While the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning are set to play what will be an emotional game 7 in New York City on Friday night, Devils fans across New Jersey are being forced to live through some tough times of seeing their arch rivals have a chance of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the second year in a row.
Now the Devils accomplished this same feat back in the early 2000’s, while Rangers fans watched the Devils win their second Stanley Cup, and then another in 2003. At that time, Wayne Gretzky had just retired, and Mark Messier was in Vancouver leaving the Rangers to begin an arduous rebuild. It took awhile, but the roles have been reversed, and the Devils are looking to get back into the playoffs after a now three-season absence.
Develop Develop Develop
There’s a reason Tampa and New York are playing for a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. Both teams have developed their prospects too incredible levels, and they going to stay forces in the Eastern Conference for years to come.
On the Rangers side, they have developed first rounder’s such as Marc Staal, Chris Kreider, and J.T. Miller. Second rounder’s include Derek Stepan, while Artem Anisimov, and Brandon Dubinsky were traded to Columbus in the Rick Nash trade. Rounds 3-7 bring in guys like Anthony Duclair who was the main piece of the Keith Yandle trade. The fourth round included Ryan Callahan, who was the Rangers captain for a few seasons before being traded for Marty St. Louis. Lets also not forget 6th round picks Carl Hagelin, Jesper Fast, and up-incoming goaltender Mackenzie Skapski. Also he isn’t a Ranger draft pick, but the addition of Derek Brassard via the Marian Gaborik trade has been invaluable to their success.
Derek Brassard in Game 6: 3 goals, 2 assists, +5, 10 shots on goal. His way of saying “See you Friday.” #NYR
— Pete Jensen (@NHLJensen) May 27, 2015
The Lightning have done just as good of a job at developing prospect. Their first round picks include captain and former 60-goal scorer Steven Stamkos, now No.1 defensemen Victor Hedmen, Vladislav Namestnikov, up-incoming defensemen Slater Koekkoek, Jonathan Drouin, current back-up goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Brett Connolly who was traded to the Boston Bruins for draft picks.
Tampa also made their money on rounds 2-7. In the second round you have guys like Nikita Kucherov, and up-incomer Adam Erne. Rounds 3-5 produced guys Radko Gudas, Alex Killorn, Cedric Paquette, and Nikita Nesterov, while the 7th round brought in Ondrej Palat. Lets also not forget playoff stud Tyler Johnson who wasn’t even drafted.
This is a very wide explanation of what both teams have done over their development process, but it was totally worth it for both teams, and it puts them in a class where not many other teams are. Maybe there is some luck involved, but when it comes down to it, New Jersey needs to learn how to develop prospect on both offense and defense. We know that their defensive prospects are fantastic, but their inability to score goals has cost them the past three seasons.
Devils Must Play Their Youth
Whether the Devils believe their young forward are ready or not, they need to give them a chance to play with top players. Damon Severson is a defensemen, but he forced his way onto the opening day roster, and gave himself a chance to play with guys like Andy Green and Jon Merrill on a day-to-day basis. The forwards have been a different story; to succeed in the NHL, forwards need to actually be on the ice. It sounds simple, but when guys like Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau are called up to only play 8-12 minutes a game and people are wondering why they aren’t scoring, well that’s why.
For the Rangers, they have given all of their prospects ample opportunity to play tons of games, while gradually giving them more ice time as they progress. Over the course of the season that is a great plan, and we are seeing that in full effect even in the Rangers last game with J.T. Miller having a great game, and Jesper Fast being a consistent guy on the Derek Stepan line.
Tampa did it the same way, but in a more painful manner. The Lightning didn’t make the playoffs for a couple of seasons, largely due to bad goaltending, but also due to all the young players learning how to play the NHL game. Johnson, Palat, Kucherov, Killorn, especially had to go through a lot before they turned into the stars they are now. The main reason was due to the fact that once they were called up to the big club; GM Steve Yzerman didn’t play around by sending them back down. He let them play through their problem, which as now turned all of them in well-rounded players.
New Jersey needs to stop the calling-up/sending-down game. There is only so much a player can learn in the minors, which is what Tampa and New York understand, which has allowed them to progress their prospects at a very quick pace. New Jersey needs to understand this, and let their young players stay with the team for the entire season, just look at what happened with Adam Henrique.
Make the Big Move
While both the Rangers and Lightning have developed their prospects extremely well, they also both made trades to help round out their core. New York acquired Rick Nash from Columbus and Marty St. Louis from Tampa, while the Lightning received Ryan Callahan from New York, while they acquired Braden Coburn from the Flyers, and Jason Garrison from Vancouver.
The Devils need to stop going after small guys, but try to land a big fish, maybe not even this season, but hopefully when the Devils get a couple more prospect in the pipeline, then make the move. It’s been an excruciating couple of seasons combine with not making the playoffs and watching the Rangers have success, however with Ray Shero taking over as Devils GM, as Mike Babcock would say, it’s time for them to get back on the map.
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Corey Spina lives in Wayne, New Jersey. He is a senior at Centenary College, and is majoring in Communications/Journalism. Corey is in his second season covering the New Jersey Devils for The Hockey Writers, he completed a sports journalism internship with TAPinto, and he is the Host/Producer of the Sports Buzz on WNTI.org.