If you’re a hockey fan, then you know that your favorite sport is a young man’s game.
This became the norm following the 2004-05 NHL lockout. It was then that franchises and head coaches started to realize that playing their prospects and younger players would only benefit their team moving forward.
For the longest time, the New York Rangers failed to realize this. The franchise believed in relying on older players/veterans for success and while they got away with that method for a while, it ended up slowing down the franchise as a whole.
In looking at the Blueshirts now, things have changed in a big way. The organization’s way of looking at things changed when general manager Jeff Gorton and team President Glen Sather penned a letter to season ticket holders explaining that they would be going in a different direction and would be rebuilding their team for the betterment of their franchise.
To this point, I’d say that Sather and Gorton did the right thing. As of this writing, the team has been more than competitive as they are 10-8-2 and currently third in the Metropolitan Division.
While future Hall of Fame masked man Henrik Lundqvist has been the main reason why this team has been so good, another reason has been the play of the team’s youngsters. The clubs younger and “green” players have worked hard, have brought in to David Quinn’s, the team’s head coach, system, and have shown the team’s brass that they are worth believing in.
There are three players that have shown the above in a big way. The first player that has stood out in a big way for the Blueshirts is 20-year-old Brett Howden.
Howden, who to me stands out because he is wearing Derek Stepan’s number 21, has good speed, is not afraid to go into the corners to dig out pucks, and can feed the puck to open linemates.
Howden has 11 points (four goals and seven assists), all of them well earned. His big goal came against the Vancouver Canucks back on November 12.
For Howden, it was his first career game-winning goal and one that gave his hockey club a big 2-1 win at Madison Square Garden. This once again reinforced Quinn’s belief and willingness to give his young guys a chance to play at crucial points in the game.
Another youngster who is coming around for this team is Filip Chytil. Chytil, 19, started off slow and to me at least, looked like he needed more seasoning in the AHL with the Hartford Wolf Pack.
My opinion has changed a bit over the last few games. Chytil has scored goals in three straight games, which is a franchise record for rookies and is starting to look more and more comfortable as an NHLer.
The last youngster that has really been impressive is 23-year-old defenseman Neil Pionk. Pionk first showed a huge potential in his 28 games with the club last season in which he had 14 points.
This season, he has taken it to another level. He currently has 13 points and is showing that when he is given the room to do so, he can really skate with the puck and make things happen.
This team still may not make the postseason when all is said and done, but what fans should look forward to seeing is watching their favorite team’s younger guys grow and succeed with this franchise. These guys are going to play a huge role for this club not only now, but moving forward.
Photo: Discover Moose Jaw