In John Tortorella’s first off-season as Rangers’ head coach he began preaching the idea of the team developing a, “Core,” the idea of getting young and staying young, building a team together and eventually turning it into a perennial winner. That was during the 2009 off-season. Today, 2 years later, waiting for the season to begin, the Rangers have one of the best “core” of young talent in the NHL in place. That groups is complimented by two superstars on the team’s top line.
The primary homegrown core who were all drafted and nurtured by the organization consists of Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal, and Dan Girardi; with honorable mentions to Michael Sauer, Derek Stepan, and Artem Anisimov. From outside the franchise came Brian Boyle, Brandon Prust and Ryan McDonagh.
No, McDonagh was not drafted by the Rangers, but the young defenseman never appeared in a professional game for the Montreal Canadiens as their property. Boyle and Prust discovered their niche at the NHL level once putting on the Red, White and Blue; so even if the latter three were not originally drafted by the Blueshirts, their development in their young NHL careers is attributable to the coaching staff both in New York, in Boyle and Prust’s case and in Hartford in McDonagh’s.
When you add in the superstar complimentary status of Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik and team them with up and comers like Mats Zuccarello, and defensemen Michael Del Zotto, and Tim Erixon and role players like Sean Avery, and backup netminder Marty Biron, there’s a solid foundation for this franchise to build on.
The organization appears committed to the philosophy they’ve adopted of switching from bringing in every hired gun they can find to building and improving the team through the draft and by supplementing the team whenever necessary.
Look at recent drafts to see the reversal of what was once a team weakness and now appears to be a strength. Jeff Gorton, who was recently promoted to assistant GM, was brought into the Rangers organization in 2007 and along with Gordie Clark has played a heavy hand in the Rangers drafts since 2008. Gorton has been instrumental in drafting players like Del Zotto, Stepan, Tomas Kundratek, Dale Weise, Chris Kreider, Dylan McIlrath, Christian Thomas, Jesper Fasth, Andrew Yogan, and now JT Miller, Stephen Fogarty, and Shane McColgan all of whom have a serious shot at not only playing at the NHL level but making an impact at the NHL level.
Along with good drafting skills reducing turnover is a key as well.
Each season prior to the arrival of John Tortorella, the team would see a yearly turnover averaging eight new faces on the roster. The Glenn Sather/Tortorella rebuild began with some major housecleaning bringing in ten new faces, the most since the lockout, but it was Tortorella’s rebuild taking shape. More changes the following seasons for the rebuild to take shape and now in this off-season, with the strength of the core set, it has only required brining in two new faces to improve the team, three should defenseman Tim Erixon make the team. The only player remaining from opening day 2005, making him the longest tenured player on this roster is Henrik Lundqvist.
Keeping their core group together, now that there actually is one, for an extended period of time is critical to the plan’s ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup and building a perennial contender. This puts just how important it is to get restricted free agents Dubinsky and Callahan signed to long terms deals and hopefully without the animosity that arbitration hearings can create.
Having a foundation, which the organization clearly has in place now, where the team will find itself consistently picking outside the Top 10 in every entry draft, will require the kind of expert drafting team that Gorton and Clark will provide. It’s that kind of skill that will uncover the super-sleeper in a draft that turns out to a player like Henrik Lundqvist, who was taken in the seventh round, 205th overall in the 2000 NHL entry draft.
To continue growing and winning, making strong, smart draft choices, as Gorton and Clark have, maintaining a fresh supply of young players to push those at the other end of their careers and to continue to sign their core players, keeping the fruits of their labor together as a group, will be critical build the team into the kind of organization the Rangers want to be.