Gerard Gallant has only two New York Rangers games under his belt, but the narrative for the young team has already transformed. The new head coach is almost the polar opposite of his predecessor, David Quinn. Quinn, who joined the Rangers without any previous NHL head coaching history, departed from the club before his fourth season.
With years of talent stockpiling carefully executed by the front office, the Rangers are in the perfect position to let some kids off the leash. Now Gallant, with seasons and seasons of success, guides the team with the sense that the younger players are going to be seen differently—and it was not even an official game. This new direction could just be key in getting the team further.
Star player Artemi Panarin was quick to remind everyone during this season’s training camp that they have a good team, capable of getting far in the season. He also pointed out that the Rangers are stronger now under Gallant. The fact is, Panarin’s statement is an undeniable truth. His track record speaks for itself and his accomplishments could pass as purely fictitious.
With his 270-216-4-51 career record in a total 541 games, Gallant already exhibits the desire to extend more opportunities to the Rangers youth. Whether he follows through on his claims is another story, but the team climate sure is different. Sure the point of the preseason is to get an extra chance to examine the kids, but so far they are taking advantage of the showcase.
Through camp and the exhibition games, Gallant was already able to form quick opinions on his new players. A set of fresh eyes will benefit pre-existing players like Kaapo Kakko, who were strapped for ice time in previous seasons. Kakko’s role on his team is going to be major, especially as he enters what is hoped to be his breakout season.
When the Rangers Met the New York Islanders
As he spoke prior to the Sept. 26 match, Gallant stated his expectation for every player to be a two-way guy and that is exactly what he pointed out about the success of the back-to-back Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning. He also made his expectations of younger players like Vitali Kravtsov and Morgan Barron apparent before the final roster shapes up.
Though the Blueshirts left disappointed at the hands of an Islanders shutout to kick off their 2021-22 preseason, Gallant remained relatively unbothered—disappointed, sure, but already looking at the next. The plan prior to the exhibition was to wisely rotate his players. In other words, not every big name saw the ice the first night.
Postgame, the coach cited that his team did not play hard enough. The Islanders veterans ran the show and this was a learning lesson for the young Rangers early on. In the end, the team is looking to get organized and ready for the season ahead. Given the skipped preseason last season, an introduction to the season is surely appreciated by the players and the new staff. Gallant was able to test out different line combinations, at the very minimum.
When the Rangers Met the Boston Bruins
Brennan Othmann, Braden Schneider, Zac Jones, K’Andre Miller, and Kakko were some of the young talent injected into last night’s game. Though some new faces were in the lineup, the Rangers youth looked comfortable and prepared. In the victory, the Rangers displayed their resiliency.
Kaapo had himself a two-point game from a secondary assist and a goal. Miller picked up a point with the lone assist on Panarin’s game-winner. Jones also registered the secondary helper on Kakko’s goal. Regardless that he landed on the scoresheet, the defenseman had a strong game as he displayed how well he can move the puck. It is hard to argue the kids are not visibly stepping up so soon.
From the eye test, the kids were buzzing. Though it is not easy to stand out with Panarin on the ice, the young core found a way to do so. Nils Lundkvist also stood out, making the staff’s decisions on defense difficult, especially when Gallant praised them in front of the media. Whoever makes the team is guaranteed to be rewarded for their hard work. For instance, the coach is giving Kakko an opportunity on the penalty kill.
Not to mention, it would be a miracle for Gallant to find faceoff talent in one of his youngsters. If the coaching staff can identify a young gun who is strong in the dot, they would certainly give him the chance to develop him into a top faceoff taker. There are plenty of roles open for the young kids, they need to take them, and so far it looks promising.
With several preseason games to go, the organization is surely excited to see who stands out next and who will continue to do so. “We’re like any other team. You know when you got that many guys signed and a salary cap, but you want to see young guys pushing for jobs” said the coach. Gallant would never shy away from extending an opportunity, but he puts his players in a position where they must it.
“I think he’s a good coach. He’s not talking that much yet,” said a more relaxed Kakko with a smile, when asked about his new coach. Though Gallant is an effective communicator, this is a phase of observance for the newcomer. But it also produces a climate where the new and young players can hustle with more comfortability.
Ryan Reaves, who played under Gallant a couple of seasons back, has nothing but good things to say when he reunited with his former coach. Pair that with Gallant’s acknowledgment of the individual talent in front of him, and the youngsters should already have a budding, but solid relationship with their coach.
Rachel is a recent graduate from the University of Pittsburgh earning a degree in Communications and English. After moving to Pittsburgh for school, she fell in love with the vibrant hockey community but that only strengthened her love for the team she grew up rooting for — the New York Rangers. Rachel covers the Rangers at thehockeywriters.com and she can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.