When the Rangers rebuild and competing lines blur, ice time gets lost

After last night’s almost loss to the lowly Sabres, much anger boiled over about ice time. There was good reason, as yet again the kid line got lost in the shuffle. Alexis Lafreniere had three shifts in the third period, and barely over eight minutes total TOI. Julien Gauthier had less. Filip Chytil managed to crack 10 minutes, getting 10:01 TOI. This is what happens when a rebuilding team competes for the playoffs. Ice time gets lost in competing, and it comes at the expense of development. At what point do the Rangers put a bigger focus on ice time, specifically for the kids?

Even Strength Concerns

Lafreniere hasn’t cracked 11 minutes in ice time in four games. Two of those games are under ten minutes. Three of the last seven games have been under ten minutes of ice time for the former number one overall pick. That seems less than ideal, especially he doesn’t get much powerplay time at the moment. Developing Lafreniere should be a big priority for this club.

Meanwhile, Julien Gauthier has just one game with over ten minutes of ice time in his last seven. While his development is less of a priority for the club, you’d think they’d want to find time for him. Filip Chytil’s ice time has been less of a concern, but as the center between that duo, it gets impacted.

Both Lafreniere and Gauthier are on the third line, which in theory gets more minutes than the fourth line, or so you’d think. While I understand the argument for having a Kevin Rooney out there to defend a lead, there is less of an argument for Phil Di Giuseppe to have more ice time than both. Same goes for Colin Blackwell, and I *love* me some Colin Blackwell on this team. But to play him over some of the kids, especially on the powerplay, seems short sighted.

As an aside – I am not a “fire David Quinn” guy. That said, he has earned criticism with ice time and in-game management. These aren’t mutually exclusive concepts.

Playoffs vs. Development

This is the talking point that David Quinn had yesterday. Vince Mercogliano asked what was on our minds –and Vince should really get a lot of credit for understanding what we want to know and asking the questions– with Quinn providing this response:

There’s a healthy balance between winning and development. You can’t have the kids playing and losing all the time. That doesn’t give the kids a sense of urgency or any confidence when the games start meaning something. If they start meaning something.

The other side of the coin is playing guys who are not a huge part of the future in these key spots. As much as I like Blackwell and Rooney, perhaps part of Lafreniere’s development should be playing with a one goal lead in the third period?

It’s a difficult balance, and as DQ points out, there aren’t enough minutes in the game. Two months ago, however, this wasn’t a problem. So what changed in their approach?

The Rangers are three points out of a playoff spot, yes. However they still need to, a) leap frog the Flyers, and b) make up the three games in hand that the Bruins have. Possible? Sure, but we’ve covered this already.

Earning Time

This is a very common argument, and it’s a fair one. If players aren’t playing well, then they should be held accountable. The thing is, focusing on Lafreniere for a moment, isn’t playing poorly. He’s had some bad games, but so has everyone on the team. He had a string of five sub-50 xGF% games, before putting up two games over 60%. He worked through his issues.

But last night, he had a rough first period. The entire Rangers team played poorly in that first period. So why was the kid line singled out? The rest of the Rangers didn’t see their ice time taken away. And they dominated the rest of the game. Plus the kid line scored to give the Rangers the lead early in the third.

Earn the ice time? Absolutely. Be given a Brett Howden sized leash to work through some issues? Absolutely. Both work here. It’s time for the Rangers and David Quinn to find that ice time balance.