Tanner Glass, Tuomo Ruutu headline Rangers front office staff overhaul

The Rangers have been going through a front office staff overhaul of late. Glen Sather retired. Jim Schoenfeld stepped down as the Assistant General Manager of the Rangers. There are rumblings a lot of Sather guys could be next, as John Davidson will likely want his own guys to begin the new regime. It looks like today begins that second phase of the overhaul.

Tanner Glass, who had been rumored to be a member of the front office already, joins the front office as an Assistant Director of Player Development. Former NHLer Tuomo Ruutu joins him in that role, both reporting to Jed Ortmeyer, the Director of Player Development.

In the scouting department, Chris Morehouse has been named Director of North American Scouting. Marshall Davidson and Derek Ginnell will join his staff as Amateur Scouts. Steve Konowalchuk is moving from amateur scouting to professional scouting. Morehouse, Davidson, and Ginnell were with JD in Columbus in the scouting department. Morehouse was JD’s Assistant Director of Amateur Scouting.

In the AHL, David Cunniff has been named an assistant coach for the Hartford Wolf Pack. Chris Hoeler is now the Pack’s video coach. Cunniff was most recently an assistant with the Iowa Wild. Hoeler was the Director of Hockey Operations for the Chicago Steel in the USHL.

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  1. Hoeler is a big get.

    Chicago has some unorthodox training methods, but it got them winning last year.

    1. I wish the Rangers would carve their own path and hire some Ivy League computer scientists to head some of these player development & scouting departments. Someone that can use advanced stats as one view on who to acquire and player development.
      Instead of the old school way of thinking that past NHL players can do that job. For once hire a wiz kid.

        1. That’s fine. If he’s proven at his job then keep him there. Instead of hiring unproven retired NHL players, hire a stats guy.

    2. From Scott Powers at the Athletic:

      GENEVA, Ill. — Owen Power may have been new to the USHL at the start of the season, but he quickly grasped that the Chicago Steel had some serious work to do.

      “Yeah, the first weekend didn’t look good,” Power said.

      The Steel dropped their first two weekend games in September, the second a 10-5 loss. They were outscored 18-9 after three games. After 12 games, the Steel held a 4-7-1 record. They had been beaten three times by the Muskegon Lumberjacks, one of the league’s favorites, by a combined score of 16-5. The Steel were taking some mighty lumps and were positioned near the bottom of the USHL power rankings.

      None of that surprised Steel general manager Ryan Hardy. The coaching staff had been assembled late, as had the roster. It was a younger team. They were also implementing a new development process that would include performance coach Darryl Belfry and his staff, having them work hand in hand with first-year Steel coach Greg Moore and his staff.

      It would take time. Hardy thought of the season as being “a bite-the-bullet” year, and the Steel would be better prepared for next season. Patience was required.

      And then came the surprise. What happened over the ensuing months is the story of how a collective vision can successfully come together much faster than anyone anticipated.

      After incorporating daily individual skill sessions on top of their team practices, integrating and involving all the departments – development, scouting and coaching – in the entire process, and, most importantly, getting the players to buy into the plan, the Steel evolved from one of the league’s worst teams to one of its best over the course of this season.

      On Friday night, they’ll host the Sioux Falls Stampede in Game 3 of the USHL’s Clark Cup final.

      “If you had told me we were going to be this good after the first weekend, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Power said. “From where the team started and where each individual is now, that’s a huge difference. I think the vast majority is from the development stuff.”

      The “development stuff” began years ago with talks between Steel owner Larry Robbins and Belfry. Robbins, a billionaire hedge fund manager, is known for thinking outside the box and has never been stingy when it comes to his hockey team. He approached Belfry, who works with some of the NHL’s premier players, with the idea to blend individual development into a team setting. Belfry was intrigued and eventually accepted the position.

      “For me, when I was first approached by Larry, it was like he was interested in trying to do something different,” Belfry said. “So, that’s of course what I was interested in as well. You see the league, it’s largely a weekend league, so you do have several days leading up to the weekend. So the schedule lends itself well to being able to do some things. I was really intrigued by it when I first started here. When we brought Ryan (Hardy) on board and he assembled the staff, then it really started to present itself. Like, there’s a lot more opportunities to do some interesting things. For me, that was the real driving force.

      “Initially, I want to do something different, but I have own my opinion, and that’s great, but they only take us so far. We need a true collaboration. The coach has to come in and provide ideas as well, which is exactly what we have. Everyone on our staff is throwing ideas into the pile, and the best idea’s winning. It’s shown up with our kids. It’s been an interesting kind of start to where we’re at, and it really feels like we’re just getting started, which is kind of the interesting part.”

