Friday, March 12, 2010

They are Starting Their Own Evolution Of the Rangers

It has been an interesting couple of weeks for me as I have gotten to spend real time talking with the Ranger prospects (sorry you are going to have to read the Blueshirt Bulletin to find out what they all said to me) but when I finished talking with Derek Stepan and replayed our conversation something hit me that even I had missed.

An evolution in the Ranger franchise is coming and unless someone does something to royally screw things up everyone is going wind up happy whether it is fans, management, players, owners and coaches. It is an evolution that was started by Tom Renney and it is going to be a shame that he is never going to be given his proper credit for it.

For years one of the biggest problems I have been saying is with the Rangers is that you can not buy team chemistry, you have to build it, nurture it over time and then let it happen. Cash never has and never ever will build you a team chemistry.

I had asked Derek why he paid his own way to attend the Ranger camp this past summer; his response was one I was not expecting as Derek said "I had such a great time last year (2008) I wanted to do it again this year and see my friends"

His remark about seeing his friends was interesting because over the last month in talking to the Ranger prospects many of them were saying the same thing. And then I remembered something that Mark Messier said in a quiet moment during the season when he had returned to the Rangers.

Messier talked about how everything had changed in the locker room, how after the games or practices instead of going out for a beer that they (the players) were all older and went home to their families. There was none of the team activities that Messier and the team leadership used to organize during the years leading up to the Cup.

Today's Rangers because most of them did not come though the system are the same way; you might see 2-3 hanging out together but not much more than that happens. But it is changing little by little thanks to Tom Renney as it was he who started the Ranger prospect camps where all the draft picks and young free agents would meet.

Those camps were set up to introduce the prospects to the Ranger system has been the main goal but there was a secondary goal that has not been talked about that was supposed to be the unspoken goal.

Get these prospects to know one and other, let them develop friendships off the ice in the hopes of developing chemistry on the ice. We saw it at the World Under-20 Championships but none of us not even yours truly knew why.

All we saw was that when Stepan was on the ice with Kreider that they meshed together like they had been together for a long time especially on the power play. When it was Kreider and Bourque or Bourque and Stepan on the penalty kill there they were all working together with what even I thought was an instant chemistry.

But it was not as it turns out Bourque and Kreider grew up together and have been friends for the longest time. Toss in Derek Stepan who Ryan Bourque told me that he took an instant liking to and the 3 of them WANT to play together, they hang out away from the rink.

It used to be when I talked to the prospects they would ask how somebody was doing and I really did not pay it much mind. It was typically one prospect asking about the person they had roomed with at the prospect camp.

Now they all talk to each other on the phone, they know what the others are doing but more importantly is that they all encourage each other. I said to each of them "so picture it 5 years from now and you are teaming with so and so; how would it be?"

All of them said it would be great, it would be exciting and they would love it.

Then what really got me is the next generation of Ranger player leadership had just finished talking to me. That is right, nothing against Ryan Callahan but the future Ranger's captain is Derek Stepan because even before he has signed a Ranger contract he is already leading his fellow prospects.

What we saw at the World Under-20 was just a sample as Stepan rattled off the names of the people he was looking forward to seeing at the prospect camp like a kid hanging out with his pals at a summer camp. Stepan even corrected me when I said that one of them was falling off the radar as he told me "no he is coming to the camp and things will get better for him"

Now this is just my gut telling me this as come 2011 the largest group of Ranger prospects to join the system is going to happen. You are going to see Stepan, Bourque, Kreider, Werek, and Hagelin all wanting to sign Ranger contracts at the same time.

I believe they want to enter as a unit and that would be an instant rebuild as it would be the infusion of young talent that the Rangers have so badly been needing since 1997. They will have grown up together, they will have spent their off-seasons working out together and they will be all friends.

Go ask Mark Messier what kind of value that is going to have on the Ranger franchise and I will bet the house he will say a great impact.

And Ranger fans will be enjoying it just as much as the prospects will.

Oh and memo to Chris Kreider from Derek Stepan: If Wisconsin meets Boston College in the NCAAs that he plans on knocking you on you butt. He also expects that you will be trying to do the same to him.


The Rangers may be heading south but the prospects in the NCAAs are playing their playoffs right now while the prospects in the CHL are in their final weekend of the regular season.

Stepan and Ryan McDonagh will lead 2nd seeded Wisconsin against 9th seed Alaska in a best of 3 series. Chris Kreider leads 2nd seeded Boston College against 7th seeded UMass with Danny Hobbs.

Carl Hagelin leads Michigan on the road against rival Michigan State in the CCHA second round playoffs. Only Max Campbell has seen his season come to a end.

In the CHL, Daniel Maggio and his Sudbury Wolves have 2 games remaining and a 3 point lead on 9th seed Oshawa so the magic number is 2 for the Wolves. Only problem is they have to face Ethan Werek and Kingston on Friday and division champion Ottawa on Sunday.

Everyone else with the exception of Scott Stajcer has clinched a playoff berth.

(Stepan courtesy of Melody Hasse)

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