Time is one of those concepts that can be very simple in terms of the clinical amount of minutes, days, months, years something takes but also abstract in that for each person the time required in development differs. The Rangers have been on a transition to younger players they are developing from their system and a move away from the bigger ticket items. The key to sustainability of that kind of transition is that the players you are developing from your system must develop and show enough to produce the belief of the management the course is worth staying on.
A perfect example of the differing forms of development will be on display tonight when the Rangers and Avalanche play tonight in the Garden. The top line for New York will consist of three homegrown players in Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, and Ryan Callahan, who all have had a somewhat different path in developing to where they are right now.
Dubi made his debut for the Rangers late in the ’06-’07 season playing in a few games, but not producing anything of note. Coming into camp the following year it wasn’t even certain that he would make the club, but he won a spot as the 3rd line center. For whatever reasons neither Drury nor Gomez seemed to click with Jagr and Dubinsky was given the chance as a 21 year old to center a line with a future hall of famer. Dubinsky had a very solid year of 40 points and showed toughness in battling during the play and after the whistle against any and all comers. Following that year much was expected of Dubinsky because after all if he could play with a hall of famer like Jagr certainly he was due for huge steps towards greatness himself. That is where the concept of time comes back because maybe just maybe Jagr helped him on and off the ice with the game and while that can be good it could also show being thrown in the deep end to swim to start slows other areas of development.
Over the course of the next two years Dubinsky would have his ups and downs, ending the years with similar point totals, but being more and more of a point of discontent and frustration for many Ranger fans. The inconsistent play was taken as Dubinsky not caring about the game or not showing up every night, especially when many of the same fans would look at Ryan Callahan as less talented but seen to be busting his ass at all times. I would argue that belief he didn’t care or wasn’t working hard was mistaken and things like the contract holdout causing him to put more pressure on himself and switching back and forth of positions only messes with the confidence of young players. Also looking purely at point totals doesn’t show the full game as Dubinsky has developed into one of if not the best penalty killer the Rangers have and his adjusted 82 game scoring last season would have put him at 52 points which would have looked like a nice move forward in his development, along with his improving penchant for putting pucks in the net.
Coming into this season there were some mixed views on what to expect out of Dubinsky, but a combination of having a set position and at least to this point set line mates has set Dubinsky off on the right start with consistent effort, energy and impact in each game so far. One thing I think on Dubinsky that has been missed since Jagr left is he hasn’t played with a player with his kind of physicality and I don’t mean take the body, but brute force on the puck. Granted few players can match Jagr in that department and the only one that pops to mind as tougher on the puck than Jagr was Forsberg. What I see so far this year from Anisimov though is shades of that kind of get in, pound a guy and really work the cycle, holding the puck which feeds into Dubinsky game as what I would call an emerging power forward type. For the past two years fans have been clamoring for the Dubinsky breakout and so far it looks like this year is the time he was ready to make it happen.
Artie obviously is the youngest of these three and been in the NHL the least amount of time, but I think he might have had the best development path in the sense that he was the only one of the three to be allowed to have the extra full season in Hartford along with spending a full season at the NHL level without being thrust into a huge a role. I am one of many fans who was calling for Artem to get more time and a bigger role last year, but watching him and the strides he has made maybe the way they handled him last year was best for him. He was already dealing with the transition to the NHL, uncomfortable with English and seeming to be softspoken so adding to his burdens could if anything have set him back.
What we have also seen from Anisimov is that when he gets a 2nd chance at a level the jump can be very impressive because of the work ethic he brings to the ice and his training. Watching Artem this year he seems bigger, faster and stronger on the puck while skating with his head up much more, thankfully.
For years the Rangers fans have been clamoring for a number 1 center and I myself wrote in the preseason about my frustration at him not being given a chance to play with Gaborik on the top line to show he can be that center. I still believe he is the number 1 center on this club now and in the future, but allowing him to take the reins of that on the ice with his play is the way to do it and not force it on him. Playing with Callahan and Dubinsky in a strange way is not that different from the energy and protection he got from playing with Shelley and Prust to end last season. Obviously Dubi and Cally are more skilled in all phases of the game, but they both provide energy and a level of protection for Artie to use his skill and strength, while showing off some Jagr like strength on the puck.
Ryan Callahan made his debut for the Rangers late in the ’06-’07 season and showed flashes of skill to go with his constant energy and from that brief stint it was assumed he would have a nice impact the following year. Cally started the year very badly to the point he was sent down for a “conditioning stint” in Hartford where he got the lost offensive confidence back and came up to play much better, but still his overall results were not where fans hoped or wanted him to be. Going into the ’08-’09 year the expectations for Callahan were less on the offensive side as fans loved the energy and toughness he played the game with, while his penalty killing was expected to be a large factor for the Rangers. In that year, especially after Tortorella took over the offense showed more consistency at this level and it once again lead Ranger fans to increase expectations heading into last season. There was talk of him popping up to 25 or even 30 goals to go with the energy, leadership and passion he displays on the ice each shift.
Callahan in ’09-’10 was given an A on his sweater because of that leadership and example of how to play hard all the time, but in my opinion the offensive side regressed not just because the goal total dropped but because his effectiveness at even strength diminished significantly. Here we had a tough player who was given a tremendous opportunity in playing most of the year on the first power play unit and having success there, but could not translate it back to 5 on 5. This lead to questions as to whether what we had come to in Callahan’s development was either a bump in the road for towards the next uptick offensively or what we were seeing is what Callahan is as an NHL player. That being an extremely valuable energy player with very good leadership, and 20 goal, 40 point offensive numbers most suited for a 3rd line on a very good team. The beginning of this season has Callahan playing more relaxed on the ice, maybe more comfortable with A on his chest and we will see where his development is and might head over the next period of time.
Tonight will be the first time this trio of Ranger grown players will be called the first line, but through their play they have been it already through the three games this year. Now we will see just how much the time we have waited for the development has paid off and maybe it will teach us all to have more patience in letting them struggle at times because the potential payoff is so much greater than the short term satisfaction.