New York Rangers: How to handle the rookies this off-season

Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports /

Throughout the 2016-17 season, the New York Rangers’ rookies made a big impact on the ice. Now, looking ahead to the off-season, management needs to consider the best way to deal with the newfound talent.

Alain Vigneault had three very talented forwards on the New York Rangers roster this year in Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and Jimmy Vesey.

Throughout the playoffs especially, Vigneault seemed to favor the use of veterans who were not performing all that well over utilizing the young talent that proved they could step up and make an impact in top roster slots.

Looking to the 2017-18 seasons there should be concern about how these players will be utilized. With so much early talent the New York Rangers need to ensure they encourage these players to grow, rather than force players into a sophomore slump.

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Pavel Buchnevich

Buchnevich started his season on the top lines first playing with Kreider and Zibanejad and then moving to play on the second line with Rick Nash and Derek Stepan.

And during this time, Buchnevich proved to a dangerous piece of New York Rangers’ offense. In his first 10 games with the Rangers, Buchnevich had four goals and four assists for eight points.

Buchnevich’s play made an impact. The stat sheet did not necessarily show this  — he finished his season playing 41 games, and had 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) — but he proved a few things.

First, he proved that he has the talent to play in the top six. Similarly, he proved that he thrives there.

Buchnevich has great vision and can make sharp, accurate passes. His speed is a benefit when it comes to play in transition and this is only bested and by his nasty wrist shot. He thrives in the top six because in the time played there, he fed off the energy and skill of the veteran players around him.

Entering the offseason, management needs to realize that the top six is where Buchnevich should be played. He needs to be placed with players that compliment his skill, and this will be the best way for him to become more confident and realize his potential.

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Brady Skjei

Brady Skjei was hands down one of the Rangers best defensemen this season.

Skjei has shown he has real potential to be a shutdown defenseman, which is impressive since he is so young. He is big and is able to body players off the puck. Skjei has solid positioning and his use of the stick means that he can stop plays as they enter the zone. He has enough speed and skill to step up on the rush and is willing to take shots from the blue line.

His 39 points show he is a threat on the opposite end.

Depending on what happens with Staal and Dan Girardi, and especially with Brendan Smith, the Rangers have a lot of options of what to do with Skjei.

He can handle a large role on the roster. While he could easily fill in in a top slot with McDonagh, but it would be more beneficial for the Rangers to pick someone up to fill that void.

Skjei could handle a second pair slot, no question. Who he plays with depends on what happens with contracts this season. Personally, I’d love to see him stay on a line with Smith assuming that he gets an extension with the Rangers. They made a significant impact during the playoffs.

Skjei will make an impact no matter who he plays with, but he will suffer if his partner isn’t as responsible as he is. Management needs to proceed with caution and ensure that they allow him the room he needs to develop into that shutdown defensive role.

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Jimmy Vesey

Jimmy Vesey had a great first season for the New York Rangers. After opting to exercise his rights under the NHL/NHLPA collective bargaining agreement and become a free agent, Vesey chose New York as the place to start his career.

Beginning the season on the second line with Nash and Stepan, Vesey got off to a hot start putting up nine points (six goals, three assists) in the Rangers first 10 games.

Vesey’s production slowed down because he was bounced around from line-to-line (in part due to the loss of Buchnevich in November). He struggled to find his game for a majority of the remainder of the regular season.

The biggest takeaway is to recognize that Vesey thrived when playing on a line with veteran forwards. He has good sense, a great ability to pass and plays a good two-way game, but he is hesitant to shoot. The presence of players like Nash and Stepan who are great at setting up plays encouraged attempts from Vesey.

Since there are so many question marks entering the off-season, the Rangers need to ensure that regardless of who stays and who goes that Vesey has the support he needs.

There is still a lot of room for him to find his game. While there were glimpses of it this season, the focus needs to be finding consistent players to put on the ice with him so he can work on finding his own consistency.

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Final Thoughts

One of Vigneault’s biggest flaws as a coach is not putting enough trust in young players. And this not only occurs in rookie seasons but is perhaps worse in sophomore seasons.

Perhaps the best example of this has been the career of Kevin Hayes. In his first year with the New York Rangers, Hayes had a solid performance notching 17 goals and 28 assists for 45 points. The following season, Hayes made mistakes and was benched by Alain Vigneault as a result.

Though he played the same number of games and ended up only nine points off his total from his first season, this tension has had an impact on Hayes’s role on the team from year-to-year, and ultimately impacted his development.

Buchnevich, Skjei and Vesey each proved that they can be extremely valuable to the play on the ice.  Management needs to allow these players room to make mistakes and grow from them when it comes to development in the off-season and through next year.

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The New York Rangers need to proceed with caution. The worst thing he could do would be to thwart the growth of any of these players, ship them off and watch them thrive elsewhere.