Inconsistencies shown by Miller, Vesey and Hayes suggest patience is required

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Miller hasn’t been productive recently. Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

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.

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  • I have to disagree on a key point: The team is not in need of an inexpensive veteran forward. Even with recent injuries they have decent forward depth and don’t need a middling older player keeping their young forwards on the pine. What they need quite badly is a 1st pair Dman to play with McD.

    • Good point Chris as far as these three talented kids go. Patience while giving them room to grow into their potential is just what is called for here. However, I just gave a thumbs up to you, Peter, as I had the same thought while reading Chris’s words. I believe we have the guns right now to make a run. All we need is that last piece to the puzzle. I’m confident that Gorton is scouting that needed Dman right now and will pull the trigger when the price is right.

    • Hi Pete,

      Thanks for your comment. By veteran I would like to see the team add an expiring contract at minimal cost. A guy that come playoff time can play on the fourth line, take faceoffs, maybe play special teams but can be plugged in on occasion – not necessarily an every day player. A guy that, in a game 6 in Pittsburgh, isn’t fazed by the occasion because he’s got 700(ish) games under his belt. I do not want a veteran to play every game at the cost of a younger player getting ice time but I at least want the option of bringing someone in to the lineup if required.

      • Hey Chris, I see your point, but I think I will still disagree. Let the young players play the regular season and see how they do in the playoffs would be my answer. Then they will have that playoff experience under their belts for the next go ’round.

        The D is where they should be spending all their chits. They need that number 1 RD and if they are not going to play Clendening, then they probably need someone to take Klein’s spot too, because right now I am sad to say, he looks done.

    • are you referring to the every game snow angel to the imitation Mookie Wilson slide into second base on a 2 on 1 performed by an expensive defensive man?

  • Good post and generally agree. However what is missing is sandpaper up front and on blue line, particularly for the playoffs. No one fears playing NYR in terms of battle level…for position, for puck, in front of net. They are only fearing speed. That is good, but not enough. No single dimension is enough. As for that ever so controversial topic of…ahem….fighting……do we really want Kreider involved other than when absolutely necessary? Even if he becomes the second coming of CNeely, even Neely was able to chose his time and place because there were others to do that work . Ridiculius that Kreider/Miller are all we have in terms of any physicality, fighting or otherwise, and to see them fight more than on occasion is a silly waste of talented assets, which are to be used in that regard only when needed.

      • Lightning in a bottle last year. Even so, I would say that the Pens compete level last year was much more intense that our NYR in all respects. The best teams also protect the front of the net both for space and vision of the goalie. NYR goalmouth generally looks like a slumber party after the whistle. Posters on this site are quick to upbraid the likes of me, the steemed BobbyB, Walt, etc on our Neanderhal affection for intimidation and enforcers. Hiwever, at least lets all agree that it might be nice for opponents to prefer NOT to be in front of our crease and NOT to have to go in corners with us, yes? Otherwise perhaps we can convince the Ice Capades to return to MSG with Jojo Starbuck…(Just having some fun guys….)

    • How many fights were there in the playoffs last year? I love me a physical hockey game but at this point making sure you have someone who “is a fighter” is almost as important as NASA hiring someone who is proficient with an abacus.

    • maybe the Rangers need to be more physical/Aggressive to playing players with the puck rather than letting them have an easier time taking shots on goal.

      • Well, that was one of the big reasons they were winning earlier in the year. The Rangers were pressuring the opposition and winning the puck. Those won puck battles were allowing the Rangers to spring the rush.

        Now the Rangers seemed to have dropped off and are looking to block shots. All that seems to have accomplished is that it created more screened shots and redirected shots for Hank to try and deal with.

        The question is why have they dropped off? Is it a lack of energy? Is a change of defensive philosophy? Are teams not committed to attacking the Rangers zone with numbers as much as they were earlier in the year?

        • The level of play has dropped off because of the hectic schedule and the team is in pretty bad shape physically. AV is a little to easy going in pushing these guys on the bikes in pre sesason. Lot of pucks hitting us last 10 games or so. This team can be brilliant when it wants to be, and it will when the time comes. No MORE vets clogging the ice with low energy. Not even on the 4th line is that necessary. Trust in Gorton he’s made a fantastic squad so far and he’s just begun.

          • I think you’re right. Again, the big issue I have is the overcommitment to blocking shots.

            Shot blocking can sometimes fall in the false hustle category and ends up hurting the team far more (in injuries and goals off of shot blockers) than it helps.

    • I think a lot of it is AV – and I don’t mean this as a knock or a compliment, either way; just an observation.

      He doesn’t seem to encourage much in the way of any kind of physical retaliation or fighting. He also has shown an extreme dislike for taking emotional penalties pretty much at any time, and especially regarding the younger guys. You mention Kreider, and I think he is great evidence of this – you can tell he likes to get into it more than he does, but I suspect AV has made it clear he doesn’t want to see much of that from him.

