With the Ranger Junior Prospects still in the Ranger training camp and the college prospects still almost a month away from getting underway there is not a whole lot for me to do. So like so many of you, I am watching the Ranger training camp with the hope that our faith in this franchise will be rewarded.
Training Camp is supposed to be about getting ready, it is not where answers to questions or solutions to problems are found after a couple of days. The answers start to come with the exhibition games and the solutions to problems hopefully also come from those games.
I have to be honest before we go any further and that is that this current Ranger roster makes me very nervous. On one hand if all works then this team could make some serious noise in the NHL this season.
But what makes me nervous about this season is that if all does not work then this could be one very ugly season. However right now is about having hope, it is about thinking about which combos would be the right ones.
What it should not be about is trashing players before they have even played a single game for the Rangers. Yet of course that is what happened courtesy of Larry Brooks of the New York Post as he called Nickolai Zherdev "the laziest athlete on the ice."
There is Brooks calling Zherdev "underachiever for most of his four-year tenure with the Blue Jackets." And here is the question that we would like Brooks to answer: Exactly how much personal observation did you put in to decide this?
Zherdev has been playing with the Rangers for all of 3 days and has ZERO Ranger games under his belt to judge him by. At age 23 to be slapped with this kind of label by someone who really can not honestly say that he spent a lot of time scouting him is wrong.
Even better can I ask how to define how one decides what makes a player an underachiever? Go back to the 2003 draft and look at the players drafted before and after Zherdev (taken 4th). Nathan Horton (3rd) is 100-93-193 in 290 games, Thomas Vanek (5th) is 104-92-196 in 245 games; Zherdev is 76-105-181 in 283 games.
Sorry but those numbers are not that vastly different for his draft class unless those players are equally underachievers. Who decides which player is more talented? Why isn't Horton or Vanek having their games questioned?
Brook's peers starting with Sam Weinman of the Journal offered a more realistic report when Weinman in his Ranger's Report said "For the most part, though, I think Zherdev comes as advertised: an immensely talented forward prone to occasionally trying to do too much (see Kovalev, Alex for more).
Dubi Silverstein at the Blueshirt Bulletin put it this way: "Struggling for a second straight day was Nikolai Zherdev, overhandling the puck in dangerous areas of the ice once again, never once successfully."
And before anyone says a word, yes I write for Dubi at the Blueshirt Bulletin. Yes, Sam Weinman also writes for the Blueshirt Bulletin as well. However anyone who knows my relationship with Dubi also knows that when Dubi and I disagree (and he does encourage me to speak my mind) then there are no kid gloves on.
As for Sam Weinman, I never met him, I am not a fan of his work but then again he had the bad luck of replacing Andrew Gross who is my favorite Ranger writer. Maybe what is bothering me the most is that as a journalism student that I am being taught to be fair and objective and here is a reporter who is not being either.
Even Tom Renney addressed Zheredev's play when he said (courtesy of Dubi at the Blueshirt Bulletin) "You make a note of that," Renney said of Zherdev overhandling the puck and often losing it. "That's something we have to teach him, how we want him to play. Again, you've got to give guys some latitude to explore -- the creative mind is awfully tough to defend and you want to make sure you allow that. What we want to make sure of too is that we attack with speed, that we've got numbers, and we take advantage of them. That's one of things Nicky certainly could improve on. But he's deadly good when he is on the attack, and we'll just encourage him."
For the most part, I am in agreement with Tom Renney here except with one question; Coach if you know that Zherdev is at his best on the attack then why are you using him with Gomez and Naslund? In all honesty I simply do not think the Rangers realize that putting Zherdev with Gomez and Naslund is going to wind up a huge mistake.
Think back to why Jagr and Gomez did not click over the long term; both players are at their best when the play flows though them and since there is only one puck on the ice at the same time it meant that one had to take a back seat to the other.
So take a Zherdev and put him with Chris Drury and Nigel Dawes instead as those two will be more than happy to let someone else do the puck carrying while they skate into a spot to shoot from. Yes Zherdev will drive people nuts at times when he overhandles the puck but as Zherdev matures you will see that Zherdev will get smarter when doing so.
When it comes to Zherdev, I sound like a broken record because I repeatedly find myself having to defend him from those who I do not believe really know him. In a nutshell Nickolai Zherdev is a player who to this day have never been properly developed and is almost as raw and green talent wise as the when he first arrived 4 years ago in Columbus.
Doubt I will make any fans with the Bluejackets but really Zherdev is a textbook case on how to not develop a franchise player. I doubt even Tom Renney realizes that if he nutures instead of pushing that with a half season Renney could have a lot of his Ranger problems solved.
Right from the get-go there is Zherdev who everyone says needs work on areas of his game already given the first line Right Wing spot. If Zherdev needs the work then why not just make him earn that spot on the first line with his play than just handing it to him?
Seriously what is different from the Rangers shoving Zherdev into the first line while telling the world that he needs work. It is exactly how the Bluejackets screwed up Zherdev's development so instead of learning from that mistake here are the Rangers repeating it it seems.
The Ranger beat media chalks up that Zherdev after 4 years barely speaks any English to his being quiet or shy. Maybe it is safer for a Zherdev to hide behind his inability to speak English than take the time to wonder if perhaps the pressure of having to be a rushed superstar has hurt Zherdev.
Very few 19 year olds have the emotional or physical make up to handle being a first line player from the start as Zherdev was rushed into by the Bluejackets. Go look at his career and see how much time Zherdev has spent in the AHL and you see all of 2 games period.
This gets old when you see people rush to judgement about someone who had he gone though the typical NHL route would have seen some developmental time in the AHL. Instead because of the court case, because the Bluejackets were trying to build their franchise and more that Zherdev was never allowed to develop his game.
In the meantime, how about allowing Ranger fans some time to see Zherdev in action for themselves, to see what he can do in game situations before we call him lazy or an underachiever?
(Zherdev picture courtesy of the NHL)
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