NHL Playoffs 2012: Loss a Learning Experience for NY Rangers' Young Forwards
Chris Kreider, the newest member of the New York Rangers, temporarily had it going against Martin Brodeur, the longest-tenured New Jersey Devil. As New York raised a 2-1 upper hand in the 2012 Eastern Conference finals, Kreider tallied one goal in each game and assisted on another, giving him a hand in half of the Rangers' output.
But then, the towering rookie fresh out of Boston College ran dry. After initially scoring on three of his first five shots at Brodeur, Kreider came up empty on eight stabs in the next three games while accruing a minus-two rating.
All the while, the opposing Devils seized three consecutive victories to usurp the lead and polish off the top-seeded Blueshirts, four games to two.
So no remake of the 1980 Ken Morrow saga for Kreider, whose first professional playoff run of 18 games played and seven points ended seven weeks after he won his second NCAA title with the BC Eagles. But at least he was percolating something for a while.
The same could not be said about fellow rookie Carl Hagelin or sophomore center Derek Stepan. In the New Jersey series, Hagelin managed zero points and 10 penalty minutes while his rating steadily declined by four.
Stepan’s lone point against the Devils was an assist in Game 5, which was also one of only two nights that saw him win at least half of his faceoffs. Entering Game 6, there was some hope that he would not only build upon his previous outing, but also rerun his heroics from the last time the Rangers trailed a series, namely his three-point performance in Game 6 of the first round versus Ottawa.
Instead, the Devils confined Stepan to zero shots on goal as part of their 3-2 overtime triumph.
In contrasting Kreider with Hagelin and Stepan, the story of the conference finals was not much different from the two preceding series. Hagelin had only three playoff points, all of them assists, while Stepan’s only postseason goal came in that first elimination game against the Senators. Kreider tallied a game-winning goal against both Ottawa and Washington.
But all things considered, the troika of Hagelin, Kreider and Stepan epitomizes the state of the Rangers. A little more patience is still needed to fulfill the promise.
Part of it may be the fact that all three are U.S. college products (Hagelin from Michigan and Stepan from Wisconsin), meaning this was the first time any of them extended their season beyond the month of April. They are not like fellow young gun and rival overtime hero Adam Henrique, who won two Memorial Cups with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires.
Not only have the three Ranger forwards in question combined for a mere three regular seasons and four playoff runs in the NHL. They are the youngest members of John Tortorella’s strike force, all under the age of 23.
New York’s only regular defensemen within that unripe age group are Michael Del Zotto and Ryan McDonagh. And incidentally, the 21-year-old Del Zotto was also a far cry from his regular-season form during his first Stanley Cup playoff run, going from a plus-20 in the former to a minus-four in the latter.
With more jump and less jitter, perhaps the Rangers youth movement could have helped to avert the team-wide energy famine that plagued them at the tail end of their playoff run. Had they supplied a little more offense in the first two rounds, they could have spared the likes of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist back-to-back seven-game bouts as well as that triple-overtime marathon in Game 3 of the Washington series.
But simply put, they need to start somewhere. And if they follow through on this fiery baptism and three-plus months of recuperation, the Rangers may not need much overhaul to shore up their offense. They can cultivate enough of a long-term, homegrown threat in Hagelin, Kreider and Stepan.
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