Before players are in the NHL scoring highlight-reel goals, making big hits or amazing plays, they usually need to go through a stint of hockey in the American Hockey League.
Some players are good enough to make the jump from the NCAA or CHL right to the big show, but the developmental period in the AHL has been beneficial to New York Rangers such as Ryan McDonagh and Chris Kreider.
Last season the Hartford Wolf Pack finished 10th in the Eastern Conference with 37 wins and 81 points. The team wasn't very good, and it wasn't an ideal environment for developing players. This summer the Rangers stocked up on depth that should help the roster and the developmental process for players.
Prospects are kept in the AHL primarily because they aren't ready. However, when a farm team is downright awful, coaches tend to put their young guns in bigger roles in the hopes that they can kick-start the franchise. That in essence is counterproductive, because the player is then placed into a role he may not be ready for, which can lead to lost confidence and stunted growth.
Although your top prospects should ultimately be your best players in the minors, sometimes it helps to have some veterans lead the way.
|AHL Veterans Added This Summer|
There should be a happy balance of that this season, as the roster will feature a number of AHL veterans in addition to the number of young prospects who the Rangers hope will develop at their own pace.
One example of the Rangers beefing up their roster involves signing a player with family ties.
Chris Bourque, the brother of current Wolf Pack member Ryan Bourque, was signed to add some offensive punch to the team. He has tallied 433 points in 437 AHL games, won three Calder Cups and led the AHL in scoring in 2011-12.
Bourque is as elite as they come in the AHL and could really help mentor some of the Blueshirts' younger offensive players such as Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast.
In essence, Bourque will be put into a top-line role to start the season, and he will hold onto that role unless a youngster usurps him. This will help the Wolf Pack remain competitive, and it will allow the youngsters to step in at their own pace.
The son of Ray Bourque has a clear AHL track record, so he is a player the Rangers can count on in the minors.
The Rangers also added AHL vets such as Steven Kampfer, Matt Hunwick, Mike Kostka and Nick Tarnasky. These players all have experience that should help the younger ones, and in turn the roster will be stronger with them in the lineup.
Another "marquee" AHL acquisition includes the signing of 2014 Calder Cup champion Chris Mueller. Mueller has 46 NHL games on his resume but has been an AHL mainstay the past few years. Last season he was a member of the Texas Stars and tallied 57 points in 60 games.
Throughout his AHL career, Mueller has played in 383 games and totaled 246 points for an average of 0.64 points per game. He's another veteran with some experience who should help bolster the roster and be a mentor to some of the other players.
In addition, Mueller is another body on the farm who could be called up in the event of an injury. The Rangers' overall team depth is very impressive, but you never know what can happen during the course of the season.
Players like J.T. Miller, Danny Kristo, Kevin Hayes, Lindberg, Fast and assorted others could all see some time in the AHL this season, and with a deeper roster they will be pushed to make themselves better, which will help them in the long run in terms of development.
If the aforementioned prospects are ready for the spotlight, they will get their chance to do so in the AHL. If they are not ready, the new depth will hold down the fort, allowing the prospects to advance at their own pace.
This season there is no reason why the Wolf Pack shouldn't be AHL contenders. The roster will feature a balance of AHL veterans, young guns and potentially some players with NHL talent. This should create a winning environment, one that is optimal for the development of young players.