State of the Rebuild: Development

libor hajek

With the 2018 Trade Deadline now passed, the crew here at Blue Seat Blogs has decided to take a step back and assess the New York Rangersrebuild so far. We’re just over one year into this grand experiment, and in that time the Rangers have taken strides forward. They’ve turned over most of the roster, created significant salary cap flexibility, and stockpiled draft picks. But asset management is just one part of the intertwining process that is creating a contending hockey team. Wednesday, Rob assessed the coaching, particularly the appointment of David Quinn and whether he’s the right guy for the job. Yesterday Pat shared his take on GMJG’s transactions thus far. Today I will tackle player development

The Hartford Wolf Pack are a train wreck.

I could probably end this post there. But development is so much more than just how the kids in Hartford are going. You cannot look at how the kids are performing in Hartford and take it to be a true evaluation of their skill and talent. Hartford is that bad. The environment is that bad. And to be frank, the coaching staff is not doing what they are supposed to be doing.

But this isn’t just about Hartford, it’s about how the Rangers are doing in their rebuild, and how they are developing the guys that are being pegged as the future of the organization. There are now a whopping seven players currently with the Rangers on their entry level deals. I honestly cannot remember the last time the Rangers had that many players in their first three years in the league on one roster.

The transformation of Tony DeAngelo is the easiest positive sign to look for. Cast away as a forgotten first round pick on this third team and last chance, DeAngelo spent most of the first half of the season bouncing between third pairing defenseman who hasn’t put it all together and healthy scratch. Now he’s on an eight game point scoring streak and playing 26 minutes a night. Something DQ did clicked. If there is any optimism to be had about David Quinn’s ability to develop players, then look no further than DeAngelo.

Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider (development isn’t just about kids under 23 years old), expected to be the next phase of veterans to lead the kids, have taken the next steps in their respective careers as well. Both are showing they are top line players worthy of keeping around and of their contracts. Zibanejad has become the one thing the Rangers have lacked since Michael Nylander left, and that is a bonafide, no doubt about it 1C capable of 60+ points.

Those are the three clear cut cases of players taking the correct next step in their careers, and one would have to assume that DQ is at least partly responsible. But that’s it for the positivity, at least so far.

Pavel Buchnevich has still bounced around the lineup, but will now have a true opportunity to show he’s a top-six forward in the final 20 games. Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello are gone, so the Rangers will need Buchnevich to take that next step.

Neal Pionk appears to be a bit of a lost cause at the moment. That might be the first real blemish on DQ, as he forced Pionk into a role in which he was not ready nor was he qualified, and he drowned in top pairing minutes.

But if there is one test, one area for us to look at to truly judge how the development is going, we will be keeping watching eyes on Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil. The latter has shown flashes of brilliance, but is now a healthy scratch due to age-related consistency issues. The former looked lost in his first call up –and in Hartford– but has been steady since his recall. If the rebuild is to go as expected, it is on DQ to ensure both players meet their potential. However it may now be essential to keep them away from Hartford.

And that brings us full circle to the Wolf Pack and that tire fire. While overall prospect development is heading in the right direction at the NHL level, the Blueshirts have multiple prospects currently toiling away in Hartford trying to figure out which way is up. A strong Pack team is going to be critical to continued growth and success. Just look at how good the Toronto Marlies are. It starts with the coaching staff, and right now they just aren’t getting it done. Hartford’s mess will stifle any potential development.