      I personally do not think an enforcer is needed in today’s NHL, and I certainly don’t think you carry a guy like Glass (who doesn’t actually scare any of the other “enforcers” around the league, by the way) on a roster just for that purpose. In today’s fast NHL, all forwards need to have some speed and skill otherwise they are simply a liability to their line. Most of the enforcers around the league right now contribute little-to-nothing else to the on-ice product; just the willingness to fight.

      The Rangers have the lowest penalty minutes in the league so far, and I don’t think that is because it’s a group of softies. I firmly believe AV has actively encouraged that and supports that as part of his game plan.

      All that said, with some of the big bodies we have, I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing just a bit more aggressiveness. Don’t need to be trying to throw bombs all over the ice or anything, but forwards with some size like Nash, Kreider, Vesey, Hayes, etc., can probably be a bit more physical out there on the forecheck and in the corners, and still without drawing stupid penalties. Bigger defenders like Holden, Staal, and Skjei also seemingly could be more edgy in the slot without taking penalties, too – all three of them usually are not very physical and play a very mild game.

  • I do not think it’s the players as much as not being placed in a position to succeed. Why take Hays and Miller and put them on separate lines? Why put Fast on Kreiders line? I do not think Vesey has been helped with certain linemates.
    Two things may go wrong.
    The coaches failed attempt to force lines that don’t work.
    The players aren’t as good as they appear.
    I select the coach. The players were producing under the right circumstances.
    Some would say it’s a combination of the two, but I have seen enough on incompetence to draw a conclusion. Fool me once shame on you…

    • Why take Hays and Miller and put them on separate lines?
      -Because injuries

      Why put Fast on Kreiders line?
      -Because we are deficient right wingers (right handed players).

      Two things may go wrong.
      The coaches failed attempt to force lines that don’t work.
      The players aren’t as good as they appear.
      I select the coach. The players were producing under the right circumstances.
      -But the right circumstances were implemented by the same coach
      -Also, see point 1: injuries

      Vigneault is as far from incompetent as he is from blameless. Hating the coach because the Rangers don’t dominate the NHL is a futile exercise.

      • I blast the coach because we could dominate the NHL. I blame the coach because his player line selection sucks and it is easy to just say players are hurt. No sir he was forcing players to play with incompatible players. And if you look at his history, that’s what he does. Glass for an example. No one played well with him and the proof was in the points.
        Last year there were lots of frustration with his line combinations. History is repeating itself.
        The Miller Hays combination should not have been taken apart.
        I disagree with you.

      • Good point. It’s funny how when the team struggles they blame the coach for changing the lines. But when they were winning and scoring goals like crazy they don’t say a word about the changes he was making during those games. He’s made changes all year and was pushing all the right buttons too. Nobody pushes all the right buttons all the time. Besides that like you said, we have injuries now and they’re to key players too.

  • Your right Chris, patience is needed with the younger players who not reached their potential yet. But getting a veteran forward is not a good idea now. Mistakes by the younger players will cost them the ice time that the veteran forward get from AV. And yes, top line defenseman would be exactly what the team needs now.

    • enter one Kevin Shattenkirk

      A McD-Shatty combo would be great to see every game, I hope that becomes a reality someday soon.

  • Miller has been hot/cold for his entire career. Not truly surprising. If you look at last year, he got a boat load of points in one 10 game stretch in the dead of winter. The other 70 games, he was okay to not okay. Same thing just happened at the start of this season. I would love him to balance it out a bit, but the longer it goes, the more you can expect wickedly hit stretches, and then nuclear winter.

    Hayes might need to just SHOOT THE PUCK!

  • All I see is Miller busting his hump on D and getting moved around, Hayes busting his hump(and beating Staal back for a puck) and Vesey putting in his work.

  • they have looked inconsistent of late but looking at Saturday the line of stepan, Kreider and Zucc played well together

  • I think we are confusing inconsistency with mediocrity. They would be inconsistent if they came out and dominated an opponent as they did early in the season and came out the next game with a WTF was that? effort. Only the two Pittsburgh games could potentially qualify for that over the last 9. The other seven were much more like the two Rangers wins against Carolina where games won in the final 20 minutes or the game in Buffalo which was lost in the final 20 minutes.

    I’m still on a “wait and see” approach. Tonight the Rangers come off their second multiple day rest that didn’t include a trip to or from the west coast (10/23 vs Arizona, 10/26 vs Boston). I’m not terribly surprised the down-tick has happened at this point. The schedule lightens up considerably as the Rangers play only 11 games in January (compared to 15 games in November and December and 13 games in February).

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