neal pionk

It’s no secret. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has a comfort level with veterans over youth, sometimes to his detriment. Larry Brooks mentioned this in his article yesterday, where he specifically called out AV’s decision to dress the likes of Steven Kampfer, Nick Holden, and Paul Carey over Neal Pionk, Vinny Lettieri, Filip Chytil, and a number of promising prospects seemingly ready to make the jump.

AV’s comfort with veterans is no secret. However there is one point that Brooks makes that is often overlooked. While there is certainly value in keeping kids in the AHL to ensure they aren’t rushed, at what point does AV’s comfort eventually stifle a kid’s growth? At what point does that comfort level truly block a kid from making the jump?

Full disclosure: I don’t/can’t follow the Hartford Wolf Pack as much as I used to. I simply don’t have the time anymore. But I do read a lot of those that do, and it sounds like guys like Pionk, Lettieri, and Ryan Graves are all deserving of at least a cuppa. Which brings us to the primary concern: Is AV’s stubbornness and refusal to play kids killing the Rangers’ youth movement?

As of the writing of this post, the Rangers have nothing to show on the main roster for the Derek Stepan trade. The last rookie to make a significant impact following a midseason call-up was Carl Hagelin, and Ryan McDonagh before that. Both were under John Tortorella, not Alain Vigneault. AV’s first rookie call up midseason to last more than a handful of games is Boo Nieves, this year. At least it looks like he will be sticking.

To say Vigneault doesn’t want to play rookies isn’t a new phenomenon, it’s what drove him out of Vancouver. It’s the same schtick here in New York now. Holden, who aside from that epic gaffe last week has been surprisingly solid, is bound to have the bottom fall out of his game soon. Carey and Kampfer offer less than nothing. At what point is it AV holding back Pionk/Lettieri because of his stubbornness hurting the team?

There is an important distinction between AV not trusting rookies versus AV not trusting young players. The latter is no problem, with many cases on the roster today to prove the point. However AV seems to be stuck in an antiquated method of thinking, that if a player can’t make the team out of camp, then he won’t impact the team at all in the season.

Sometimes people nitpick, but there are some legitimate gripes with the way AV has handled the roster over the past few seasons. Trusting the veteran presence over legitimately better players is going to continually hold this roster back. At some point, the kids in Hartford are the better option than the “trusted veterans.”


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