      Nearly everyone with the Steel has an impressive hockey background. Hardy is a former Boston Bruins amateur scout and director of player personnel with the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP). He hired head coach Greg Moore from the USNTDP, where he had been an assistant. Steel associate head coach Brock Sheahan held the same position at the College of the Holy Cross. Assistant coach Mike Garman has done a little bit of everything in the goalie world. Belfry brought on Adam Nicholas, who also works with NHL players. The Steel also created a director of player personnel position for Tristan Musser, who had been at the Academy of Hockey in Buffalo, N.Y., and the USNTDP in recent years.

      Hardy sought to break down walls between departments and include everyone in the conversation. In doing that, they cultivated ideas and put them to use in development sessions, practices and games.

      “At the end of the day, it’s the kids’ team, but Greg, Brock and Mike drive the bus for them,” said Hardy, who was named USHL general manager of the year. “We can provide all these ideas whether it’s resources, Darryl’s knowledge or Adam’s knowledge. The reason it’s been successful to this point and that I really don’t know if we can put a cap on how successful it can be is that we’re working on these things during the week and then they’re expected to implement them, whether it’s something Darryl came up with, something Brock came up with, Greg came up with, who came up with it doesn’t matter, they’re expected to try it in the game.

      “And where our team is different is we look at it in a way of try it, fail in a game. And where another team where you fail, you don’t go back over the boards, you know what I mean. Where our coach, if a guy makes a huge mistake, blows a tire, something goes sideways on him, the puck goes in the back of the net, no problem, you’re going back out next shift, glad you tried it. And because they’re able to fail, they’re able to succeed, you know, having done that. And then a month later, it’s a part of their arsenal. It’s not just something they’re afraid to do.”

      The Steel designed development plans for each player and adjusted as needed throughout the season. Among the forwards, they sought to create acceleration through crossovers and apply their skills at high rates of speed. They taught the defensemen a newer style of skating that eliminated crossovers and taught them how to defend within that style.

      Steel defenseman Matteo Pietroniro, the team’s captain, is one player who saw his game continually grow throughout the season.

      “The Pietroniro one is interesting,” Belfry said. “I think he’s come miles. In the time that I’ve been here, he’s always been incredibly hard working, what you would define as good character. That’s Pietroniro. He’s that kid. He’s a mature kid also for his age, like the way he thinks and the way he embraced a lot of the individual skill work. We like to teach our defensemen a little different way to skate. We started this process like last year and Matteo was part of that process to get the foundation of that. He was showing me a clip today of this play he had where he just automatically used this footwork that we’ve been working on for a while now. It’s to the point he doesn’t even have to think about it. It’s so ingrained because not only did we start it last year, it’s been incorporated in defensive drills the coaching staff does during the team practice. It’s all interwoven into everything they’re doing. We’re reinforcing it in all the same group and individual sessions. Now it’s just wholly ingrained into his game.”

      Moore explained how the coaching staff furthers that development in practices and games.

      “I think if you watch our team there’s a big focus on our details,” Moore said. “Just as one example, you take the defensemen, our associate head coach Brock Sheahan, who works with the D, has done a phenomenal job of the details of their footwork on line-rush against, their stick detail on line-rush against. Same thing in the D zone, not getting crossed over down low, guarding low. Everything is heel-to-heel pivot. It’s stick on puck. It’s pulled in. The blades aren’t up in the air. The blade’s on the puck the whole time.

      “With Brock working with the skill guys when they come in, they hear the details. Then they go on the ice to add those details into the skill components and really break down the footwork, really break down that stick detail. And then we get to a team practice and now we’re putting D in drills that are working on elements whether it’d be in a game, working on the skills that they worked on in the morning and everything just adds to each other. There are even times where we’re learning from Darryl and Adam and they’re learning from us as far as we saw things this way, should we do it this way or this way, and you just have a collective whole of I think progressive thinkers who are working toward one common goal of making everything better, smarter and more efficient. And I think you watch our details in a game compared to some of other opponents and the details are there, it’s just cleaner, more simpler and you can tell each player is playing the same way and not on our own page doing their own thing.”

      For Pietroniro, it’s been an eye-opening experience. He said players bought in from the start, and he’s surprised how far his game has come in a year.

