The Rangers have been the definition of inconsistency recently, going 4-4-1, as the team noticeably took a step back after its hot start to the season. During that start the Rangers were arguably led not by Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash and Derek Stepan but by their kids; most notably Jimmy Vesey, Kevin Hayes and JT Miller.
What we’re seeing right now is all three players go through some growing pains, inconsistent form and quite simply stretches of games where the puck doesn’t go in for them. This isn’t time for panic however. Far from it in fact and this despite Hayes being pointless in four, Miller goalless in six and Vesey with one goal since November 13.
In particular Vesey has started to rebound offensively even if he’s still not producing at the unexpected rate he did to begin the year but all three youngsters have moved through the line-up in the hope of regaining some consistent form. Their hot starts are now a memory but Alain Vigneault needs to stick with them – almost regardless of the results. This isn’t about December this is about the long term and all three players remain critical to the Rangers future.
The Rangers are blessed with offensive depth and that has meant other players (most notably the veterans who are expected to contribute) have been the ones to come to the fore recently. Indeed, Derek Stepan played his best game of the season against the Hurricanes. However, the up and down form of the important three young forwards offers us a chance to reflect on what’s expected from them and what their true levels are.
Yes, the Rangers are deep and talented up front, but they are predominantly a young, still somewhat unproven group that cannot or should not be expected to be relied upon too heavily for offense. None of the aforementioned three are front line offensive players. At least not yet, not at this stage of their respective careers. Their hot starts were to be enjoyed, not taken for granted.
This offense is still Rick Nash’s to lead. It still needs Derek Stepan to be its top line center and it needs Chris Kreider to grow yet further. This team may be deep but it’s not yet ready to contend for a Cup without changes. Arguably one of those changes should be the addition of a veteran forward for a playoff run (albeit it one at minimal cost) should this team be in with a shout to make some noise as it approaches the deadline. But I digress.
The Rangers (and the “kids” particularly) were playing their best hockey early on, when people didn’t know what to expect from them and when media scrutiny was not there. Patience is required with this group of players. Rangers fans shouldn’t worry if the younger players struggle through December. This is part of the learning curve.
What this also is, is a sign to Jeff Gorton that this team isn’t the finished article. I think we all hope Gorton had already recognised that fact. Don’t be surprised if Gorton looks to make changes. Just hope he and Alain Vigneault remain patient with the younger players on the roster. It’s patience – and a dose of reality – that’s needed most right now.