunked. Sorry, nice try. And, again, it is a coaching style, not necessarily a weakness. It would however be different from what the organization has preached the past five years.

        I do appreciate the article and points you made even if we have different views. You always bring something of good quality to the table for us fans; greatly appreciated.

      • Ray says:

        My point was that you can’t absolutely evaluate draft choices by NHL success. No specific case can be proven but I sincerely believe Evgeny Grachev should have made it in the NHL. The Rangers failed to develop him successfully and then his second team had less patience and he never made it. OTOH, some players benefit from really good development. Justin certainly thought that Talbot was not a real prospect and I’m sure that opinion was based on something real. Some organizations outdevelop their draft pedigrees and some underdevelop. Second chance successes tell some, but not all of the story.

  8. Bloomer says:

    Very rarely will a young player step into the NHL without having some shortcomings in their game. Just like veterans make mistakes so will rookies. A good coach will bring a young player along giving them more and more responsibilities as they gain experience. I think AV gives up on his young players too soon, when he left Vancouver, the cupboard was bare of youth as he was content to play his veterans game in and game out. I agree that AV is in a win now mode, but if you look at their winning percentage, the Rangers are no better off then last years team and not only have they gotten older, they traded away their high end draft picks.

    • AD says:

      Since you raised the point, the Rangers actually have an inferior Goals Per Game / Goals Allowed Per Game ratio than the past four years. For those who believe stats do tell a story, this one stat of goals differential really captures a team’s overall strength better than everything else.

      • Bloomer says:

        Exactly, everyone is enamoured with AVs high temple offensive style of coaching, yet the Rangers goals per game is actually slightly less then last years team. They have given up more goals against this year and their winning percentage this year is not quite as good. The Rangers lean a lot on their PP for offense. But the teams that thrive in the playoffs are the ones who can score even strength. The Rangers do have a lot of players on their roster with playoff experience and that’s a bonus. The test will be how they stand up to the physical pounding as the NHL playoffs are truly a game of attrition.

        • flatbush says:

          Ah, Bloommer knows the numbers! PS, isn’t the Miller thing the same as Kreider. The media and MSG crew always take the opportunity to bash Torts regarding Kreider. They make it sound as if Av is to take all the credit for Kreider but he still is a defensive liability. Miller is a different player but like Kreider has lots of potential and needs to improve defensively. Just find it amusing that most of the media and broadcast booth need to rub AV’s back.

  9. Bloomer says:

    Terrible drafting or terrible player development?

  10. Frank Cerbone says:

    Don’t understand how Sather traded Callahan to provide flexibilty for Rangers’ future.

    Giving up a #1 for Nash, a #2 for Clowe, possibly two #1s for St Louis means no top end talent will be coming thru the Rangers’ player pipeline.


    This coming 2014-2015 Rangers can try to move Staal and sign 27 yr old UFA Niksanen of Pittsburg, He is right handed, an all around offensive/defensive presence.

    Forget Stasny

    • Erixon20 says:

      No top talent (Stamkos, Kane, Crosby) will ever come to NYR thru the draft because they never tank a season (intentional or not), and always finish in the middle of the pack. I don’t think giving up a #15 pick for an established superstar is a bad thing in and of itself, but it’s true that doing that too much will dilute the prospect pool whether it is stocked or not.

  11. Erixon20 says:

    Anyone know if goals per game are up or down across the league over that span?