      “I would say my skating’s improved tremendously from when I started to focus on it and from what they showed me what to do,” Pietroniro said. “Simple movements, less crossing over. Offensively, I was able to slow my game down a lot more and read options and just overall take in a lot more, do more pre-scanning of the ice and see what I had and take my time and realize how much time I had to make a play. Overall, my 200-foot game improved everywhere, offensively, defensively, neutral zone. … It was really cool to see something you had done through the week and doing it every time in a game. It just improved all the time.”

      From the defensemen like Pietroniro, Power, Luke Reid and John Spetz to forwards like Nick Abruzzese, Robert Mastrosimone, Neil Shea, Mathieus De St. Phalle, Adam Robbins and Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, the Steel have seen most of their players make strides this season.

      As their individual numbers improved, the team results did, too. They were 25-13-1 and moved up to fourth in the power rankings by February. They finished the regular season 37-21-4. In the playoffs, they knocked off the Cedar Rapids RoughRidgers in four games in a best-of-five conference semifinal series and then did the same to the top-seed Lumberjacks in the Western Conference final.

      Josiah Slavin, a Chicago Blackhawks prospect, was an interesting case for the staff because he was acquired in late January when the Steel looked like they would be contenders. Slavin had skill and ability, but he hadn’t been taught what the Steel players had been all season.

      “It was completely new,” Slavin said. “No other team does stuff like that 1-on-1 skill sessions. When I came in, I honestly felt behind because of the amount of work they were going. There’s just a ton of skills to work on, bunch of little things unique to one’s game. Some footwork stuff I needed to work on. It all accumulated to developing one’s game.

      “I thought I developed a ton. I thought I developed more when I got to Chicago and expanded something else I wasn’t able to at Lincoln. It wasn’t because of Lincoln, but because of everything we’ve done here is so amazing.”

      As fast as everything happened this season, the Steel staff still believes they’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible for this team. They exceeded expectations for this season, which makes next season even more exciting.

      “As the weeks have gone by and more and more of these pieces have started to go in and the kids are starting to take control of it and shape of it, it’s just been mind-boggling to me,” Belfry said, “because I’m with Ryan, you always think like based on the level of the kids and the ability of the kids that they’re going to able to improve by a lot, but not until we kind of get into the season and see how it actually played out, I think it’s been a real surprise to us in how far it’s come. It’s really intriguing as to what’s even more possible because we’ve had this year. We just wanted to lay a foundation, get the pieces in place and now we’ve seen the pieces really get together. Where are we going to be a year from now?

  2. As this is a rebuilding year for the organization too, I am excited to see all the changes bear fruit. Our Wolfpack team should be a little better and the way we handle players should be stepped up with Glass and Ruutu. We have many blue chip prospects and their preview home will be Hartford. Let’s make it a place that properly grooms players for the big club.

  3. glad to see them beefing up their scouting department and Hartford with quality guys. Our prospect pool has moved from the bottom to the top without them, so hopefully these moves will keep our prospect pool competitive for years to come. And Hartford can be the feeder system we need them to be for continued success.

  4. I actually like the Glass hire and assignment. I realize he’s a whipping boy for many on this board, but he’s an extremely intelligent (Ivy League Educated) individual. Well liked by his teammates. He was obviously no Connor McDavid, or even a Tom Wilson, but he never took a shift off and did exactly what was asked of him. EXACTLY what was asked of him.
    JD is putting is stamp on the front office. And so far, so good.

    1. Spot on Jerry, I like Tanner being hired as well. The man was a great teammate and is apparently a bright guy. Whatever his lack of skill as a hockey player, he apparently has other qualities that will make him an asset to the organization.

    2. Jerry, I’m going one further than both you and Peter. I actually liked Tanner Glass as a player, for the very reasons you mention. I always enjoyed watching him play and always thought he gave his all. Perhaps his skill level wasn’t what we would have liked, but he always played hard with what he had. That is a great quality for any player to have and one you wish all your players develop. As you said, “exactly what was asked”, and as well as he could.

      He is a great add, and I think we are all going to love the J.D. era.

    3. Glass as a player was a good teammate, just not very good on his skates often taking himself out of position to get the big hit (which he missed as often as he hit), I will give him Grit and am hopeful he can get some of that grit on our young finesse players, to play with an edge.

  5. As long as they’re shuffling spots, they might want to make a move behind the Rangers’ bench as well.

    But who do I mean? Fido? “Ruff.”

  6. Didn’t they already do this?

    I thought they hired Glass and Ruutu about a month ago…

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