Do Ranger fans overrate prospects?

Rather than bore you with the same old same old about tonight’s game versus the Stars, I’m gonna dive into a topic that should be discussed more. It concerns Ranger fans and how we treat prospects.

As someone who enjoys following prospects as much as anyone, I tend to overrate our young players. I think we all are guilty of it to some degree. I can remember going back to the days of Manny Malhotra, Jamie Lundmark, Tomas Kloucek and Dan Blackburn.

Excitement over your team’s prospects is understandable. As passionate fans, we all want to see them succeed. Sometimes, it leads to unrealistic expectations. I thought Malhotra could be more than what John Muckler arrogantly stated while coaching that team. It just didn’t seem fair for him to make such an assessment public. That was the beginning of the end for him. Ultimately, he was proven right. Malhotra had a solid career as a checking type third line center that won draws and killed penalties.

Remember Lauri Korpikoski? He was the key part of the return in the Brian Leetch trade with Toronto. The Rangers took him ahead of Travis Zajac. Korpikoski was a solid checking type forward who like Malhotra, was a secondary scorer that could kill penalties. You need those types around. Niklas Sundstrom was similar, but hit 20 goals while benefiting from playing with Wayne Gretzky.

I never felt Lundmark was given a fair chance due to Mark Messier, who took up too much ice time in a failed return that resulted in no playoffs. However, Lundmark never became the player he could’ve been with Arizona and Calgary. He eventually went overseas and was successful in the Swiss League.

A freak injury while weight training did in Blackburn. To his credit, he attempted a comeback. Al Montoya had that big World Junior Championship showing helping Team USA win gold in a big upset of Canada. Glen Sather picked him. It never worked out. He was eventually moved to the Coyotes. A destination for a lot of former Rangers draft picks. Don Maloney was the connection.

We all know about the big swing and miss on Hugh Jessiman. A good guy who never recovered from a high ankle sprain. They took him over Zach Parise. Oops. Then you had Dylan McIlrath, who they loved for his size, physicality and toughness. In the old days, he would’ve made it and could’ve become a fan favorite in the mold of Jeff Beukeboom. I wanted Cam Fowler. The Ducks grabbed him. He’s had a good career, but hasn’t been as consistent as I thought. Of course, everyone brings up Vladimir Tarasenko. Hindsight is 20/20.

For years, the Rangers have hyped up their prospects and like suckers, we’ve bought in. Look what’s happening with Lias Andersson. It’s sad. The fourth line meanwhile stinks. But he’s an afterthought who’ll likely be traded in the off-season. I wonder if he’ll ever make it. He’s young enough to. Maybe a scenery change will help.

So, as fans, do we overrate our team’s prospects? Go have a look at the current roster. Only Adam Fox had performed like a future star. Ryan Lindgren will be a solid, physical defenseman similar to both Beukeboom and Mike Sauer. Neither were Rangers draft picks. But they’re definitely going to be a part of the future.

What about Filip Chytil? He’s got a lot of potential due to his skating and skill. He looks like more of a finisher than playmaker. Eleven goals and six assists for 17 points in 41 games at at age 20 seem to indicate that. He’s a young player that’s still learning to become better overall at center. Defensive assignments and face-offs are issues. I see him as a potential 25-30 goal scorer capable of 50 points. I’m being realistic here.

Brett Howden looks like a fourth liner. He can kill penalties and is okay on draws. But he struggles when it comes to burying chances. I see a hardworking player who looks more effective on the wing because it allows for more creativity. He is a better passer. But what is he? Six goals and six assists for a dozen points in 50 games isn’t much. In 66 contests last season, he went 6-17-23. The 21-year old needs a better finish. They have to figure out where he fits better. As a center or left wing.

Even 2019 second overall pick Kaapo Kakko has struggled in his first year. Seven goals with nine assists for 16 points and a team worst minus-18 rating is disappointing. However, Jack Hughes is no better on the Devils. Unrealistic expectations, much? Not every kid comes into the best league and takes it by storm. I still view Kakko as a future 30-40 goal guy with a high upside. He has the size, strength and shot. He needs work on his skating, defensive awareness and endurance.

We have to understand that it doesn’t happen right away for every top prospect. That’s my take. I’m hopeful Kakko will improve in the remaining 32 games. I’m also not down on Vitali Kravtsov despite his rollercoaster year. Let him continue to develop at Hartford. He’s 20 and it’s his first taste of North America.

While we can get genuinely excited for Igor Shestyorkin and Alex Georgiev ‘if’ he’s still here after Feb. 24, rebuilds take time. I think that’s what we are learning. The Rangers trail the wildcard by 10 points entering tonight’s home match against Dallas. A big step up from Detroit. We’ll see how they do.

What must be understood is not every prospect becomes what we hope. People are realizing that about Pavel Buchnevich. He might just be what he is. A top nine forward who can get you 15-20 goals and 45-50 points. I’d like to see him improve defensively and become more consistent shooting the puck. That’s why I don’t know what the future holds for him. He isn’t that guy. So be it.

Libor Hajek meanwhile is an afterthought. They definitely over hyped him due to the trade with the Lightning. The less said about it, the better. That doesn’t mean he can’t be part of the blueline. He will remain with the Wolf Pack while the organization decides what’s best for him.

Having patience is a big key to what happens with the Rangers. They weren’t patient with Andersson. Look what happened. I doubt we’ll ever see him in a Blueshirt jersey ever again. You cannot rush players if they’re not fully ready. If there was better depth, Kakko would be in the AHL instead of learning on the fly. I’ll bet Hasan would echo the same for Hughes across the river.

Am I still excited for what the future holds with the franchise? Absolutely because I didn’t go into this season with unrealistic expectations. I knew the playoffs were a long shot. I stand by my 85 point prediction. Something that’s within reach. If they get there, that would be progress.

We can take solace knowing this team has a legit superstar in Artemi Panarin along with a point-per-game number one center in Mika Zibanejad, who remains completely overlooked. I wish they could keep Chris Kreider, but it doesn’t seem realistic given the cap situation. The decision making from management regarding Kreider, Georgiev, Jesper Fast, Tony DeAngelo and Ryan Strome remains essential. It holds the key to the next few years.

There can’t be any missteps. So, do we as fans overrate our team’s prospects? Yes. But like the late Ric Ocasek said, “I’m not the only one.”

Enjoy tonight and the rest of the schedule. Keep perspective.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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