COLOGNE, August 31, 2013 — The New York Rangers are in a tough spot to start the 2013-2014 season. Ironically, it is the same place they find themselves recently at the start of every season. The Rangers suffer, if that is applicable, from the heightened expectations of one of the league’s most rabid fan bases south of 49. The club boasts a solid core of veteran leadership, impeccable goaltending and an enviable stable of prospects.
Although words like truculent and abrasive have been used to describe both former coach John Tortorella and incoming bench boss Alain Vigneault, the two could not have more different coaching philosophies. Vigneault is known to stick with his veterans and younger players have traditionally found it a challenge to get ice time.
For a Rangers squad packed with so many prospects, this approach could be a problem. The team is built to win a championship right now, and was one goal away from a trip to the Stanley Cup finals just two seasons ago. Like many elite clubs, they are perennial contenders but have been unable to clear that last hurdle. They won the Stanley Cup in 1994 and, before that, in 1940. Rangers fans do not want to wait fifty-four years for another title.
The Rangers are building around a solid group of players who are under 30: captain Ryan Callahan, forwards Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, J.T. Miller and Chris Kreider and defenseman Michael Del Zotto. While all of these players have been recent regulars, they may see a decline in minutes under the veteran-favoring Vigneault. If this happens, it could be a costly mistake for the team as it would slow the positive trajectory of the club’s future core.
There are also elite prospects who are ready to break into the National Hockey League (NHL), most notably Dylan McIlraith, Christian Thomas and Shane McColgan. With Tortorella running the show, these three would be locks for serious auditions this season. With Vigneault, all best are off.
If the New York Rangers want to win another championship, they will need to keep this current group together as they continue to grow and progress. The team would also be wise to begin finding out whether their top prospects are on schedule with their projections. New York fans are an impatient lot, but perhaps not nearly as much as these Rangers prospects who must feel that their time is now.
Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.
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