Saturday, March 20, 2010

Defining What it Takes to be the Best

We can not help but shake our heads in disappointment to look at the various lists rating who is the best prospect that the New York Rangers have. Most have Chris Kreider, some have Evgeny Grachev but in our eyes not one of them has it right.

Define who the best prospect is for us? What exactly makes up the qualifications for being the best? If you say the best goal scorer then you are wrong; try this one on for size.

To be the best at anything in hockey the first thing you have to ask is does that person make those he plays with better? When you need THE BIG GAME from him does he come through for you?

Is he equally important to your team off the ice as much as he is on the ice? In the case of the Rangers there is one true response to all of these questions as he is also our first star of the night.

First Star Derek Stepan

Wisconsin after losing in the WCHA semi-finals to St. Cloud State badly needed to come back with a win in the WCHA 3rd place game in order keep a high seeding in the NCAA Tournament. The problem was that they were facing top ranked Denver who was in the same situation as Wisconsin.

They needed a big game from their star players and Derek Stepan (2008 2nd) gave the Badgers the game they needed. Stepan with a goal and two assists helped Wisconsin to a 6-3 win and 3rd place in the WCHA.

It was typical Stepan as he got on the board with a beauty of a goal at 4:58 of the first period as Stepan skated down the left side of the zone and put the puck right over the left shoulder of Denver goalie Marc Cheverie. It was an unassisted goal (Stepan's 10th) that gave Wisconsin a 2-0 lead and very much rattled Cheverie as it set up:

Stepan's 2nd point of the game came at the 11:08 mark of the first period when Stepan found Blake Geoffrion for a power play goal, a 3-0 lead and the end of the day for the WCHA's leading goalie Cheverie. It was Stepan's 37th assist of the season and came in handy as Denver scored just 25 seconds into the 2nd period.

Stepan added a secondary assist in the 3rd period when he teamed with Brendan Smith to feed Michael Davis for Wisconsin's 6th goal and nail in the coffin for the win. That was assist number 38 for Stepan as the game's first star in addition to his 3 points fired 8 shots on goal and was a +2 for the game.

Stepan is now 10-38-48 in the NCAA's but if you add in what he did at the World Under-20 (4-10-14) and you have a 14-48-62 season which is good for 3rd overall among the prospects but in just 45 total games.

Second Star Chris Kreider

Now most people think Chris Kreider (2009 1st) is the Ranger's best prospect and Kreider with some of his highlight reel goals is a top prospect who could be a great player but he is not there yet.

Kreider is not a complete player but when he does put things together then look out for him. Kreider had 2 assists as his Boston College won the Hockey East Championship with a 7-6 overtime win over a very tough Maine Black Bears.

Credit the Black Bears for not giving Kreider a chance to breathe as they typically had one/two players checking him but Kreider still found ways to hurt the Black Bears.

On Kreider's first assist, He was trying to split the Maine defense when both defenders went to Kreider and the puck wound up on Matt Lombardi's stick with nobody covering him.

The second assist was Kreider feeding teammate Jimmy Hayes in the 3rd period to what gave Boston College a 5-3 lead that did not last. Still Kreider and Boston College went on to win in overtime for a Hockey East Championship and what should be a One Seed in the NCAAs.

Kreider has a chance now for a Championship Hat Trick for an American that has not been done before. Kreider has the WJC gold medal, a league championship and now a shot at an NCAA Championship.

The Rest of the Ranger Prospects

Carl Hagelin (2007 6th) and his Michigan Wolverines are also heading to the NCAAs after becoming the first 7 seed to win the CCHA Championship after defeating Northern Michigan 2-1 for the automatic invite that comes with it. Hagelin had a secondary assist on Michigan's first goal to give him points in 5 straight games and 16 of his last 17.

Sam Klassen (2009 UFA) and his Saskatoon Blades got their WHL playoff run off to a good start as the Blades shut out the Red Deer Rebels 3-0 for a 1-0 series lead. Klassen had an assist on the Blade's 3rd goal of the game and was a +1 as the Blades did all their scoring in the first period.

Roman Horak (2009 5th) scored his first playoff goal on a penalty shot but by then his Chilliwack Bruins were losing 8-0 at that point as the Tri-City Americans just dominated them for the 8-1 win and 2-0 series lead. The big difference was that Tri-City was 6 for 9 on the power play and not much more needs to be said.

Tomas Kundratek (2008 3rd) is adding up the penalty minutes while his Medicine Hat Tigers are being manhandled by the Kootenay Ice for the 2nd straight game this time 4-0. Kundratek wound up with 18 PIMs in this game to give him a 2 game total of 28 PIMs.

Give the credit to the Ice as they have totally blanketed the Tigers in the first 2 games but now the series shifts to Medicine Hat and that is the Tigers only chance.

Chris Doyle (2008 5th) and his Victoriaville Tigre went from easy winners in game one to 2-1 losers in game 2 to the Shawinigan Cataractes. Doyle was held to 3 shots on goal and 1 good hit as the Tigre lost home ice advantage as the series shifts to Shawinigan.

Daniel Maggio (2009 6th) and his Sudbury Wolves played a much better game in game 2 than they did in game one but while the score of 2-1 was better it was still a loss. Maggio had a secondary assist on the Wolves only goal but Sudbury really can not match Barrie in any area of the game so we expect this to be a 4 game sweep.

(Stepan courtesy of Melody Hasse, Kreider courtesy of Dennis Pause)


Anonymous said...

Jess, I agree with your statement that as of right now, Stepan is our best overall prospect. I do however think that of the big 3 (Kreider, Grachev, Stepan), Kreider has the highest ceiling. With that being said, would you ever consider doing a top 20 list of prospects as you see them? Maybe something similar to HockeysFuture? Seeing as how you follow the prospects all year long, your take would be intersting.

Jess Rubenstein said...

Chuck I agree with you that Kreider has the highest ceiling but Stepan has one thing that none of the other NYR prospects has and that is natural leadership skills.
As for the list, the reason why I don't do one is because I feel that there is no way to measure or compare prospects to each other because of the differences in development.
For example Junior players get more game time, more chances to work with the Rangers and play a game closer to the NHL brand.

What I am thinking of doing is building a list depending built on where a player is in his development state. You know how close someone is or should be

Anonymous said...

Agreed, I can see Stepan captaining the Rangers in the future. What's most impressive is that he seems to get clutch points and step up his game in critical situations. At this point it's really easy to get excited about the prospects in the system. As long Sather stays the course and doesn't pull off a desperation move, we could have a really nice team in 3-4 years with mostly homegrown players.

Regarding your list sounds like a great idea. As a long time reader (This is one the first places I visit every morning while I drink my coffee) I look forward to seeing a list of some sort.

Jess Rubenstein said...

Thanks Chuck those words mean more than you ever realize.