While the experts are mixed on the New York Rangers chances in 2015-16, what they can’t argue is how their youth movement continues strong.
Well, perhaps everything except that one crowing achievement.
Lord Stanley’s Cup is what many will consider to be as the most coveted championship trophy in all of sports. I mean anytime you have an opportunity to gulp beer and champagne from a trophy, it has to be considered the ultimate prize. Right?
By the way, for those who are wondering, you can fit 23 12-oz. cans in Stanley’s spout.
Getting back on track, if there is something head coach Alain Vigneault and company may have learned after their gut-wrenching Game 7 Conference Finals loss against the youthful Tampa Bay Lightning, is just that, you have to keep acclimating your team’s youth and mesh it together with the core veterans.
Not to bring back certain anxieties, but Tampa Bay’s youth included: Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, and J.T. Brown. This doesn’t even include the 2013 third overall pick in Jonathan Drouin.
Others might be reading this while asking themselves, “are you really going to just neglect the youth that’s part of our Rangers hockey team?” Well, here, to praise the youth that we’ve seen thus far, but to also encourage more of our prospects to make it onto the big stage here and dress as a Blueshirt.
J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast enjoyed brief stints up with the Rangers before last season, but it was just too early to tell in whether they’d make a big enough impact to assume a role last season. After it was all said and done, they did, and they continued to grow as players right before our eyes. They both logged incredibly important minutes down the stretch and into the playoffs. While they’re not going to light up the net thirty times a piece, those two guys getting to play with the big boys is a huge step as they head into their second full NHL season.
My favorite player out of the team’s young bunch – as many would agree – is No. 13 Kevin Hayes.
I must have said “wow” in almost every game that we got to witness Kevin blossoming in front of the world. The 6’5” Boston College product knows how to play two-way hockey and is also so very patient with the puck that you’d almost forget his 45 points last season along with seven playoff points made you forget he was simply a rookie.
I would even go as far as saying that the Chicago Blackhawks must have been kicking themselves for not re-signing Hayes, who was originally their 24th overall pick in the first-round back in 2010. This had to especially be the case when Patrick Kane was down with a leg injury. The Hayes screw-up had initially made the Blackhawks pursuit for a deep playoff run look rather bleak; however we all know that Kane came back to the rescue for them just in time. But, maybe the season’s opener against the defending Stanley Cup champs we’ll still be able to remind Chicago how much of a steal it was to pry Hayes away from re-signing with them.
That’s the thing that makes the NHL so fascinating. I get that trading away first-round draft picks and sacrificing a left wing talent with the likes of Anthony Duclair doesn’t help the youth movement, but you sometimes will run into a special occasion where a highly touted draft pick decides to play college all four years after being drafted, while then becoming eligible towards being a free-agent after their rookie contract has expired. The Rangers could potentially run that type of risk by losing a former first-round pick back in 2012 with Defenseman Brady Skjei as he now enters into his final year of his rookie contract.
The 21-year old has played three years for the University of Minnesota, but was called up last year to feature in some playoff games with the Hartford Wolfpack. So far guys like him, 23 year old forward Oscar Lindberg, and Czech Republic native Richard Nejezchleb have all opened up some eyes thus far as preseason games continue on.
To include those three young players and incorporate them into an already established core group that the Rangers have built for quite some time could prove true dividends in continuing the youth movement trend while providing the right ingredients on finally rewarding King Henrik to rightfully hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.
After all, having about $700,000 in cap space doesn’t bode well in regards to improving this team any further. The only way to do so is through their youth.
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